I almost couldn’t believe it.
Happy and anxious all at once, I felt the rush of responding Source, but it peaked and then quickly sputtered out. The amount of onyx in this building was insane.
“The third cell is hers,” Blake said, rushing down the hall, toward the last cluster of doors.
Spinning back around, I held my breath as Dawson reached for the onyx-coated door handle and turned. It met no resistance.
Dawson stepped into the room, his legs shaking, his entire body trembling, and his voice cracked when he spoke. “Beth?”
That one word, that one sound was pulled from the depths of Dawson and we all stopped, our breaths holding again.
Over his shoulder, I saw a slender form on a narrow bed sit up. As she came into view, I almost cheered—I wanted to, because it was her, it was Beth…but she looked nothing like she had when I’d last seen her.
Her brown hair wasn’t stringy or greasy but pulled back in a smooth ponytail. A few strands had slipped free, framing a pale but elfin face. A huge part of me feared that she wouldn’t recognize Dawson, that she’d be that cracked shell of a girl I’d met. I’d been planning for the worse. That she might even attack Dawson.
But when I saw Beth’s dark eyes, they weren’t empty like they’d been at Vaughn’s house. They also looked nothing like Carissa’s frighteningly blank stare.
Recognition flared in Beth’s eyes.
Time stopped for those two and then sped up. Dawson stumbled forward, and I thought he was going to drop to his knees. His hands opened and closed at his sides as if he had no control over them.
All he could say was, “Beth.”
The girl scrambled off the bed, her eyes bouncing over us and then they settled and stayed on him. “Dawson? Is that… I don’t understand.”
They both moved as one, rushing forward, crossing the distance at the same moment. Their arms went around each other and Dawson lifted her up, burying his face in her neck. Words were traded, but their voices were thick with emotion, too low and too fast for my ears to track. They were holding onto each other in a way I knew they were never going to let go.
Dawson lifted his head and said something in his language and it sounded just as beautiful as it did when Daemon spoke it. Then he kissed her, and I felt like an interloper watching them, but I couldn’t look away. There was so much beauty in their reunion, in the way he showered her upturned face with tiny kisses and the wetness that gathered on her cheeks.
Tears crept up my throat, burning the back of my eyes. Happy tears blurred my vision. I felt Matthew place his hand on my shoulder and squeeze. Sniffling, I nodded.
“Dawson.” Urgency filled Daemon’s tone, reminding all of us that we were running out of time.
Pulling apart, Dawson grabbed her hand and turned around as a whole boatload of questions came streaming out of Beth’s mouth.
“What are you guys doing? How did you all get in here? Do they know?” And on and on she went as Dawson, who was grinning like an idiot, tried to keep her quieted down.
“Later,” he said. “But we have to go through two doors and it’s going to hurt—”
“Onyx shields, I know,” she said.
Well, that solved that problem.
I turned as Blake came back, carrying the prone body of a dark-haired Luxen boy. A reddish stain bloomed across the teenager’s jaw. “Is he okay?”
Blake nodded. The skin around his lips was drawn tight and pale. “I… He didn’t recognize me. I had to keep him quiet.”
A tiny crack fissured my heart. The look in Blake’s eyes was so hopeless and bleak, especially when they flickered toward Dawson and Beth. Everything he had done: lied, cheated, and murdered had all been for the guy in his arms. Someone he considered a brother. Again, I hated that I felt sympathy for Blake.
But I did.
Beth looked up and her onslaught of questions faded off. “You can’t—”
“We need to go.” Blake cut her off and stalked past us. “We’re almost out of time.”
And we were. The reminder whipped through me and I gave the other girl what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “We have to leave. Now. Everything else can wait.”
Beth was shaking her head vigorously. “But—”
“We need to go, Beth. We know.” And she nodded at Dawson’s words, but panic was building in her eyes.
Urgency kicked adrenaline into high gear and without any more delay, the five of us took off down the hall. Daemon punched the code into panel on the wall, and the door opened.
The all-white waiting room wasn’t empty.
Simon Cutters stood there—missing, presumed dead Simon Cutters—as big and burly as ever. All of us were caught off guard. Daemon took a step back. Matthew came to a halt. I couldn’t wrap my head around how he was alive, why he was standing there, as if he were waiting for us.
The tiny hairs on my arms started to rise.
“Oh shit,” Daemon said.
Simon smiled. “Missed me? I missed you guys.”
Then he raised an arm. Light reflected off a metal cuff he wore. A piece of opal glittered, nearly identical to the one I wore around my neck. Everything happened so fast. Simon opened his hand, and it was like being hit with gale force winds. I was lifted off my feet and thrown back through the air. I crashed into the nearest door, my hip hitting the metal door handle. Pain exploded, knocking the air out of my lungs as I hit the floor.
Oh, my God… Simon was…
My brain raced to keep up with what was happening. If Simon had a piece of opal, then that meant he had to have been mutated. He probably wouldn’t have gotten us if we hadn’t been so unprepared to see him. It was like with Carissa. He was the last person I expected.
Daemon was picking himself up several feet back down the hall, as was Matthew. Dawson had Beth pressed back against the wall. Blake was closer, using his body to shield Chris’s.
I pushed myself up, wincing as pain arced down my leg. I tried to stand, but my leg gave out. Blake was there, catching me before I hit the floor for the second time.
Simon stepped into the room and smiled.
Daemon staggered to his feet. “Oh, you are so dead.”
“Ah, I think that’s my line,” Simon responded. A burst of energy flew from his hand, and I yelled Daemon’s name. He narrowly avoided a direct hit.
Daemon’s pupils were starting to glow white. He reared back. Energy arced across the room, a whitish-red light. Simon dodged it, laughing.
“You’re going to wear yourself out, Luxen.” Simon sneered.
“Not before you.”
Simon winked and then spun toward us, throwing his hand out again. Blake and I skidded back. I started to fall and Blake grabbed me. Somehow his arm ended up around my neck. There was a tugging feeling and then Daemon was beside me, shoving me behind him.
“This is so not good,” Blake said, edging closer to Simon. “We’re running out of time.”
“No shit,” Daemon spat.
Dawson shot toward Simon, but he threw him back, laughing. He was like a hybrid suped up on steroids. Another blast of energy flew at Blake and then toward Matthew. Both of them dive-bombed the floor to avoid taking a hit. Simon kept advancing, still smiling. I looked up and our eyes locked. His were devoid of all human emotion. Unreal. Inhuman.
And they were so very cold.
How had he been mutated? How was it successful? And how had it turned him into this unfeeling monster. There were so many questions, and none of them mattered right now. The breath-stealing pain made it difficult to concentrate, to even keep standing.
Simon’s smile spread, and a shudder rolled through me as I pulled on the Source, feeling it spark deep inside me. Before I could release it, he opened his mouth. “Want to play, Kitty Kat?”
“Oh, screw this,” Daemon growled.
Daemon was just so much faster than me. He shot past Blake and Matthew, beyond Dawson and Beth. Moving so fast had to have affected him with all the onyx, but he was like lightning. Half a heartbeat later, he was in front of Simon, his hands on either side of Simon’s head.
A sickening crack echoed down the hall.
Simon hit the floor.
Daemon stepped back, breathing deeply. “I never liked that punk in the first place.”
I stumbled to the side, heart racing as the Source stirred restlessly inside of me. Eyes wide, I swallowed hard. “He’s… He was…”
“We don’t have time.” Dawson pulled Beth down the hall, into the waiting room. “They have to know we’re here.”
Blake scooped Chris up, casting a look at Simon as he passed the prone body. He said nothing, but what was there to say?
My stomach dipped as panic threatened to take hold. Forcing myself forward, I ignored the jagged pain racing up and down my leg.
“Are you okay?” Daemon asked, his fingers threading through mine. “You took a nasty hit.”
“I’m okay.” I was alive and I could walk, so that had to mean I was okay. “You?”
He nodded as we entered the waiting room. Taking the elevator filled me with so much dread I thought I’d hurl, but there were no doors to stairwells. Nothing. We had no other choice.
“Come on.” Matthew slipped into the elevator, his face pale. “We need to prepare for anything once these doors are open.”
Daemon nodded. “How is everyone?”
“Not feeling very good,” Dawson answered, his free hand open and closing. “It’s the damn onyx. I don’t know how much is left in me.”
“What the hell was up with Simon?” Daemon turned on Blake as the elevator pitched into motion. “He barely seemed affected by the onyx.”
Blake shook his head. “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”
Beth was babbling on about something, but I couldn’t pay attention. The ball of dread was building in my stomach, spreading into my limbs. How could Blake not know? I felt Daemon shift beside me, and then his lips brushed my forehead.
“It’s going to be okay. We’re almost out of here. We got this,” Daemon whispered into my ear, and more tension seeped out of him, out of me. Then he smiled. It was a real one, so wide and beautiful that my own lips curved to meet his. “I promise, Kitten.”
I closed my eyes briefly, soaking in his words and hanging onto them. I needed to believe in them because I was seconds away from freaking out. I had to hold it together. We were a tunnel away from freedom.
“Time?” Blake asked.
Matthew checked his watch. “Two minutes.”
The doors released with a suction-cup sound and the long narrow tunnel appeared, thankfully, beautifully empty and devoid of anymore freak-me-out surprises. Blake and his bundle were the first out, his strides long and quick. Daemon and I took up the flank with Matthew in front of Dawson and Beth, just in case something happened.
“Stay behind me,” Daemon said.
Nodding, I kept my eyes peeled. The tunnel was a blur, we were moving that fast. The pain in my leg increased with each step. As Blake reached the middle door, he shifted Chris to over his shoulder and entered in the key. The door rattled and then slid open.
Blake stood there, swathed in the darkness of the encroaching night. In his arms, the motionless Luxen was pale and seemed barely alive, but he’d be free in seconds. Blake had finally gotten what he wanted. Our eyes met from across the distance. There was something churning in those green flecks.