Sparks flew from her skin. The stink of burning cloth and skin singed my nostrils. She kept shaking, her head flopping on her boneless neck.
I clamped my hand over my mouth as I took a step toward her. I needed to help her, but I didn’t know how.
The air around her imploded.
A shock wave tore through my room. The computer chair overturned; the bed lifted up on one side, suspended; and the wave kept coming. Clothing flew from my closet. Papers swirled and fell like sheets of snow.
When the wave reached me, it lifted me off my feet and flung me back like I weighed nothing more than one of the floating papers. I hit the wall beside the little stand next to my bed, and I hung there as the shock wave surged.
I couldn’t move or breathe.
And Carissa… Oh my God, Carissa…
Her skin and bones sunk in as if someone had hooked up a vacuum to the back of her and kicked it on. Inch by inch she shrank until a burst of light with the power of a solar storm lit the room—lit the entire house and probably the entire street, blinding me.
A loud, deafening pop sounded and as the light receded, so did the shock wave. I slipped to the floor, a heap among piles of clothing and papers, dragging in air. I couldn’t get enough oxygen, because the room was empty.
I stared at the area where Carissa had once stood. There was nothing but a darkened spot on the floor, like what Baruck had left behind when he was killed.
There was nothing, absolutely nothing of the girl—of my friend.
I felt the warm tingle on the back of my neck numbly, and then Daemon stood in the doorway, brows lifted and his mouth hanging open.
“I can’t leave you alone for two seconds, Kitten.”
I sprung from the mess of clothing and threw myself in his arms. All of it came out in an incoherent babble of words and run-on sentences. Several times he slowed me down and asked me to repeat myself before he got the general gist of what went down.
He took me downstairs and sat beside me on the couch, his fingers moving over my bottom lip as his eyes narrowed in concentration. Healing warmth spread along my lips and across my aching cheeks.
“I don’t understand what happened,” I said, tracking his movements. “She was normal last week. Daemon, you saw her. How did we not know this?”
His jaw tightened. “I think the better question is, why did she come after you?”
The knot that had been in my stomach moved upward, settling on my chest and making it hard to breathe. “I don’t know.”
I didn’t know anything anymore. I kept rewinding every conversation with Carissa, from the first time I met her up until she was out of school with the “flu.” Where were the clues, the red herring? I couldn’t find one that stood out.
Daemon frowned. “She could’ve known a Luxen—known the truth and knew not to tell anyone. I mean, no one inside of the colony knows that you’re aware of the truth.”
“But there’s no other Luxen around our age,” I said.
His gaze flicked up. “None outside the colony, but there are a few who are only a couple years older or younger than us in the colony.”
It was possible that Carissa had always known and we didn’t. I’d never told her or Lesa, so it took no leap of the imagination to think that Carissa knew but never told anyone. But why did she try and kill me?
Entirely possible that I wasn’t the only person around here who knew what lived among us, but dear God, what went wrong? Had she been hurt and a Luxen tried to heal her? “You don’t think…” I couldn’t finish the question. It was too sickening, but Daemon knew where I was going with it.
“That Daedalus took her and forced a Luxen to heal her like with Dawson?” Anger darkened the green hue. “I seriously pray that’s not the case. If so, it’s just…”
“Revolting,” I said hoarsely. My hands shook so I shoved them between my knees. “She wasn’t there. Not even a flicker of her personality. She was like a zombie, you know? Just freaking crazed. Is that what instability does?”
Daemon moved his hands away and the healing warmth ebbed off. When it did, so did the barrier that had kept the truth of everything from really breaking free and consuming me.
“God, she…she died. Does that mean…?” I swallowed, but the lump was pushing its way up my throat.
Daemon’s arms tightened. “If it were one of the Luxen here, then I’ll hear about it, but we don’t know if the mutation held. Blake has said that sometimes the mutation is unstable and that sounded pretty damn unstable. The bonding only happens if it’s a stable mutation, I believe.”
“We need to talk to Blake,” I said, and a shudder rolled through me. I blinked, but my vision blurred even more. I took a breath and choked. “Oh…oh, God, Daemon…that was Carissa. That was Carissa and that wasn’t right.”
Another shudder racked my shoulders and before I knew what was happening, I was crying—those big, breath-stealing sobs. Vaguely, I realized that Daemon had pulled me over to him and cradled my head to his chest.
I’m not sure how long the tears came, but every part of me ached in a way that couldn’t by repaired by Daemon. Carissa was wholly innocent in all of this, or at least I believed her to be, and maybe that’s what made this whole thing worse. I didn’t know how deep Carissa was involved, and how would I ever find out?
The tears…they flowed, practically soaking Daemon’s shirt, but he didn’t pull away. If anything, he held me tighter and he whispered in that lyrical voice of his in a language I could never understand but felt drawn to nonetheless. The unknown words soothed me and I wondered if long ago someone, a parent maybe, had held him and whispered the same words to him. And how many times had he done it for his siblings? Even with all the bark and bite he carried, he was a natural at this.
It calmed the dark abyss, dulled the edges of the sharp blow.
Carissa… Carissa was gone, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. Or with the fact that her last act had been to try to take me out, which was so, so unlike her.
When the tears finally subsided, I sniffled and wiped at my face with my sleeves. The one on my right was charred from the energy blast and was rough against my cheek. The scratchy feeling poked a memory free.
I lifted my head. “She had a bracelet I’d never seen her wear before. The same kind of bracelet that Luc had on.”
“Are you sure?” When I nodded, he leaned back against the couch, keeping me in his embrace. “This is even more suspicious.”
“We need to talk to Luc without our unwanted sidekick first.” He tipped his chin up, letting out a long sigh. Worry touched his face, roughened his voice. “I’ll let the others know.” I started to speak, but he shook his head. “I don’t want you to have to go through telling them what happened.”
I lowered my cheek to his shoulder. “Thank you.”
“And I’ll take care of your bedroom. We’ll get it cleaned up.”
Relief coursed through me. Cleaning up that room, seeing the spot on the floor, was the last thing I wanted to do. “You’re perfect, you know.”
“Sometimes,” he murmured, brushing his chin along my cheek. “I’m sorry, Kat. I’m sorry about Carissa. She was a good girl and didn’t deserve this.”
My lips trembled. “No, she didn’t.”
“And you didn’t deserve to have to go through that with her.”
I didn’t say anything to that, because I wasn’t so sure what I deserved anymore. Sometimes I didn’t think I even deserved Daemon.
We made plans to go to Martinsburg on Wednesday, which meant we’d be missing our second day of onyx training, but I couldn’t think about that right now. Finding out how Carissa ended up a hybrid and in possession of the same kind of bracelet Luc wore was paramount. If I could figure out what happened to her, then there would be some kind of justice.
I had no idea what I was supposed to say at school when Carissa never came back and the inevitable questions began. I didn’t think I had it in me to pretend to be clueless and tell more lies. Another kid missing…
Oh, God, Lesa… What would Lesa do? They’d been best friends since grade school.
I squeezed my eyes tight and curled up against Daemon. The aches of the fight had long faded, but I was weary to the core, mentally and physically drained. It was ironic that I’d spent the last month avoiding the living room and now it would be my bedroom. I was running out of rooms to hide from.
Daemon kept up talking in his beautiful language, a streaming melody, until I drifted off in his arms. I was only a little aware of him placing me on the couch and drawing the afghan over me.
Hours later, I opened my eyes and saw Dee sitting in the recliner, legs tucked against her chest, reading one of my books. A favorite YA paranormal of mine—about a demon-hunting girl living in Atlanta.
But what was Dee doing here?
I sat up, pushing my hair out of my face. The clock below the TV, an old-fashioned windup one that my mom loved, read a quarter till midnight.
Dee closed the book. “Daemon went to Walmart in Moorefield. So that will take an absurd amount of time, but it’s the only place open that has throw rugs.”
Her features tightened. “For your bedroom… There weren’t any extra ones in the house and he didn’t want your mom looking for one and finding the spot, thinking you were trying to burn down the house.”
The spot…? Sleep faded away completely as the last couple of hours resurfaced. The spot on my bedroom floor where Carissa had basically self-destructed.
“Oh, God….” I threw my legs off the couch, but they shook too much to stand. Tears welled behind my eyes. “I didn’t… I didn’t kill her.”
I don’t know why I said that. Maybe it was because deep down I wondered if Dee would automatically assume I was responsible for what happened to Carissa.
“I know. Daemon told me everything.” She unfurled her legs, lashes lowered, fanning her cheeks. “I can’t…”
“You can’t believe this happened?” She nodded, and I tucked my legs up, wrapping my arms around them. “I can’t, either. I just can’t even wrap my brain around it.”
Dee was silent for a moment. “I haven’t talked to her since…well, since everything.” She tipped her head down and her hair slipped over her shoulders, shielding her face. “I liked her and I was a complete bitch to her.”
I started to tell her that she hadn’t been, but Dee looked up, a wry smile on her lips. “Don’t lie to make me feel better. I appreciate it, but it doesn’t change the fact. I don’t think I even said two words to her since Adam…died, and now…”
And now she was dead, too.
I wanted to comfort her, but there was a gulf and a ten-foot wall topped with barbed wire between Dee and me. The electrical fence surrounding the wall had disappeared, but there wasn’t any level of ease between us, and right now, that hurt more than anything.