Chapter Sixteen

When we got back to the church, we were astonished to find it in bad shape. Two of our people had been shot, and one was dead. I realized that when the men found the Subaru, they must have gone through the church looking for us. If we’d been there, I could have stopped them earlier. Several of the others were wounded, including Gus.

Mercifully, they’d left the Subaru intact. I didn’t for the life of me know why. It seemed like they would have smashed it to bits. Maybe they’d planned on taking it after they killed us. Kieran and I changed our clothes, and I sent him for Nancy. We needed her to heal those that were left.

I checked everyone out, and then I realized something. Chance was gone!

Damn it. I asked Lily if she knew where he was. She told me that she hadn’t seen him since the men had broken into the church. It had simply been too confusing after that. I couldn’t blame her for losing track of Chance. But I knew exactly where he’d gone.

I’d have to go to Jason’s camp and retrieve my stupid little brother. Good God. I really did have to take care of everyone, all the goddamned time. Why was it my responsibility?

I made sure Lily had things under control and that everyone was at least bandaged or in the process of getting bandaged. I stopped to pick up my gun and headed for the door.

I heard a car pull up. Its engine was loud. Shit. Were there more of the men? What the hell?

I sprinted through the sanctuary, gun cocked and loaded. I’d head them all off myself if I had to. Hell, I’d use magic. It had worked fine just a few minutes ago. It would work again.

The door of the sanctuary burst open and men dressed in black t-shirts and black jeans poured in, their guns out. Then Jason came in, with Chance trailing behind him in the wheelchair.

“Chance, stay back,” Jason threw over his shoulder.

Chance didn’t listen. Jason swore at him, but scoured the room with his eyes. He saw me. “Azazel? Are you okay?”

Why was he asking, anyway? “Fine,” I said.

Jason eyes swept the sanctuary. “Chance said you were being attacked.”

“So you came to rescue me?”

“Well, whatever our differences, Azazel, I don’t want you to die,” he said.

“I took care of it,” I said.

He nodded, holstering his gun. He signaled to the other men to do the same. “I think the men that attacked you might have been some of mine. I’m sorry about that.”

“They weren’t yours,” I said. “We ran into them in Clinton. They came after us because we shot some of them. It had nothing to do with you.”

He considered. “I hope so. I don’t know what I would have done with men like that.” He took a deep breath. “They’re coming, Azazel. I’ve held them off for as long as I could, waiting for you, but I can’t wait any longer.”

They’re coming. That was what Jason had said in my dream. What did he mean? “Who’s coming?”

“There’s so much I need to tell you,” said Jason. “I wanted to tell you that night I came here, but when you said that stuff about being pregnant, I lost it.”

“Well, you’ve always had a temper,” I said. I wished he’d leave.

Jason hung his head. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m sorry about Chance. I’m sorry about Mitch. I was out of control.”

“You’re always out of control.”

He looked up at me. “I’m not. Not now. Not as long as I have something to fight. Something worth fighting.”

“The Order of the Fly is not worth fighting,” I said.

“It’s more than that now. I need to tell you about it. Come back with me. Talk to me. I’m sorry I got so weirded out about your pregnancy. I was an idiot. Congratulations and all of that.”

“I’m not pregnant,” I muttered. “Not anymore. And I don’t want to talk to you.”

“It’s important. Please.”

“No.” I swung my gun in a circle, sighting each of his men in turn. “Get out. I’ll start shooting if you don’t.”

“For Christ’s sake, Azazel—”

Get out .”

And then the door opened, and Kieran and Nancy came inside the sanctuary. They looked at all of the people there and at me with my gun.

“What’s going on?” said Kieran.

“Chance went and got Jason to help with the guys who attacked us. Jason came, but he was too late. And now he’s leaving. Right, Jason?”

Jason shook his head in disgust. “Yes.”

“I’ll give you guys a ride since I drove you over here,” said Chance.

I waited silently, my gun still trained on them, as they all filed out of the sanctuary. Kieran and Nancy moved forward as they left. They’d gotten here fast.

Nancy had met Kieran halfway, as it turned out. She’d known he was coming and had gone out to wait for him. She asked me to take her to the wounded right away. I did. While Nancy did what she could for the wounded, Kieran asked me to fill him in on what had happened with Jason. I told him as best I could.

Within an hour, everyone was patched up and feeling better. Kieran and I were sprawled on pews in the sanctuary. Nancy came in and threw herself down in a pew next to us. “What I wouldn’t give for a beer,” she said.

Of all the stuff that people raided, they raided the alcohol first. Go figure. I hadn’t seen an alcoholic beverage in at least three months, if you didn’t count the moonshine Jason had. It was just as well, I guess. I didn’t do well with alcohol. But that didn’t stop me from saying, “Guess that’s another good thing about not being pregnant. I can still drink beer.”

“You thought you were pregnant?” asked Nancy.

Oh right. Nancy hadn’t known about my pregnancy scare. I told her all about the false positive and getting my period that day.

“Doesn’t sound like a miscarriage to me. You just read the result too late. Happened to Carol and I when we were trying too. I wanted a positive so bad, I think I willed myself to see it,” said Nancy.

“So I was never pregnant,” I said. Somehow this made it even worse.

“Probably not,” said Nancy. “But I did have an odd dream about you the other night. You were in a gazebo thing with the Wodden guy. What do you call him? Jason? It was raining honey.”

“You had that dream too?” I asked.

“He was holding a baby in that dream.”

Kieran sat up in his pew. “Did you tell me about this dream, Azazel?”

“I told Hallam and Marlena. You weren’t speaking to me at the time,” I said. I turned back to Nancy. “Did you dream the part where I was talking to a face in the clouds too?”

She shook her head.

“What do you think it means?” I asked.

Nancy shook her head. “There’s something between you and him. Something powerful. But that dream was so convoluted, I couldn’t say what any of it meant.” She frowned. “It’s late. I need to get back to Carol and Guy. Can you drive me, Kieran?”

Kieran nodded. “Sure.”

Chance came back into the sanctuary, wheeling himself up to the three of us as Kieran and Nancy stood up. He looked tired. “You’re right, Zaza,” he said. “He is different. But you’re different too.”

* * *

I met Polly in the woods on the day we had picked to meet. She was there when I arrived at the spot we’d talked before. Her red hair was tied back in a sloppy bun, and she looked pale and frightened.

“Polly,” I said. “Are you okay? Did you find the grimoire?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know where he keeps it. And he hasn’t been talking to me so much lately. Or coming near me. After your brother showed up the other night, he’s been ignoring me completely. I can’t get close to him to look for it without him being suspicious.”

The grimoire was not such a big deal anymore. I’d spent some time thinking about it, and I’d concluded that I wanted to keep my magic. If I hadn’t had magic, the situation with the men, Kieran, and me the other night might have turned out quite differently. Kieran and I could be dead. I wanted to be able to protect myself in the future. Still, if Polly brought it to me, then I could use it against Jason. That would work out well. But I didn’t need the grimoire as much as I’d originally thought. “Polly, you don’t have to get stressed about it,” I said. “If you can’t get it, you can’t get it.”

She shook her head. “But he’s getting so much worse. You don’t understand. And I don’t think he cares about me anymore. All he thinks about anymore is you.” She glared at me. “I wish you’d never come back into his life. Before you showed back up, I thought there was a chance that someday he’d get over you. But now, he’s obsessed with you again. Why you?”

Great. Now Polly was angry with me. “I don’t want him. I’m not interested in him. I’m not trying to get in the way of your relationship with him.”

She laughed bitterly. “It doesn’t matter if you try or not. He’ll always only love you and no one else.”

“He’s not capable of love,” I said. “All he’s capable of is a twisted attempt at it. It’s all jealousy and anger and violence in him. There’s nothing else.”

Polly shook her head. “No, you’re wrong.”

“I used to want to think so, too, Polly, but eventually, I had to face it. Jason was bad for me. He’s bad for you. Get away from him before he hurts you more than he already has.”

“I’m finding you that grimoire. Maybe if we can take away his magic, he’ll be like he was.”

“Was he ever really that much better?”

She was angry now. “You’re just trying to get me away from him so you can have him back again. You want him for yourself.”

“I don’t want him,” I said.

There was a noise, the crunch of footfalls on dead leaves. Instinctively, I grabbed Polly and pulled her down to the ground. It was probably a deer, but I didn’t feel like taking any chances after what had happened the other night. Other people might be threats. We peered through the leaves and bushes to see a group of maybe ten people making their way through the woods. I’d never seen them before. They wore jeans or coveralls and cotton t-shirts. They had guns strapped to their backs. They dragged toy wagons stocked with food and water. Clearly, they were going somewhere.

“More of them,” whispered Polly.

More? I waited for the group to pass through the woods, and then I asked her what she meant.

“They’ve been showing up every day,” said Polly. “More and more of them keep arriving at our camp. I think Jason’s calling them somehow.”

They’re coming. That’s what Jason had said in my dream and what Jason had said when he came to “rescue” me. And hadn’t he said something like that when he was drunk on moonshine as well? Right after I’d seen the family walking down the road? Had that family been headed to Columbus-Belmont park like these folks were? If I thought hard, the men in Clinton might have said something about going to the river… Jason had said they were some of his. Was that what he meant? Was he using his power to draw people to him?

“They come from all over,” said Polly. “They travel from all the way up in the northeast. They all seem to know who Jason is when they see him.”

This startled and disturbed me. “Polly, what do you think he’s doing with them?”

“I think he’s building an army,” she said.

An army? Oh God. “But why? Is he going up against the OF? Why does he want an army?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

This wasn’t good. If Jason had an army, then he would be far more difficult to deal with than he had been. We’d had issues tangling with the size of the force he had already. If he had a large army, we’d never be able to make it across the river, boat or no boat. My heart sank. I hadn’t realized how dedicated he was to this. I definitely couldn’t get rid of my magic. I’d have to fight him with it. It would be a repeat of the battle we’d had before. This was bad. This was very, very bad.

I turned to Polly. We were both sitting down on the ground now, and I reached for her hand. “You can’t stay with him if he’s gone this far off the deep end,” I said. “Who knows what he might do.”

She squeezed my hand. “I know you’re only trying to help. I know you don’t really want him back.”

“Good,” I said. “Then you’ll leave. You’ll come stay with us. I can protect you. I have power that rivals Jason’s. I can turn his army against themselves.”

“No,” she said. “I can’t do that.”

“You can,” I said.

“I can’t leave him.” She looked like she might cry. “I’m pregnant.”

The words stung me. I dropped her hand and looked away from her. She was going to have a baby. Her? I felt abruptly hollow, wishing again that I had actually been pregnant. Wishing for it, when all I’d wanted was for it not to be true. How could I have changed how I felt? How was it that something I’d hated was something I now wished for?

“Does Jason know?” I asked.

“I haven’t had a chance to tell him. He’s been so distracted.”

“Don’t tell him yet,” I said. “Wait and see if you can find the grimoire. If we can remove his magic, maybe he will change. Maybe he’ll be a better father.”

She promised me she would. But as I watched her go back to Jason’s camp, I wondered if my reasoning for urging her to not to tell him was really the truth. Maybe I just didn’t want Jason to know. Maybe I just didn’t want him to have something that I couldn’t have. Maybe I was just being horrible.

* * *

Hallam and Marlena hadn’t come back, and the time frame we’d agreed on for them to return had passed. I had to assume something bad had happened to them. I didn’t want to worry the entire camp, who were still reeling from the attack by the men from Clinton. So I spoke to Kieran about it. I told him that they weren’t back, and I told him about the dream I’d had before they’d left.

I also told him about my suspicions that Jason was forming an army, but I had to leave out the part about Polly. I didn’t think Kieran would be too keen on my trying to get my hands on the grimoire. Instead, I just told him about seeing the people in the woods. I said it was possible that Jason’s power to influence people could call them to him from far distances. If Jason was so set on the idea of keeping people from crossing the river, then it stood to reason that he’d try to stop Hallam and Marlena. In my dream, he’d been about to torture them. Jason had to have Marlena and Hallam.

Kieran said he didn’t know how to interpret my dreams, so I was on my own there. He also said that Hallam had left me in charge, so if there were decisions to be made, I was going to have to make them. That was a little nerve wracking, because I guessed I’d kind of hoped Kieran would just tell me what to do. Once he put it like that, though, I realized that I had to go to Jason’s camp.

Kieran wanted to come along, but I told him not to. I said it would be easier if I went by myself. If I got in trouble, I had magic, and I’d just convince people to leave me alone. I was pretty sure that once I found Hallam and Marlena, I could get them out myself.

Kieran didn’t like that.

I reminded him that I wasn’t pregnant, and that I could take care of myself.

He still protested.

I told him that if he came along, he’d be in my way.

I think that hurt his feelings, because he got quiet after that and said that I was in charge, so, as he’d pointed out, I could do as I pleased.

I left at night, after everyone had gone to sleep. I headed for the lookout house. I’d seen it in my dream, and it was the place Jason had kept the prisoners before. It seemed like the right place to go.

I emerged from the woods by the lookout house. The moon was bright tonight, and everything glowed silvery under its light. Everything was still. The lookout house wasn’t guarded. I didn’t see anyone around at all.

I crept along the edge of the trees, careful to stay out of the full light of the moon, and got closer to the lookout house. After checking again to make sure no one was visible, I darted into the lookout house.

Empty.

Okay. I should have realized it wouldn’t be this easy. Jason would know that this would be the first place I’d go to check for Hallam and Marlena. He must have them somewhere else.

Columbus-Belmont Park was pretty big. Jason could have put them anywhere. There was no way I could scour the entire thing. Last time, Jason had kept the prisoners away from the camp. Had he done the same thing this time? Or were the townspeople out for blood after what we’d done? Would they now be okay with torturing prisoners from our camp?

I didn’t know. But it was probably the best place to check first.

I took off for the encampment. I followed the path, even though it probably wasn’t the safest idea. It was the most direct route. Besides, unless it was Jason, anyone I met would be no match for me. I was capable of turning people’s minds against them. I was unstoppable.

I was surprised at how soon I ran into pitched tents and campers. Polly was right. The camp had grown exponentially. Why hadn’t we seen these people arrive? Jason must have guided them in around our camp in Columbus, so that we wouldn’t notice the arrival of all of them. This was an army all right. Jesus.

I skirted the edge of the tents, keeping to the shadows. After a little while, though, I realized it wasn’t necessary. The tents were empty. No one was there. They must all be gathered somewhere. Probably the camping loop near the entrance. Could I get there without going through the tents?

Maybe. But I’d have to go the long way around. Screw it. Hadn’t I just decided I was unstoppable? I started for the camping loop, making my way between pitched tents and campers, and the smoking remains of campfires. These people seemed quite settled. They’d set up lawn chairs in circles so they could visit. They’d tied strings up between tree branches. Their clothes hung there to dry. It was like a little village. What was Jason doing? Why were all these people following him? What did he want them for?

I was so caught up in my wonderings, I didn’t notice one of Jason’s elite guards standing at attention behind a camper. In his black clothes, he blended into the night until he moved suddenly, whipping his shotgun forward and pointing it at me.

“Stop,” he said, his voice deep and gritty.

I stopped.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m going to ask the questions,” I said. “You’re going to answer, or I’m going to make you blow your head off. I assume Jason’s told you about my abilities?” I took a step forward.

“Stop,” he said again.

Fine. Whatever. I unleashed my magic and the man whipped the gun under his own chin. I pulled the magic back. The man had control of himself again.

He looked confused. He resituated the gun, so it was pointing at me.

“Jason’s got prisoners from my camp,” I said. “I need to know where they are.”

“No, we don’t have anyone from your camp,” he said.

I let him have it again. He jammed the gun against himself once more. I made him tense his finger on the trigger. I released him again.

The man looked even more confused. Shaking, he lowered the gun completely.

“Where are they?” I repeated.

“There’s no one here,” he said again.

This was getting frustrating. I forced him to point the gun at himself again.

“Where are they?” I said.

I meant to release him so that he could answer, but I wasn’t quite quick enough. He pulled the trigger and his throat blasted out in a shower of blood and gore. Some of it got on me. Annoyed, I wiped it off as best I could. Dammit.

I started off again, but the gunshot brought more men in black. They surrounded me, their guns aimed at my head. I was about to let loose with my magic again and let them all slaughter each other, but before I could, I felt Jason’s power entering their brains. They were all suddenly one mind, focused and disciplined.

Jason sprinted into the area. He was shirtless. “Don’t shoot her!” he screamed.

The men put down their guns.

“I felt your magic,” said Jason. He was out of breath and unarmed. If I really wanted to, I could make his own men shoot him now. I’d only have to override Jason’s magic for a minute, and then he’d be permanently out of the picture. “What are you doing here?”

“You’ve captured Hallam and Marlena,” I said.

Jason looked at me like I was crazy. “No, I haven’t.”

“Don’t lie to me, Jason. I could have your men shoot you right now. I know I could break through your magic with mine long enough to get the shots off.”

He laughed. “Whatever, Azazel. You’re the only one who can kill me. Or did you forget that?”

Certainly I remembered Michaela Weem saying that. And I remembered the time Jason had sort of died and come back. But that was all just ridiculous. Although… I guess we never really did figure out why Jason didn’t die from that gunshot wound to the head. And if Hallam’s theory was right, that whatever had been believed about us before had come true for real, then maybe Jason couldn’t die except from my hand.

Jason held out his hand and one of the men handed him a gun. Jason put his hand over the barrel and pulled the trigger.

In spite of myself I winced at the loud crack of the shot and at the way Jason’s hand splattered blood into the air.

Jason pulled his hand back, clenching it hard. Then he opened it up, palm first. He wiped the blood away and offered it to me.

Perfect. Not harmed. Not even a scar.

I gasped.

He grinned. “I’m indestructible. It comes in handy.”

“In Shiloh, you didn’t heal so fast,” I said in a small voice.

“My powers have gotten stronger just like yours,” said Jason. “But I’m guessing you didn’t come here for show and tell. I’ve got things I want to talk to you about. Come with me?”

Should I go with him? Should I listen to him? If he’d found me now, surrounded me with his men with his guns, how likely was it that I’d be able to find Marlena and Hallam on my own? Maybe if we talked, I’d be able to get their location out of him. I sighed. “Fine.”

Jason waved the men to put their guns down and they did. He turned and started back the way he’d come.

I followed him.

Jason led me past the camping loop, where an enormous bonfire raged. Several hundred people were gathered around it, and the sounds of drumming, guitars, and singing drifted through the air to us. That’s where everyone was? Hanging out and having a massive sing-a-long? Weird.

Jason took me to the edge of the camp, where a lone RV was set up. He motioned for his guards not to follow him any further, and they stopped where they were. He and I continued alone to the RV. It was a relatively new model and a little on the large side. It was white, with an extended awning on the side and a bed loft above the driving area. Jason swung open the door and called inside. “Polly, I need you to get lost for a while.”

“Well, that’s polite,” I said to him.

“I didn’t know you cared about Polly’s feelings,” he muttered.

“It doesn’t look like you care either,” I said.

Polly scrambled out of the RV, her clothes a little rumpled. When she saw me, she started.

I noted again that Jason wasn’t wearing a shirt. Great. Guess I’d interrupted something.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her. “It’s not—” I broke off and looked at Jason. “Can’t she stay?”

He shook his head. “No. I notice you didn’t bring your lap dog boyfriend along either?”

I shut up.

Polly darted off into the darkness like a chastised dog with its tail between its legs. Jason swung into the RV, and I got in after him. Inside, the RV was lit by several kerosene lamps. I could see that it was relatively clean. Its kitchen, with its sink and stove, had clearly never been used. No electricity, after all. Jason walked past the kitchen, barely giving it a look, and into the back of the RV. Behind him, there was a bed, its covers crumpled. He sat down on a couch and motioned for me to sit opposite him on a chair. Beside us, a table jutted out of the wall.

“I don’t have Hallam and Marlena,” he said. “But I know who does.” He gestured to the table. A digital camera was sitting on it. I hadn’t seen one in a while. It was hard to find batteries these days. “Go ahead. Pick it up.”

I did.

“Turn it on,” Jason said. “That was sitting outside my RV a few days ago. I don’t know how exactly it got here. Whoever left it got past my guard, and they aren’t easy to get past.”

I turned on the camera. The screen filled with a digital image of the RV. I could snap a picture if I wanted. Jesus. I hadn’t realized how much I missed technology like this.

Jason reached for the camera, and I gave it to him. He hit a few buttons and handed it back to me. Now the camera was playing a video, which must have been stored inside it.

The video took place inside a basement of some kind, where there was—Oh dear God—electric light. I could see exposed light bulbs attached to the ceiling. And I could see Marlena and Hallam. They were tied up and gagged in a corner. They both looked pretty beat up, with multiple wounds on their faces and arms. That made sense. It would take a lot to take them down. They were tough as nails. Crap.

“Hello, Jason,” said a voice on the video. “I thought we could trade.”

chapter seventeen >>