Chapter 51 — Best Laid Plans
Julian and the Guard medic rushed Meg to a table in the medical tent. The medic grabbed something and strapped it onto Meg’s face, covering up her mouth and nose. The faint hissing sound of oxygen rushed through the room, as onlookers watched from every direction and the rain continued to pound the tent canvas above them. Alden stood stock-still, torn between trying to get to Meg’s side, and knowing it wouldn’t be any good. Meanwhile, a few steps away, Grey-eyes seemed to be doing the same.
Alden, with nothing else to do, turned to her. “Why?” he echoed his own mind, desperate for an answer.
She shook her head, bushy brown hair flying wildly. Her face was buried behind her hands, grey eyes peeking through the cracks, utterly terrified.
”Help her,” Alden pleaded, as the medic continued to work on Meg. Julian slipped out the side of the tent, obviously feeling he couldn’t do anything more. Alden didn’t blame him—he only blamed one person, and she was the most powerful awakened in the whole world.
He didn’t care. He grabbed her by the shoulder.
”I can’t,” Grey-eyes whispered. “I already tried. She’s… Unless I… but I can’t…” Her voice trailed off, a pained whimper as she stared at Meg.
”You’re supposed to—”
”I didn’t want this!” Grey-eyes shot back, her voice suddenly harsh. The medic looked up, while another soldier in the tent rushed across the room for something out of the boxes at the end. “Everyone just… assumed I could handle it! I’m just a nobody. I’m a dropout. I can’t do this!”
”You’re her,” said Alden desperately.
”I don’t know what I am,” she whispered.
Alden turned back to Meg, who was still making horrible gasping sounds through the oxygen mask. One of the soldiers had started calling in a helicopter to airlift Meg out—they didn’t believe they could do anything more with their limited resources.
”She’s still breathing, but it’s rough,” the medic finally reported to Alden, wiping the sweat off his brow. “We gotta get her to the clearing so the helicopter can pick her up. Can you help?”
Alden started to nod, though his arms felt dead tired, but Grey-eyes spoke up.
”Tell me where.”
The medic raised an eyebrow. “…North clearing. Take a left going out.”
Grey-eyes nodded. She walked forward and put her arms under Meg, lifting her as easily as if she were made of air. The medic held the mask in place, and Alden carried the tank. Together, they walked out of the tent and back into the ongoing downpour. More gasps as they emerged—as Grey-eyes emerged, Alden reminded himself. Somebody in the medical tent isn’t anything new right now… this isn’t even the only medical tent, either.
The helicopter was already bearing down on them. The medic briefly explained they’d had life flights on standby all night and morning, and airlifted more than a few gunshot victims out to nearby hospitals. They’d be going to the nearest one over in Shelton, a little northwest of Olympia.
They hurried to get to the helicopter, but the camp wasn’t exactly clean of the aftermath from the battle the night before, and they were sloshing through puddles of rain quickly forming into a muddy bog. As they rushed, Grey-eyes’ foot caught on an exposed metal pole from a collapsed tent.
She stumbled in the mud. Meg started to fall away.
Without thinking, Alden threw magic forward—time magic. Meg slowed down in mid-air, a block of slow-motion in the middle of them. He could see her starting to gasp already, but Grey-eyes reached in to catch her before she’d fallen even a few centimeters.
As her hands reached in, Alden felt a strange sensation. She was affected by his magic, but she managed to push herself through anyway, her skin in what felt like a cocoon of protection. As Grey-eyes withdrew, Alden let the spell go, gasping a little himself as he did it.
”…Shit,” muttered the medic. “Stick with her, kid. They could use a trick like that at the hospital.”
Alden nodded, catching his breath. The helicopter was down on the grass. Wind buffeted them as they approached. The whole field was flattened by the constant pressure of the sweeping blades. The medic helped Grey-eyes strap Meg down on a stretcher lashed to the bed of the helicopter, while one of the EMTs showed Alden how to belt himself in.
Moments later, the medic waved them off, before turning to rush back to his own duties. In the distance, Alden saw a fresh commotion brewing in the pilgrim camp, but he couldn’t think about it anymore—because Meg was still half-choking at his feet.
The EMT put a fresh mask on her, fed directly from tanks built into the cabin. A huge jerk pulled up at Alden’s navel as the helicopter lifted into the sky. They lifted up above the canopy, trees bending away as the blades cleared the highest branches. The helicopter tilted forward, and they sped off to the west, diving through the rain toward the city in the distance.
”Meg,” Alden said again, grasping her hand. “Wake up.”
”Call… call your parents,” said Grey-eyes, her voice caught in her throat. “Tell them where we’re going.”
A shock of panic shot through Alden’s entire body. His eyes widened. “She’s not going to—”
”I don’t know.”
Alden scrambled for his pockets and dug out his phone. Trembling, terrified he might drop it out of the open helicopter window, he scrolled desperately through his contacts for his mother. He tapped the icon, and it started ringing.
”Mom…” Alden whispered, hand clutching Meg’s tight. They were just passing over the thickest part of the forest now, Shelton already in sight in the distance. “Come on…”
After ten agonizing rings, someone answered—someone definitely not his parents.
”…Kelly?” said Alden, his mind landing on the right name after a few moments hesitation. Meg’s best friend… Oh god…
”Yeah, what’s up?”
”Why do you have my mom’s phone?”
”Oh, is this Alden?” Kelly sounded annoyed, almost. “You know, you really had Meg super worried the last couple months. I don’t know how many times I saw her stressing out about you. Not that she told me, obviously, because she’s a way better person than y—”
”Kelly, give the phone to my mom, right now.”
”She’s not here.”
”Yeah, I came over to ‘grab some things’ while Meg’s off doing whatever.” Kelly’s voice got faint, as if she’d walked away from the phone a bit. “Since, you know, Meg’s ‘staying over at my house’.”
”Kelly!” Alden practically screamed into the phone.
”What?” She walked back to the phone. “You know, you sound like you’re in a wind tunnel. Your phone sucks.”
”I’m on a helicopter being flown to…” Alden glanced at the EMT.
”Mason General Hospital in Shelton,” Alden repeated for Kelly’s benefit. “Meg is… she might be…” He choked up. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
The helicopter banked suddenly, and Alden nearly dropped the phone.
”…Holy shit,” gasped Kelly. “What the…”
”Kelly, please,” Alden begged, while Grey-eyes watched him with pain and fear filling her eyes, exactly as Alden imagined Kelly must be feeling right then. “Find my parents. Right now.”
”I’m on it.”
The phone clicked off. Alden dropped it back into his jacket pocket, just as the helicopter came in over the city to a spot near the hospital. Mason General didn’t have any kind of helipad, but it looked like they’d cleared out a space in the parking lot for the time being. The helicopter landed with a soft thump on the pavement.
A team from the hospital was already on their way out, wheeling a gurney across the smooth asphalt. Grey-eyes helped lift Meg out of the helicopter and onto the gurney. One of the nurses recognized her, eyes wide—but still, professionalism overtook him, and the nurse jumped back into action right away. They rushed Meg back into the hospital and straight to the emergency room.
Alden followed as close as he could, his mind spinning, barely hearing any words around him. Grey-eyes was right next to him every step, looking just as afraid, but she barely registered to him. Nothing was getting through to Alden anymore. All he could think about was Meg.
Every moment she’d spent on the floor of his bedroom all summer.
Every time he’d woken up screaming, and she’d grabbed him and helped him calm down.
All the times he’d shown her magic, told her it was dangerous, but still exciting and fun.
Hanging out with Hailey and Jessica late at night, Meg barging in, forcing her way into their little club—and them laughing it off afterward.
Alden ran into the ER, catching up with the disappearing group. He saw gunshot victims from the night before, those who had made it out of surgery or had been triaged to the back of the group. One of the nurses from Meg’s group walked back toward Alden, startling him. She had a clipboard in hand.
”That’s your sister, right?” she asked.
”Y-yes,” said Alden quickly.
”Does she have any allergies?”
”I don’t…” I don’t know. Why don’t I know that? That feels like it’s important.
”No,” said Grey-eyes suddenly, her voice cracking slightly. She still looked upset. Alden wasn’t sure what to make of it, now that he was finally calming down a little. They were in an emergency room. There wasn’t much more for him to do now—and apparently the goddess herself was taking over from here.
The nurse turned to Grey-eyes. “And you are?”
”I’m…” She trailed off, obviously unsure how to answer.
”She’s our sister,” said Alden quickly, not wanting to delay any further. Grey-eyes somehow knew his name, her name, and so many other things besides. He didn’t doubt she could know anyone’s medical history instantly. She was the most powerful person in the world.
”Okay.” The nurse nodded. “Family history of medical problems?”
”Dad has sleep apnea, mom’s side has a history of high blood pressure,” Grey-eyes rattled off without blinking an eye. “She’s currently on birth control and she takes a vitamin D supplement, but nothing else.”
”Our parents are on the way,” Alden added, desperate to feel useful. Why didn’t I know any of that? Meg could die. They need to know everything they can so they might save her.
The nurse nodded again. “Okay. Thank you. You can wait in there,” she added, pointing at a room nearby.
”But—” started Alden, desperate to keep Meg in sight.
”You want him nearby,” said Grey-eyes, nodding at Alden. “He’s awakened. He can slow down time for the patient. It may help if something serious happens.”
”You can what?” asked the nurse, raising an eyebrow.
Alden nodded. “Just tell me when. I can try to slow things down if she’s…” He stopped, still terrified to voice it aloud, as if that would somehow make it come true.
”…Okay. Can you do anything else?”
”Nothing that would help,” said Alden. “Other magic can’t be used directly on people.”
”Right.” The nurse nodded. “Come on then. Stay to the side and don’t touch anything unless directed, okay?”
As Alden walked forward with the nurse, Grey-eyes vanished. Nobody else seemed to have noticed, but he felt something brush against his side. She was still with him, just invisible. They both went inside the curtained area where a team was working on Meg, getting her stabilized—keeping her alive.
Hailey had expected to spend the day in her cell. She’d been given books from the prison library, at least—doing research on flight and physics, which only raised a few eyebrows with the prison staff—but she was seriously bored. After the excitement of that morning, between the portals, the Summit, seeing everyone again… coming back was a huge let down.
When the guard came by after lunch to let her know Jefferson had suddenly arrived, she was practically on her knees, incredibly grateful for the break.
How am I gonna spend months… or years in here?
Hailey knew she belonged in prison, at least for now, and she wasn’t going anywhere. Guilt still kept the chains around her legs—metaphorically, anyway. They hadn’t bothered with anything while she was still inside, since the only people who ever saw her were guards, Jeremy, and Jefferson. There wasn’t anyone to sell the image to, and all the guards knew by now that Hailey was a model citizen. Anything beyond handcuffs was just extra hassle for them to put on and take off.
She followed the guard through the now-familiar maze of halls back to the meeting room, where Jefferson waited. As soon as the cameras shut off, Hailey let out a huge sigh.
”Something wrong?” asked Jefferson.
Hailey shrugged. “It’s been an interesting morning.”
”…You already know?” He raised his eyebrows.
”…No?” A sinking feeling hit Hailey’s stomach. “Why, what are you talking about?”
”A favor that will only make your time spent here more painful,” said Jefferson with a sigh. “What about you?”
”If I’ve already broken the agreement and tell you, that doesn’t mean you have to report it, right?” said Hailey. “Hypothetically speaking, of course.”
Jefferson nodded. “Only if you intend to commit a new crime.”
”Well, technically I don’t think I even did that. I never left my cell, physically speaking.” She explained briefly about the portals and the meeting, though she left the membership and the details a complete blank. Hailey wasn’t about to out anyone. “So yeah… interesting.”
”…Well, those would certainly make my life easier,” said Jefferson, scratching his chin. “I feel like I’m torn between two sides of the country right now.”
”You and me both,” said Hailey, leaning back in her chair with a sigh. “So what’s up? I didn’t think we were meeting til tonight.”
”I got an… interesting phone call this morning,” said Jefferson. “From a girl currently known to be somewhere near Rallsburg… whose father is possibly the most wanted man in the world.”
Hailey nearly fell out of her chair. The metal feet scraped against the concrete as she struggled to balance herself again. “Natalie called you?”
”Just as shocking to me, I can assure you,” said Jefferson. “She wanted to get a message to you. Actually, she wanted to talk to you herself, but…”
”We… we saw each other this morning,” said Hailey slowly.
”You did?” Jefferson frowned. “I wonder why she didn’t tell you herself, then.”
”Maybe… there were a lot of people there besides the two of us.” Hailey winced. “And most of them weren’t on her side. We didn’t get a chance to talk.”
”Ah.” Jefferson nodded. “This is certainly a favor of a more personal nature.”
”…What’s going on?”
”She asked me to let you know that her boyfriend’s family is being harrassed. She’s worried for their safety.” Jefferson frowned. “She said it as if trying to hide their identity, but it’s quickly becoming common knowledge. I assume you know the Kincaids?”
”Kinda. I met Quinn once,” said Hailey, nodding. “They’re being harrassed? What for?”
”For harboring the awakened daughter of a mass-murderer,” said Jefferson. “She’s famous, and so, by extension, is her boyfriend.”
”Oh god…” Hailey put her hands on her forehead. “They’re on the news, aren’t they? I thought I heard something this morning, but I kinda brushed it off.”
”Yes.” Jefferson sighed. “I told Natalie I’d give you the message, but I warned her you had no plans to leave prison before your sentence was up. I’ll be contacting the local police to try and get protection for the Kincaids, and my firm has already reached out to Mrs. Kincaid to start on keeping the vultures at bay. We’ve worked with her in the past.”
”That’s… that’s good. Thanks, Jefferson.”
He smiled. “Of course.”
”Is that it, then?” asked Hailey. She grinned weakly. “Because I’ve got a cell to clean, you know.”
”Are you doing all right?” asked Jefferson, sounding slightly concerned.
”I’m okay. Just… just bored.” Hailey sighed. “The Summit this morning didn’t help either. I mean, I really want to know what’s going on, but… I can’t do anything about it, so…”
”So now you aren’t sure whether you should have gone.” Jefferson nodded. “I suppose Rika attended this summit as well.”
”Yeah,” said Hailey. “So be prepared for that when you see her.”
”I daresay I’m immensely curious myself now,” said Jefferson. “I can’t blame you for attending, though of course, as your lawyer I have to advise against leaving your cell in the future—”
”Didn’t leave it,” said Hailey with a wink.
”…I’ll be sure to mention pocket dimensions at your sentencing,” said Jefferson exasperatedly. Hailey laughed. “There isn’t much else for us right now. I’ve got another meeting with the prosecution between now and our appointment this evening. There’s a few minutes though before I need to go meet with Rika. Do you want…”
Hailey held up a hand to cut him off, as weight in her stomach suddenly became an anvil. Just like the night before, she could hear the television through the door and in the other room. She’d been listening idly, just in case… and it had just switched to a breaking news report from Washington State. They always call it Washington State here… I mean yeah, they were first, but still… D.C. sounds better anyway.
”What is it?” asked Jefferson, color draining from his face. He knew exactly what Hailey’s expression meant by now.
”Hang on…” she murmured. “They’re still explaining.”
”…Reports of an ‘awakening’ gone wrong this morning. Our reporter is live in the so-called pilgrim camp. Tiffany?”
”Thanks Greg. It was a nightmare here last night, and it only seems to be getting worse in the morning hours. It’s nine AM, and just when everybody thought it was safe, the helicopters started flying in again.”
Sounds of rustling. Hailey bolted to the door window, straining to see the television set. She could make out the camp, along with an overly-excited reporter shoving microphones in peoples’ faces who obviously just wanted to be left alone. She wasn’t there last night either… this is just disgusting.
”Can you tell us what happened this morning?”
”Somebody was… you know, reading from a Scrap, and they—”
”You mean awakening, right?”
”Yeah, duh.” Hailey rolled her eyes. “Anyway, she started choking. That part’s kinda normal, but then when Grey-eyes showed up, she didn’t… I dunno how to explain it. But everybody started freaking out.”
”Can you tell us anything else?”
”I dunno? The girl’s brother kept freaking out, you know, shouting ‘Meg, Meg, don’t die’ or something like that. Grey-eyes looked scared too. I’ve never seen her like that, and I’ve seen a ton of awakenings.”
”Grey-eyes is the person who helps…”
The reporter started launching into a generic—and incorrect—explanation of magic from there, but Hailey had already stopped listening. Her heart was pounding so hard, she expected it to explode out of her chest then and there. Horrifying memories flashed through her brain, one after the other, each overlaid with Meg’s face.
There was no doubt. It had to be Meg Bensen. All three of them had been there, and Beverly had… what? Messed up?
Hailey turned to Jefferson. “I have to go.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I know what you said.”
”They’ll—” Jefferson started, about to launch into the same concerned speech he’d given the night before, but Hailey only smiled. It caught him off guard. He cut himself off. “What happened?”
”Grey-eyes is in trouble. I have to help her.”
”I thought no one knew her…” Jefferson trailed off, realizing he was way out of his depth.
Hailey nodded. “She’s only got two friends in the whole world. I’m one of them, and she’s in serious trouble. If I don’t help her… a lot of people could die.” Besides… Natalie asked me to come help anyway, and she barely has any friends either… after how everybody treated her at the Summit, Natalie really needs someone in her corner right now.
She cleared her throat. “I might be making a huge mistake, I know. But there’s just too much going on. People are dying, my friends are fighting themselves, and I honestly might be the only person in the world who knows what to do.”
Shake Beverly silly until she finally tells her siblings who she is, and finish awakening Meg with my page if Beverly won’t do it herself. I just… oh god, am I gonna get there in time?
”Well…” Jefferson sighed. “That sounds like a far better justification to break out, I suppose.”
”May I ask one favor?”
”Anything,” said Hailey sincerely. “You deserve way more than that.”
Jefferson smiled. “I’m going to regret this, but… would you please make it appear I wasn’t your accomplice in any way? Maybe take me hostage, I suppose.”
”I want to be certain this does not affect Rika’s case. Yours will likely be tried in absentia, since I assume you don’t plan to return…”
”I don’t know,” said Hailey with a shrug. “Someday, I guess.”
”Well, I fully expect you to be sentenced to a significant prison sentence.” Jefferson shrugged. “I might be able to persuade them to hold off, since you won’t be present for the technical start of the trial, but we’re in a grey area.”
She nodded. “Lawyers and grey areas, huh?”
”Something like that.” Jefferson glanced at the door. “I’m ready if you are.”
Hailey nodded. She stood up and took a deep breath, then felt out wide with her magic for her bag—more than a hundred feet away, but still barely within reach. Hailey walked over to the door back to the cells and wrenched it open, tearing the lock out with a single pull. The door swung wide, and her bag zoomed right into her hands before any of the guards had a second to react.
”Help!” shouted Jefferson, leaping to his feet.
Hailey turned and grabbed him, as gently as she could. She grabbed out a small gemstone from her bag and hurled it at the thick glass window.
It shattered. Hailey rushed forward and ripped the bars free. The guards rushed into the room as she hurled herself through, Jefferson held tight to her chest. They drew stun-guns, trying to get a clear shot, but Hailey was holding Jefferson in front of her like a shield.
”Sorry,” she muttered, as she felt him heave from the hard yanking motions she’d been putting him through. It’s not like I even need a shield… I could just block the little taser darts myself.
It didn’t matter though. Hailey was already into the yard. She was surrounded by high fences in every direction… but what did that matter?
Hailey could fly.
”See you around, Mr. Baux,” said Hailey.
She let go of him and spread her wings wide, loving the feeling of stretching out muscles she’d barely been able to use for over a week. Warm light filled her face, and her golden-blonde hair shimmered in the bright afternoon sun. Hailey opened her eyes, while shouts and alarms went off in every direction. Sirens filled the whole city block.
Hailey grinned. Jess, this is insane.
She pulled out her lucky tourmaline stone and put it around her neck. Hailey wished she had time to change out of her prison outfit, but this would have to be enough for now. With a huge swoop of her wings and a burst of air, Hailey leapt into the sky.
Another burst, and she shot up toward the stratosphere. As Hailey rose, she dug into her bag for every tourmaline stone she could find. She’d have to go fast—faster than she ever had before. Faster than the flight across the Atlantic, faster even than the flight up to Lakewood. Hailey dredged up everything she’d ever learned about physics and air resistance and friction and flight theory.
Forming a perfect wedge in front of her and blocking as much as she could, Hailey propelled herself forward. She flew, away from the alarms, away from the White House in the distance, away from the life she was supposed to lead, with the wind roaring behind her and the sun sparkling above, while birds swooped out of the way as Hailey shot past, back in the wide blue skies once more.
Back where she belonged—but this time, Hailey was off to help the people who needed her most.
Alden stood off to the side in the ER, near the curtain while the nurses and the doctor worked on Meg. They seemed to have her stable, but Alden had no idea what stable was supposed to look like. All he knew was that Meg hadn’t woken up yet. Grey-eyes was still nearby too, standing next to him totally invisible. He brushed against her occasionally as he swayed in place, too upset to stay still.
They’re experts, right? They know what to do. She’s choking. That’s a normal thing. They can get her breathing again.
Except… Meg was dying due to magic. Who knew what normal medicine could do to help that?
”Isn’t there anything you can do?” Alden murmured, low enough that none of the nurses would hear him, but he knew Grey-eyes definitely could.
”This has never happened,” she whispered. “Nobody’s ever gotten stuck halfway… I did everything right, I just—”
”Did it too late,” Alden filled in.
”I’m such an idiot,” Grey-eyes whispered. Alden could feel the pain and regret in her voice. “Meg is—”
”Don’t say it,” said Alden firmly. A nurse heard him and looked over, but Alden shook his head. He went back to work, confused, but professional enough to ignore it. They were still trying to find a cause, even though Alden had already explained the exact reason Meg could barely breathe.
”Don’t,” he hissed. “She’s gonna be fine.”
Alden’s phone rang. None of the staff looked up, but Alden nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden buzz in his pocket. He grabbed it out without even looking at the screen. “Mom?”
”What’s going on?”
”…How are you calling me right now?” he asked, confused. “Where are you?”
”Somewhere over Ohio?”
Alden turned away from the bed slightly. The doctor and most of the nurses were leaving now, since Meg appeared to be stabilized and they were needed elsewhere, leaving only one to keep Meg’s breathing steady. He lowered his voice even further. “You’re flying?”
”But it’s so quiet.”
”I’m blocking all the air around me to reduce drag. I think I’m going faster than the speed of sound…”
”How are you calling me then?”
The call dropped a second later, as if Hailey’s phone heard Alden’s question and decided to obey physics again. Alden stared at the screen for a moment, dumbfounded.
It lit up again with Hailey’s face. He answered.
”I think I’m jumping between towers really fast,” said Hailey quickly. “Where are you right now?”
”Mason General Hospital in Shelton.”
”Okay. I’m on my way.” She paused. “Is Grey-eyes there?”
”…Yes. How did you—”
”Give her the phone.”
Alden held it out to the empty space next to him without a second thought… but nothing happened. “Grey-eyes?” he hissed.
”I think she’s gone…”
”…Dammit,” said Hailey. “Can you—” The call dropped again. Alden waited for the next ring, and answered as soon as it came in. “You’re with Meg, right?”
”I called my parents. I’ll be here. I’m…” Alden hesitated, lowering his voice again. “I’m using time magic to slow her down if anything bad happens, so they can help her before she—”
”Good,” said Hailey. “If Grey-eyes shows up again, tell her to call me. Right away. Don’t take no for an answer, got it?”
Her voice softened. “Hey Alden?”
Alden coughed, his voice catching in his throat as emotion suddenly overwhelmed him. He’d remembered the last time Hailey had been rushing to a hospital… and what had happened there. They hadn’t been able to help in the end… what if…
”She’s gonna be okay. Keep her alive until I get there, all right?”
He nodded, but of course, Hailey couldn’t see him—and he was barely able to see himself, with how his eyes were filled with tears. Somehow, it already felt like his little sister was going to die… but Hailey sounded so confident. She sounded… like herself again, months ago, before everything happened.
”Okay,” said Alden.
”I’m on my—”
Her voice cut off again as the call dropped. Alden waited, but she didn’t call again. It was okay now though. He could hold it together.
Alden sat down on the stool next to Meg and took her hand. It was warm, much warmer than his own, but not so much that she felt sick or anything. The nurse glanced at him, and Alden realized it was the same one they’d explained he could use time magic to.
”Did you tell anyone else?” Alden asked quietly.
She looked startled. “Huh?”
”What we told you before. What I can do. Did you tell anyone?”
”…Not sure I believe it myself, to be honest,” she said, taking a seat on the other stool, and adjusting something with Meg’s oxygen supply. “If it’s true—”
”It is,” said Alden.
”Then… well, we’re already taking overflow from Olympia here due to last night,” said the nurse uncomfortably. “Can you slow things down if any of these alarms go off?” she added, pointing at the sensors now attached all over Meg’s skin, tracking her vital signs. “So we can get here in time.”
Alden nodded. “Go help whoever you need to. I’ll be with her.”
”…You’re a good brother,” said the nurse, getting to her feet. “If you need anything, just shout. Someone’s nearby.”
The nurse left, and Alden settled in. The machines beeped a reassuring steady beat around Meg. Carts bustled past as nurses wheeled sensors and machines between curtained beds throughout the emergency room. Alden felt a faint breeze on the back of his neck, though he wasn’t sure where from. It made him think of Hailey, now hurtling through the sky across the country to reach them.
Meg would be so happy… her hero’s coming to save her…
Alden squeezed her hand tighter, as if he could will her to wake up. He tried to press magic into her, but it was blocked, just like everything was—everything besides time magic, it seemed.
Why just that? Why can’t I heal her, or do anything else useful? All I can do is slow down her dying…
He realized suddenly how Hailey planned to save her. She had the full page—the other way to awaken. If it worked… Meg would be as powerful as her, and the rest of the eight. Or the seven… Since Lily isn’t one, and Hugo never awakened. Maybe it was always supposed to be Meg.
Fate again. Alden wondered how Rika was doing. He’d considered going after her when she left the Summit, but he hadn’t wanted to leave before Hailey did. Still, his thoughts were dominated by her—and now, with Hailey blitzing across the country, there would be even more focus on Rika as the sole awakened on trial back in D.C.
All Alden could focus on was Meg. His parents were probably still about an hour away at best, if they’d left right away. Hailey was even further—he had no idea how fast she could fly when really pressed. The internet calculated her at over seven hundred miles per hour when she’d flown from Portland to Lakewood. He tried to do the math in his head, but… he couldn’t think straight, and he didn’t want to take his eyes off his sister for a second.
Oxygen was pumped into Meg’s lungs every couple of seconds by a machine. Her eyes were closed, and he didn’t see any movement there. She could be asleep for all he knew… and she looked peaceful enough. All he could do was watch and wait… and pray, every moment, that Meg would wake up.
My turn to stay by her bed til she gets better, I guess.
Alden settled in. No matter what, he wasn’t moving from that stool until Meg woke up.
”Shouldn’t you be… doing something?” asked Andrea.
They were all curled up on the couch at Rachel’s house in Vancouver. Rachel sat next to her mother, while her father sat in the easy chair nearby. Solveig was over at the table, breaking and fixing a glass over and over again with magic. It made a crinkly, unpleasant noise as the glass broke and reformed, over and over again.
Rachel’s father glanced at her. “Would you stop that, please?”
Solveig shrugged. “Gotta practice.”
”Solveig, please?” asked Rachel.
The girl sighed, but stopped messing with the glass, to Rachel’s relief. She’d had enough stress after the failed Summit. Solveig flipped her dreadlocks out of her face and leaned back, switching to fire magic instead. The circling balls of fire and gentle wave of heat across the room still raised Eric’s eyebrows, but Rachel could live with that—at least it wasn’t making an awful shattering sound every ten seconds.
Besides, it was freezing. The fire felt nice. She was curled up sharing a blanket with her mother, while Will watched from the bed they’d wheeled out into the living room nearby.
They were all gathered around the TV, which was still showing images of the aftermath from the massacre in the pilgrim camp. Rachel had two different laptops open next to her on the coffee table. She periodically checked the headlines, as well as her private messages and drop sites for other contacts she had. She was hoping for a response from Courtney or Maddie soon, or anyone who could give her more insight on what was happening back home in Rallsburg.
Back home… I never really thought of it as home, did I? I lived there… I even spent the summer there, but it wasn’t home.
”Rachel?” Andrea prompted.
Rachel shook her head. “They’ve got it under control. Courtney responded fast enough with the National Guard, and they’ve got the eyes of the whole world on them now. I don’t expect Brian to do anything so foolish as attack again.”
”Oh…” Andrea trailed off. She glanced at Eric, and they shared the latest of hundreds of confused looks with each other.
Her parents didn’t understand her anymore. Rachel had learned to live with it, but it still stung. She loved them dearly, but with Will as he was, she didn’t have anyone else to converse with regularly at home. Solveig was the closest, but she was… well, I guess Mom’s pretty used to a presence like that, what with Rika, but Solveig’s definitely something else.
”You said you saw Rika this morning right?” asked Andrea.
Rachel nodded. “She’s doing okay. Better… better than she was, anyway.” Except for the part where she’s basically against everyone now, and isn’t exactly happy with me either, since I had to persuade her to go back to prison… “She stayed in D.C. though. She’s still in prison for now.”
”I always said—” started her father, but cut himself off.
Rachel frowned. “You can say it, Dad. You never liked Rika.”
”That’s not what I meant—”
”Honestly, Eric,” sighed Andrea. “You’d already moved out by the time she was living with us.”
The two of them were at it again. Rachel was torn between wanting to break them up, and weirdly grateful that they were arguing about something normal. No insane genocidal mass-murderers, no high politics, no helicopter chases or gunfights or explosions or people dying. Just another debate between her parents about whether or not letting Rachel’s best friend from middle school live with her was all right.
An alert popped up on Rachel’s laptop—silent, so it didn’t interrupt them, but Rachel felt the gravitas of the moment nonetheless. From only the first few words, she knew… everything was about to change.
”Solveig,” said Rachel, and her tone silenced everyone in the room in an instant.
”Yeah boss?” asked Solveig uneasily.
”Call the twins.” If ever there was a time where I’m vulnerable… Beverly’s out of the picture, and I’m at home with my family, not anywhere I can be useful. Without her, I can’t get another portal, either.
”They got class…”
”Call them right now.”
Rachel was already pulling out her own phone. Solveig dialed as she walked out, calling Landon and Logan. Her parents looked afraid, but Rachel needed to get moving—beyond her own safety, there was a greater concern. If Beverly’s missed one, and it’s her own sister…
What was I thinking? We thought of everything, accounted for everything… We could have handled Brian, could have handled a dozen Brians eventually… but we never expected Beverly to stop awakening people. There was always one point of failure, but I completely overlooked it.
She pressed call.
”…Twice in one day, Rachel,” echoed Cinza’s ethereal voice from the speaker. “To what do I owe the honor?”
”Where are you right now?”
”In the forest. I don’t suppose you’ve decided to take our side?”
”Forget about that,” said Rachel. “Something is happening.”
”I cannot believe anything is more important than this right now.”
”I wish that were true,” she murmured, while her mother and father watched her on the phone with worry filling their own expressions as a surrogate for Cinza’s, thousands of miles away. “Grey-eyes failed to awaken someone.”
”…That is not possible.”
”It was Alden’s little sister Meg. I have no doubt more will follow,” she added, as an image of Beverly, totally overwhelmed and fleeing from everyone, filled her mind. Beverly wasn’t the sort of person who could bounce back from such a trauma, especially after everything she’d just been through. I forced her to perform so much difficult magic this morning… I’m partially responsible. “We need to warn the world.”
”Warn them of what?”
”No one can awaken. If they try, they will fail.”
”…I can’t send such a message.”
Rachel took a breath, trying to force anger out of her voice at Cinza’s obstinance. “Cinza, people are going to die.“
She didn’t respond right away. Rachel’s mom gasped, her hands flying to cover her mouth. Her father looked about to say something. Will was struggling to look at her, still trapped in his bed—after his own exertions the night before helping to launch the ritual, he was worse off than before. Rachel wished he hadn’t… but the opportunity was too good to pass up.
”If I tell people even once that magic is not safe, I lose power.”
An idea burst into Rachel’s mind. She couldn’t accomplish it herself, but… she’d built up plenty of contacts who might. It needed to be widespread though… as strong a message as she could possibly send. Only one person could get a message out so fast and so widespread—and they didn’t need any magic to do it. It was the perfect way.
”A presidential alert.”
”…That may work.”
”You have a way to contact him, right?”
”I do, but… I can’t right now. I’m not in a position to make that sort of call.”
Rachel shook her head. “We don’t have time for this.”
”Call him, Rachel.” Cinza rattled off a phone number without preamble, knowing Rachel’s perfect memory would catch every digit. “That will get as close as any phone number can. Get the word out. Save them.”
Cinza disconnected. Rachel took another deep breath, taking Will’s outstretched hand for strength. She had an important call to make, and though she felt like she’d been building up to a moment like this her whole life—and even had several test runs reaching out to Maddie and Courtney—this was different.
”Rachel?” asked Andrea, holding Eric’s hand tight just as Rachel held Will’s. “What’s going on?”
”I’m trying to save everyone, Mom,” said Rachel, feeling more exhausted than she ever had. She’d gotten her two hours of sleep the night before, but even so… the whole world seemed to be on her shoulders again. It was a feeling she’d tried to escape, fleeing up here to Vancouver with her family, but Agent Ashe had sought her out… and Rachel was back in the thick of it once again.
She dialed the number Cinza had given her.
It wasn’t him, but someone else. She placed the voice from a podcast he’d once been interviewed on—the president’s body man, Geoffrey Downs.
”Mr. Downs, I need to speak with President Stafford immediately. It’s an emergency.”
At the name, Rachel’s mother gasped again. “The president?” she whispered.
”Badass,” said Solveig, who’d come back into the room at some point during Rachel’s last phone call.
”…Who is this?” asked Geoffrey.
”My name is Rachel DuValle,” said Rachel, ignoring the living room around her. The fire crackled by the television, waves of heat washing over her, but it felt like a gentle breeze compared to the sheer pressure of the conversation she was about to have. “I’m a personal friend of Cinza’s.”
”The Rachel DuValle?” he asked dubiously.
Oh… right. Thanks to Cinza’s journals… I’m famous too. She wrote an awful lot about me… “Yes.”
Rachel waited, tapping her fingers impatiently on the back of her phone. She could hear Geoffrey making his way through the White House to find the President, wherever he might be. Images of people choking to death kept flickering in Rachel’s mind. Faster… please, she willed Geoffrey, though she knew any shrill panic would likely end the call before she got what she needed.
”This is the President. To whom am I speaking?”
Rachel cleared her throat. “Mr. President, my name is Rachel DuValle.”
”…I’ve heard a lot about you.”
”I’m sure, but we don’t have time right now, sir. I need you to issue an emergency presidential alert.”
”I’m aware FEMA issues those alerts, but they do still take direction from you, sir,” said Rachel impatiently, “and your word vastly exceeds my own.”
”In certain circles.” The President hesitated. “What’s happening that I need to issue an alert?”
”If anyone attempts to awaken right now, they will die. You need to tell the world right away, if they have access to any Scraps, not to read them. Not to even glance at them.”
”…Forgive me, but isn’t that what Grey-eyes—”
Stafford took a breath. “…Oh, God,” he said finally, as the gravity of what Rachel was telling him sunk in. “How long ago?”
”I don’t know, sir. Please get the word out, Mr. President. There’s no time to waste.”
”I will. Thank you, Miss DuValle.”
Rachel hung up. She glanced at her parents, still clutching hands, terrified. Rachel slowly shook her head. “You two don’t need to be afraid,” she murmured.
”You’re both awakened,” said Rachel with a sigh. “We all are. She already saved us.”
Her phone started to play a shrill alert noise, right at the same time Will’s phone did, as did Eric’s. Solveig glanced at her own—which started to go off about thirty seconds later.
”Emergency alert issued by the United States…” she read aloud, “…under no circumstances… do not awaken.” Solveig glanced back up at Rachel. “Shit,” she murmured.
Rachel glanced down at her own phone, which carried a similar message. A moment later, their TV—which had been on the news, but muted—flickered over to an emergency alert.
The word was going out. All Rachel could do now was hope they’d been fast enough… before anyone else died.
High in the sky, having long-since broken the sound barrier, Hailey’s own phone lit up with the alert.
It was surprisingly quiet now as she flew, since she was shaping all the air in front of her to fly around rather than come near. It was the only way to maintain her speed, since friction and air resistance would have dragged her back too hard. It wasn’t nearly as fun as normal flight—she didn’t get the sensation of wind blowing through her hair, or the rush of air in her ears and her face—but she was travelling much, much faster than normal.
Her phone GPS didn’t give her anything, though. It capped out at nine hundred ninety-nine miles per hour.
Hailey’s lucky tourmaline stone was almost half-black now, after having stuck with her for so many months. She’d switched, finally, to using others in her bag, burning through cheaper ones to keep hers intact, but the black spot was all right. It was doing something useful—something good. It was just a stone. She was trying to save everyone.
The presidential alert only confirmed that. Hailey read it, nodded to herself, and secured her phone back on her belt again. She’d actually changed in mid-air, somewhere over Illinois, taking her clothes out of her bag and using telekinesis to make sure nothing fell to the earth miles below. She took a breath—which necessitated using magic to gather up fresh air and get it into her lungs—and sent another huge burst of magic into the wind propelling her forward.
Faster, ever faster. Hailey needed to get there on time, before…
She shook her head. Meg was going to be fine. She was already in the hospital, from the brief phone call she’d managed with Alden, despite it dropping every time she moved out of range of one of the more powerful towers. Hailey just needed to get there, force Beverly to finish the job, or do it herself.
If that’s even gonna wor—
Hailey shook her head again, more fiercely this time. She brushed a few loose strands of hair out of her eyes. She’d been flying for over an hour now, going over the same thoughts in her head, the same fears, the same memories. In the distance, so far away, Hailey began to see landscapes she recognized. She was already almost there.
If I crossed the country in only an hour and a half, and the country’s about twenty-eight hundred miles across… Hailey did the quick math in her head. Oh god… I’m going really fast… Jess, if you were here right now…
She was nearly out of gemstones, too—just two rubies left, besides the half-used lucky tourmaline around her neck. Hailey had long-since burned through every other stone, with only the off-color rubies remaining. They were already running out fast, since they weren’t great for air magic to begin with, but… anything helped when she was burning so much magic in such a short amount of time.
I wonder if we’ll find out burning magic like this causes horrible things to happen too, just like climate change.
Hailey couldn’t think about that. She could see Seattle way in the distance, and Olympia, and Tacoma… home.
Her phone buzzed.
Hailey pulled it out and checked the messages. There were a few—one from Alden, only a few minutes ago, reporting no change, except that Beverly had vanished (not that he knew her name, of course…). Several from her mother, from Weston, and from Rupert—all worried after hearing about her escape from prison. An alert from the phone company that her service was going to be shut off—figures.
One from Josh.
Welcome back. Cinza’s taken a hunting party out to Rallsburg. Brian’s in the library and Natalie’s out there too. Get there as fast as you can and make sure they don’t fucking kill each other. P.S. You’re freaking out the air radar people. Nice.
Hailey was torn between laughing and crying. Everything was already falling apart, and she wasn’t even home yet. She was so close… Where was she supposed to go? If she didn’t go to Alden at the hospital… Meg might die. But… Natalie was all alone, against everyone. Hailey felt like someone in Rallsburg was going to die, somehow.
She could either maintain her speed and overshoot Olympia and Shelton, heading straight for Rallsburg… or she could slow down, go to the Bensen siblings, hope to find Beverly and confront her, and maybe save Meg… assuming the plan with her own page even worked.
Hailey’s eyes drifted away from the small town of Shelton, out of the edges of the forest. She sped up, driving ever faster toward the thick blanket of clouds covering the forest. Rain began to splat against her shield as Hailey blew into the region, braking hard as she crossed into the heavy shower. With her eyes, Hailey was able to spot the distinct turrets of the library, half-destroyed amongst the still-devastated, decaying town.
She folded her wings and went into a dive.
Natalie hadn’t left Boris’ shop yet. She still sat on the upper floor with Aulikki, hiding in the unknown girl’s bedroom, watching the library for any signs of movement. Rain continued to pour down. After the radio message, they’d waited for a few minutes for any further warning of activity, but nothing came. Eventually, Natalie assumed she had to be wrong, that nothing terrible had happened—or at least, nothing new.
Just more people hurt from last night… because of Dad.
We will talk to him. We will determine the best course of action.
”I don’t know,” murmured Natalie, as much to answer the voice as to Aulikki’s unspoken question from earlier.
Aulikki didn’t budge from her own perch, still sheltered from the ongoing downpour. The wind did blow the occasional drop their way, but it mostly just hit the floor, or Natalie. None of it managed to land on the woman.
Her left eye twitched over in Natalie’s direction. “Whatever you decide, I am with you.”
Natalie’s phone suddenly began to buzz. She scrambled for it in a panic, worried someone might hear. Likewise, she heard faint ringing sounds way down the street… inside the library. A moment later, they fell silent as well, just as she grabbed her phone and tapped a button to get it to stop.
’Awakening’, or the process of reading from a piece of paper to gain access to magic, is now deadly as of approximately twenty minutes ago. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ATTEMPT TO AWAKEN. If you find a strange piece of paper with words you can’t understand, DO NOT READ IT. YOU WILL DIE. More details to follow.
”Oh god…” Natalie murmured.
”What?” asked Aulikki.
”I think… I think something happened to Grey-eyes.”
Aulikki turned to look at Natalie. “What do you mean?”
”She’s not awakening anyone. I think… that radio message we heard… I think somebody just died because they tried to awaken and she didn’t help them.” Natalie looked back out down the street into the rain. “This is really bad…”
”Many may die,” agreed Aulikki, shifting back to watch the library. “There’s nothing we can do about it though.”
”How can you…” said Natalie uncomfortably. “How can you just say something like that?”
Aulikki hesitated. She glanced back at Natalie again, and a look of concern crossed her face. Rain continued to pound on the half-caved-in roof above their heads, dripping onto the floor at the edge of the room and running off onto the street below.
She frowned. “I can only keep those closest to me safe, and at the moment, that list is very, very small. All of them are awakened, as far as I am aware, except for my daughter. She is on the other side of the world. I don’t wish for anyone to die, but I also don’t have any way to save them either. Do you?”
”…I don’t,” said Natalie. “I can’t do what Grey-eyes does.”
”And the best possible method to warn them has already been employed,” Aulikki added, nodding at Natalie’s phone. “There’s nothing more that can be done.”
She is right.
I guess so…
Aulikki makes a valuable ally, and she is wise. We can only protect our own, just as she does, and we must not extend your resources so far that we no longer control our territory.
So what do we do?
Focus on our objectives. We need to reach your father, we need to protect him, and we need to create a home for ourselves and our own. Everything else can wait.
Natalie cleared her throat. “So… How do we—”
”Stebbins, tell me you just got that, over.”
”I got it, sir. Weren’t planning on awakening anyway, over.”
”No shit. But things are gonna heat up again fast. We might want to make a move, over.”
”Ashe, this is Cinza,” cut in Makoto’s voice suddenly on the net. Natalie glanced at Aulikki’s headset, sure she must have misheard him, but Aulikki didn’t look confused at all.
”…Go ahead, Cinza.”
A shuffle through the headset, and suddenly Cinza was speaking over the radio, her echoing voice diminished but not completely suppressed by the crackling noises of the transmission. “…That alert would have gone to everyone, including Hendricks. They will know we are weak right now.”
”…They’re weak too, Cinza. We gave ’em a serious beatin’ last night, and the Guard hunted them for hours afterward, over,” said Jeremy, but he didn’t sound convinced, even to Natalie.
”So there is no better time to attack.”
”Dammit, Cinza,” cut in the sheriff. Natalie had a confused mix of emotions flood through her at Jackie’s voice, unsure whether or not the sheriff was on her side. “What about that little girl? We all agreed to protect her. Don’t you forget about that, over.”
”You should go, now,” murmured Aulikki, as Cinza launched into an argument about her dad being a traitor.
”I think they’ve forgotten we can hear them. While they’re still arguing, they’re distracted. This may be your only chance. I don’t believe anyone will shoot you, and you must not wait for them to take a foothold.”
Natalie hesitated. “Are you coming with me?”
”I will make sure they do not follow.”
She nodded. “I’ll leave—”
”Take your friends. You will need them.” Aulikki looked at Natalie and smiled, a sad smile Natalie wished she didn’t understand. “I’ll be okay, Natalie. I’ll see you again.”
Natalie turned and ran down the stairs, Percy fluttering to her shoulder as she went. Gwen got to her feet just as the tip of Natalie’s toes touched the dust-covered floor of Boris’ shop. Natalie pulled herself on top of the wolf, wrapping her coat tighter around the black funeral dress she still wore.
<Straight to the library,> she murmured. <Don’t stop for anything.>
Gwen roared, a huge growl that rumbled through every bone in Natalie’s body. Scrappy yowled at the sudden noise, but Gwen was already bounding out into the street.
The rain slammed into them as they rode out. Natalie clutched onto Gwen’s back as she bounded down the slick streets, leaping over the upturned street light, the trash cans which still rolled around the sidewalks, the trashed car near Dan’s diner. Water splattered her back, soaking Gwen’s fur, but Natalie held on tight.
A gunshot rang out, and mud spurted out of the ground a dozen feet in front of them. Gwen swerved, but didn’t slow down.
They shot at us!
Do not stop!
Natalie couldn’t turn back. She kept riding, while another gunshot pierced the downpour, this time without the accompanying crack of the first one. Instead, she heard a burst of rubble behind her, and whipped her head around to see chunks of a building burst out and land in the street. Aulikki shot at them? I think… I don’t know.
It does not matter!
She didn’t need to know, because the library was only a few dozen feet away. Gwen kept running, even though the doors were boarded up. She was trusting Natalie to clear a path. Natalie murmured a quick spell, throwing out a lance of magic into the boards.
They shattered, wood chips flying in every direction.
Gwen dove inside, practically skidding on her claws as she landed in the dusty old library. Scrappy was only a few steps behind, while Percy fluttered in shortly after—all three dripping wet from their wild run across Rallsburg. Out of the gathering storm, the library seemed eerily quiet.
Someone was talking, just down the hallway.
Natalie pressed Gwen forward, step by step. She could hear something else… the slide of a gun. They were armed… four of them, if Natalie’s senses were right. She felt more confident than usual… ever since the rituals in Quinn’s house, nearly a month ago, Natalie was really good at telling what was around her.
Four people… but none of them are talking… is one of them Dad? I… I think so.
Wait until we are sure.
”Definitely a shot,” whispered someone, just inside the next doorway, which had heavy old wooden planks criss-crossing the entrance to provide a makeshift barrier. Natalie put a hand on Gwen’s neck, bringing her to a halt.
”Two shots,” said another voice, much more confident—and much harsher.
”We didn’t get any reports,” murmured a third voice. None of them sounded like Natalie’s father. “And none of our people should be anywhere near here. They’re all supposed to be out of the forest by now, if they could manage it.”
”Amateurs,” snorted the harsh voice—a feminine voice, now that it was longer longer whispering. “Fucking amateurs, all of ’em.”
”Crusaders,” said a fourth voice, and Natalie’s heart threatened to explode into her throat. She lurched forward involuntarily, nearly falling off Gwen’s back. The wolf had to take a few light steps to keep her upright. “They carry out our cause. Don’t be so quick to judge.”
”I know,” said the harsh voice. “But damn, we need better discipline.”
”I heard something,” muttered the first voice, just inside the doorway. A faint knock echoed down the hallway, filling the space below the rain pounding against the rooftop. Someone had just grabbed at the planks blocking the doorway.
We’ve been found out. We must act!
A shrill burst of panic up Natalie’s spine. Every muscle tensed in unison. Gwen growled as Natalie’s knees tightened around her back.
She threw magic into the room. The planks fell away. Natalie felt for the guns and plucked them out of their hands all at once. The bundle flew out into the hallway and crumpled into a ball, useless.
Natalie turned the corner, right on top of Gwen. A one-armed woman was just inside, along with a heavyset man who looked like he couldn’t believe his eyes. On the far wall, a rat-faced man with his mouth open wide, missing several teeth. By some chance or fate, Natalie didn’t know, but they were gathered in the very same room she’d been in only six months prior—with the high turreted ceiling above, empty shelves in every direction, and a bench on one side.
Her father sat on that bench, in almost exactly the same spot Rachel had been seven months ago. His eyes were wide, and he looked tired—so incredibly tired.
Gwen took another step forward, and then another. Natalie emerged fully into the room. She opened her mouth, and her voice caught in her throat.
”Is that…” started the rat-faced man in the back, but he trailed off as Gwen growled, her yellow eyes turning to glare at him. Next to the wolf, Scrappy prowled in, purring menacingly, while Percy fluttered on her shoulder and glared at the one-armed woman next to them.
Natalie ignored all of them, though. She ignored her friends, ignored the three bodyguards, ignored the rain on the rooftop and the gunfight possibly happening outside and the attack which might come any moment.
She ignored everything, because after seven long months—after begging the council over and over, after her home was destroyed, after living with the Laushires and the Kincaids, after so much time alone, in fear, in terror, learning to rely on herself and trusting no one else—she’d found him.
Natalie had found her father.