“You don’t have to go after that piece of shit all by yourself,” Asenath spoke up as the two of us went back into Dad’s motel room once I had briefly summarized the call with Ammon.
I shook my head at that. “I kind of do. If you go after him, he’ll use his mind control on you. You said yourself that you’re pretty sure I’m the only one that’s immune to it. If he gets you, you’re not backup anymore, you’re the primary threat.” Softening my voice, I added, “I’m pretty sure you’d cream me.”
“I would,” she agreed with a sympathetic nod. “But don’t you have some kind of way to contact your teachers? I’m pretty sure not letting a kid mind control a bunch of cops into mass murder is their job.”
Snorting in spite of myself, I nodded. “I do have a way of contacting them. It’s an emergency beacon. I squeeze it in an SOS pattern once and they come running. The problem is that it’s attached to my phone. That’s why I have to go after Ammon. Once I get my phone back, I can get the cavalry here.”
Her head cocked a little to the side. “You think you can get it away from him long enough to do that?”
“I sure as hell can’t just sit here on my hands waiting for Ammon to murder everyone in town,” I replied while reaching down to yank the phone cord out of the wall and then out of the back of the motel telephone. Tossing the cord to her, I instructed, “Quick, tie up my dad.”
Catching the cord with one hand, the vampire looked at me like I’d grown two heads. “Excuse me?”
“We don’t know what other orders Ammon gave him, or how long the ‘kill Rose’ order will last,” I pointed out while gently easing the woman herself to her feet. “Tie him up before he comes to.”
To Rose, I spoke gently. “Ma’am? We don’t know what Ammon said to you either, and we don’t have time to go over it. So I need you to come over into the bathroom so I can lock you in, okay? You’ll have water in there and the maid can let you out in the morning.”
“Let me… out?” The woman sounded dazed, like she wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. “Where is that nice boy? He, I think I need to find him.” She spoke dreamily, clearly completely out of it. I wasn’t sure how much of that was Ammon’s power and how much was the Bystander inability to remember magic. According to the teachers at Crossroads, a Bystander witnessing magic will either not notice it at all, or will rapidly forget it happened seconds after it stops affecting them directly.
Wincing, I led the woman to the bathroom and sat her down on the toilet seat. “Rose, I need you to stay here, okay? Just stay here until someone comes for you. I’m sorry I can’t do more. Just wait.”
By the time I came out and shoved the nearby chair in front of the door to hold it shut and lock her inside, Asenath had my father’s hands tied behind his back, while his feet were bound by strips torn from a sheet that she had liberated off of the nearby bed. He was still out cold, thankfully.
“You really want to help?” I asked the vampire girl straight out, watching her carefully.
“It’s what I do,” she replied easily after checking the knots again. “As hard as that may be to believe.”
My head shook at that. “I don’t know what I believe anymore. Except that you did come in to save me, and I do need help. You can’t go after Ammon, but you can help stop those cops. Without killing them.”
“You’re right, I can do that. It’s a lot of cops though, they’ll be spread out. It’s probably too late to stop all of it. All I could do is drive around looking for those cop cars and stop them as I find them.”
“Please just do the best you can,” I pleaded. “They’re good cops, they don’t deserve this. And neither do the people Ammon’s sending them to kill. I don’t… I don’t know how much they’ll remember afterward or what they’ll do. But please, please stop them. And take my dad with you. Just put him in the back of your truck. He probably shouldn’t wake up here if that order from Ammon is still in effect, and I don’t want to take him anywhere near that evil son of a bitch again.”
I saw curiosity in her eyes. “You trust me to stay with your father without you around? Even after everything that the Heretics have taught you about people like me?”
Pausing slightly, I met her gaze before responding. “I can think for myself. I make my own choices. And right now, I choose to trust the person that helped me stop my dad from becoming a murderer.”
Her head inclined in acknowledgment. “I’ll do the best I can to help those people. I promise, Felicity.”
“Flick,” I corrected automatically. “Call me Flick. That’s what I prefer.”
“Flick then,” Asenath agreed. “In that case, you should call me Senny. That’s what my friends call me.” Immediately after saying that, she raised both eyebrows. “Unless you can’t be friends with a vampire.”
“Lady,” I informed her while reaching down to pick up the motel provided bible from the table, “I don’t care if you’re Cthulhu’s midwife. If you save those people, I’ll be the best friend you ever had.”
“Okay, future best friend,” Senny replied while nodding to the book in my hand. “What’s that for?”
“This?” I gave the book a wave. “I’m just gonna share the voice of God with someone who needs it.”
I took Dad’s car back into the city and headed straight for the police station. Ammon would be there. He wasn’t trying to hide from me, not now. He wanted me to come back to him. He wanted to play.
The thought made me push the accelerator harder against the floor as I gritted my teeth. Who the fuck was this kid? What the hell did he want with me? Why was I immune to his power? Could it be a Heretic thing? I didn’t think so, but what the hell did I know? Clearly there was a lot I hadn’t been told.
Asenath—Senny was a vampire that wasn’t evil. Were there others? How much of the Crossroads ‘Strangers are all evil so kill them on sight’ teaching was bullshit? And why had Ammon failed to set off either my ‘evil Stranger kill it’ sense or Seller’s? I’d felt uneasy around him, but nothing like what had happened when I looked at Senny. And Seller hadn’t reacted at all. So why didn’t we sense him?
I had far more questions than answers. Fortunately, I also had a way of getting them. I was going to pin that arrogant, evil little shit down and force him to tell me the truth about everything that was going on.
The sheriff’s office loomed up ahead of me at the end of the street. I could see the brick wall surrounding it, and the lamp that illuminated the main entrance into the parking lot.
I remembered going there with my mother, back before everything had changed. Most of the memories were fuzzy, but I could see myself as a little kid, not even tall enough to see over the front counter. Mom would bend down, pick me up and put me on top of it so that I could chatter at the desk officer on duty while carefully sneaking handfuls of M&M’s from the nearby candy dish. Mom pretended not to notice, yet somehow always managed to pick me up again before I took too many.
My mom had been one of the most amazing women I’d met. As a child, I had adored her. I had worshiped the ground she walked on. Seeing my mommy in her uniform had made me so proud.
Then she left. She had abandoned us, and all of those memories had become awful. Thinking of them during those years had actually made my stomach hurt. Witnessing how miserable my father had been after she left had twisted those memories in my head and made me associate them with pain. It had gotten so I didn’t even like passing the sheriff’s office for a long time because of how it made me feel.
Now I didn’t know what to think anymore. Seeing the building looming ahead of me, I felt that familiar tug of emotion, the memories of time spent with my mother stirring up in me just beneath the surface.
But in the end, the thought of what Ammon was making the deputies do to those innocent people was enough for me to shut the rest of it out. I had to focus. This wasn’t about Mom. It was about Ammon.
I had to assume that Ammon had taken control of everyone I saw. He probably hadn’t gotten to everyone, but assuming every single person was under his influence was safer in the long run. I had to get in, get past anyone he put in my way without hurting anyone too badly, and get that phone back.
Okay, Flick. You can do this. Just remember what Avalon and Professor Katarin taught you.
Stopping the car a block away from the station, I shoved my door open and got out. Without taking my eyes off the building, I tugged my staff from its container and pressed the button to charge it up.
Rather than head straight for the front door, I cut around the side through a nearby alley. Once I was behind the station, I looked at the staff in my hand, then up to the roof and let out a breath. “All right,” I spoke quietly to nobody in particular. “I always wanted to try something like this. Here goes nothing.”
With that, I pointed the staff to the ground and held it with both hands while triggering the kinetic charge that I had built up in it. Instantly, I was catapulted off of the ground, barely managing to restrain my squeal in the process. The kinetic blast threw me into the air about halfway toward the top of the two story building. As I started to fall back once more, I quickly adjusted the staff so that it was still pointed mostly downward, but also slightly toward the wall of the building that was behind me.
The good news was that the subsequent second blast of kinetic force hit that wall and propelled me the rest of the way up and over the edge of the roof. The bad news was that I didn’t make the most graceful of landings. With a yelped curse, I came down on the roof in a painful roll, nearly sliding off one side before finally stopping myself. Then I just laid there on my back for a second, catching my breath. Or, more accurately, letting my brain catch up with what I had just done.
After a very brief pause, I forced myself to roll over and get back to my feet. Grabbing my staff back up from where it had fallen from my grasp as I tumbled, I walked across the roof to a waiting doorway.
Ever since before my mother had been sheriff, the roof had been where the deputies smoked so that they were out of sight of any civilians that didn’t like it. Sure, it was a nasty habit that I would never ever want any part of. But in that second, I wanted to kiss every single smoking deputy on the force.
Pausing at the door, I turned my gaze to the nearby security keypad. In spite of myself, I smiled. My friendship with Scott Utell, former babysitter and current mind controlled deputy sheriff, had been a complicated thing. Mostly it consisted of me repeatedly talking Scott into telling me things he really wasn’t supposed to, or getting him to help me out with things like that situation with Cal at the theater.
And, in other cases, it consisted of me getting the code that unlocked the door onto smoker’s roof so that I could get out there from the inside to talk to him in private about the latest favor I needed.
Keying in the six digit code, I pushed the door open after the light turned green and stepped inside. Once in the stairwell, I quickly closed the door as quietly as I could while listening for anyone nearby.
Nothing. The hall was silent. Which in and of itself freaked me out, because the station was never silent. Even when nothing in particular was happening, there should’ve been televisions blaring, reports coming in from other cities, the clank of coffee cups, and muffled conversation. Silence was wrong.
God, I hoped I wasn’t wrong. Please don’t let that evil little shit have gone somewhere else. If he wasn’t here in the station waiting for me, I didn’t know what else I could do. I had to get that phone back.
Shutting that worry out of my mind, I walked as quickly and quietly as I could down the stairs to the second floor. Poking my head out the door there, I took in the sight of the desks all the way back to the office that had once belonged to my mother. The glass surrounding the office was frosted to stop people from seeing what was going on inside, but I could make out four distinct shapes. The three larger shapes were standing on one side of the desk, clearly waiting at attention. Meanwhile, the smaller shape was obviously sitting at the desk itself, sliding drawers open and tossing things out.
Taking a careful step that way, I paused as something else caught my eye. Turning that way, I saw another figure standing near the top of the stairs that led down to the first floor. Edgar, the janitor who had been around forever. He was crouched low, staring intently toward the front door with one of those beanbag loaded shotguns in his hands. Beyond him if I looked into the glass of the windows above the door, I could see the reflection of three more people, all civilians, hidden behind the front desk down there. Each of them was armed as well, two with stun guns and one with a canister of riot mace. Several pairs of handcuffs were waiting nearby.
Okay, clearly Ammon had told them to ambush me, take me alive, and bring me to him. And now he was just waiting for me to be delivered. What did he think I was, a pizza?
Carefully and quietly, I moved across the large desk-filled room, staying low enough to avoid attracting attention from the sheriff’s office. Every step left me convinced that I was about to hear a shout of warning or a command. Yet aside from a few muffled mumbles of what sounded like Ammon complaining, everything else remained silent. No one spoke. They had obviously been ordered not to.
Crouching just under the large frosted glass window, I took in a deep breath before letting it out again. This was it. This was going to be over one way or another within a few seconds. Time to go for it.
One more breath as I slipped my hand into my pocket and then I was standing. Lifting my staff with one hand, I aimed it toward the glass, directly at the three taller figures. With a whispered apology, I triggered the kinetic blast.
The window exploded inward, spraying glass while the trio of waiting adults were caught by the blast and hurled into the far wall. One, the only woman that I could see, slammed into the awards case.
Ammon was on his feet by the time I leapt through the shattered window and into the office. His mouth opened to say something, to give an order, but my hand was already withdrawing the borrowed motel bible from my pocket.
“Sorry,” I interrupted while throwing the bible at the floor. “This particular god talks louder than you.”
As the book hit the carpet, the flash-bang enchantment that I had spent the drive from the motel instilling into it exploded, filling the whole office with blinding light and deafening sound.
At least, it did for the mind controlled civilians. I was fine. And, from the look on his face, so was Ammon. The flash bang hadn’t affected him at all, just like his power didn’t affect me. But why?
Rather than dwell on that, I forced myself to move. Tucking my staff back into its slot, I ran straight for Ammon. The kid stood there, looking surprised as I came for him. Before he could react, I caught him up, hauling the boy off the floor. Ugh, he was heavier than he looked. Two months of working out with Avalon and Professor Katarin was the only reason I could actually get him off the floor and move.
He didn’t take my abducting him laying down, of course. Ammon was shouting for the others to stop me, to grab me, and for me to let him go. He was screaming his head off.
Still, I managed to haul him up in spite of his yelling, and ran right back through the same opening I had come through. The mind-controlled civilians were still shaking off the flash-bang effect, and the ones downstairs were too far away. The only one I had to worry about at all was Edgar, and the bang part of the flash had been so loud that he couldn’t hear anything Ammon was trying to shout at him.
“Good thing you’re pretty invulnerable, kid,” I informed him while running straight at the nearest window. “Or this might actually make me feel a little guilty.”
With that, and while he was still demanding to know what that meant, I threw the kid straight at the window. It shattered as he crashed into it, and I had the satisfaction of hearing him yelp as he plummeted to the ground.
I leapt out right after him, already yanking my staff back out now that my hands were free. As I jumped from the window, I pointed the staff down, waited a second while falling, then triggered it to catch my fall. Two more gentle, quick uses of the staff and then I hit the ground in what was almost a good landing, only stumbling a little bit.
Ammon, meanwhile, had face-planted directly into the concrete.
Before he could recover, I kicked the kid over onto his back and shoved my hands into his pockets. Where, where, where… there!
Triumphantly, I tugged my phone out of Ammon’s pocket and straightened up. He was still healing as I began to squeeze the phone to send the SOS message. It worked. I had my phone back. I could get the Heretics here and let them deal with this whole situation.
Except not. After the second squeeze, the phone crumbled in my hand, turning into dust that fell to the ground under my disbelieving, confused gaze. “Wh-what?” I stammered.
Only then did I notice the limousine parked at the curb, its windows tinted as black as paint. As I stared at the dust in my hand, the back door of the limo popped open. A pale hand holding some kind of canteen was stuck out, shaking a bit to dump what looked like ashes onto the sidewalk. After that was done, the man that the hand belonged to emerged from the car, stepping where the ashes had fallen.
The man looked… normal. He was a few inches under six feet in height, his skin pale but not unsettlingly so. His average brown hair was average length, parted to one side, and his eyes were hazel. He wore a dark red polo shirt with a pair of black jeans, and dark loafers. He was even a tiny bit overweight, with a noticeable paunch around his stomach. Nothing about him looked dangerous. At first glance, I might have pegged him as a doctor or a dentist. A successful children’s dentist. He looked soft, inviting, and nonthreatening.
Except that, from the very second he appeared, my brain was shrieking about him being a Stranger. If it had been loud about Asenath, with him it was almost painful for those first few moments.
“My apologies for the mess,” he spoke in a soft, polite voice. His hand shook out more of that ash in front of him, and the man took another step to move closer. “Ancient curses trump decorum, I’m afraid. Can only step on the ashes of my enemies, and all that.”
My eyes moved down to the ash on the ground, then back up to him while I took a step back and lifted my staff. “What if you run out?”
He smiled as if I’d told a fantastic joke, chuckling softly. His voice was as welcoming as any family pediatrician. “Well, that’s not really a problem.”
I lifted my staff quickly, trying to take him by surprise. Instead, the man just gave a lazy flick of his hand. As he did so, something cold rushed through me. Simultaneously, I experienced a second of extreme vertigo and nausea, as some kind of fog appeared in front of my face, and a cold hand yanked the staff from my hand.
The fog flew away with my staff before turning. Then I saw that it wasn’t fog at all. It was a person. A translucent figure that floated there next to the limousine with my staff in one mostly see-through hand.
A ghost. A ghost had just stolen my weapon.
“Ammon,” the man with the canteen spoke casually, as if he hadn’t just summoned a dead spirit to disarm me. “Get in the car.
“Your sister and I need to have a chat.”