Chapter 14: Fools Rush In – part 7
A dragon. Of course, Shane thought half-hysterically. Every instinct said to run, but he couldn’t. His heartless alien bastard of a father had control of his body. I hate this place.
Stop whining, Almeida scolded. Carlyle won’t harm me.
Harm you? It’s MY body– Shane cut himself off as his asshole father’s words caught up with him. That thing is Chairman Carlyle?!
Yes. Almeida’s gaze moved down the monster’s scaled neck, then down its muscled forelegs. Shane was stuck watching whatever his captor focused on. Apparently Almeida was fascinated by the dragon’s ankle. His eyes followed it as it moved up and forward, taking a step toward Shane’s family. The beast’s dun-colored claws sunk into the carpet and shredded it.
Again Shane lunged at Almeida. The older man/alien/whatever spiked annoyance, but shrugged off the attack. Hey! Shane shouted. Play zoologist some other time! It–she’s going to kill my family!
Not all of them.
Shane was momentarily dumbstruck. What?
Slightly relieved but mostly horrified, Shane managed, Why? He had to keep Almeida talking. If he was talking, he wasn’t focusing on maintaining control. Shane prodded at his confines, searching for a weak spot.
A piezo alarm blared across the room to his right. Shane tried to turn his head to see what was happening, but couldn’t. Almeida was studying the dragon’s goddamned elbow now. He heard a door open, then slam shut.
“You’re staying right here.” Carlyle’s voice boomed from somewhere above Shane. He’d seen her reptilian head. She shouldn’t be able to speak. Then again, this was magic.
What do you mean, “useful”?
Blazing heat radiated from above. Someone shrieked as smoke filled the air. The fire alarm wailed, and water rained from the ceiling.
Shane fought back panic, but Almeida seemed unconcerned. His gaze moved idly across the room. Smoke rose from a overturned table near the door. In the middle of the room two figures lay still: MacKenzie and Joon. Near the right-hand wall Addison and Ashlynn struggled with Butler, who held a broken vase as a weapon. Carlyle’s serpentine form bobbed eerily in the foreground. Where was Jake?
He serves a purpose, Almeida said. Like you.
Horror gripped Shane. He made himself keep talking. As a spare body?
The dragon took another lumbering step, making the floor shiver. Almeida looked from Carlyle to the singed table. Was Jake behind it?
Yes. I think he’ll last longer than the others due to his Homo superior DNA. With luck you’ll last long enough to find out.
H– how long is that?
Three years. Shane felt like he was going mad from a few days. But why three years? Jake would be 15–
Outrage swelled, but it wasn’t enough for Shane to break free. Instead he shouted, You killed Luis!
The kid I was fighting at school. I thought I’d killed him. Stopped his heart. But it was you!
Oh, yes. That was the simplest way to stop him from harming the vessel.
I AM NOT A VESSEL, YOU SONOFABITCH! Shane exclaimed, clawing at his mental prison.
Of course you are. That’s why I created you. But you weren’t suitable, so I withdrew.
Suitable?! You ruined my life!
Almeida huffed impatiently. You’re a short-sighted fool. Would you rather have withered–
Shane felt Jake’s familiar resonance. Almeida rounded on the boy, who peeked over the smoldering table. The light from Jake’s prism lit his face from below.
“Stand down, boy,” Almeida said. “You won’t be harmed.”
Jake pointed an accusatory finger at the dragon. “She’s breathing fire at me!”
Dragon-Carlyle chuckled. “You’d be dead already if that had been my intention.”
A shriek tore through the air, momentarily drowning the still-blaring piezo alarm. Shane’s field of view shifted to focus on Butler, whose arm wrapped around Addison’s neck, holding her tight against him. Blood dripped down one of her arms and stained her scrubs. Ashlynn lay slumped against the wall behind them. One of her arms hung limply, and her right leg bent an unnatural angle below the knee.
Butler grinned maniacally at Carlyle. “Light ‘er up. Get the damned alarm, too.”
The dragon’s sides swelled as Carlyle drew a deep breath. A pulse of Jake’s energy bolstered Shane. He used it and his own fury to hurl himself against his prison.
Gritting her teeth from her throbbing shoulder and leg, Ashlynn concentrated on her mother. The instant flames erupted from Carlyle’s maw, Lynn teleported Mum to relative safety: behind the table with Jake. Then she scrambled backward as fast as her good leg would let her.
Butler screamed a second before Ashlynn did. Fire had engulfed her broken right leg, and turned the Chairman into a human torch. He flailed and shrieked, stumbling into his desk as the fire sprinklers doused the flames. His blackened body lay twitching on the marble surface. The acrid smell of burnt flesh made Lynn retch. She absently realized that the piezo alarm had silenced.
The dragon blinked down at the ruin that had been Butler, cocking her head in puzzlement.
There was no time to waste. Jake, Ashlynn snapped, give Mum your talisman. Praying that their mother had the presence of mind to follow through, Ashlynn focused on her talisman and teleported it to their target.
Carlyle roared. Her dinosaur tail thrashed, slamming into the desk. Pieces of wood, marble, and Butler’s charred body flew across the room. The monster fell on to her side, wailing with a voice too high for her enormous body.
The dragon curled into a fetal position and somehow seemed to continue curling in on herself. She was shrinking! The reptilian scales contracted into pale skin as the beast’s tail and wings atrophied. Soon Carlyle’s human form lay naked and shivering on the debris-strewn carpet.
Ashlynn tore her eyes from her enemy, craning her neck to bring the table that sheltered Jake and her mother into view. Through the water pouring down she saw her brother peek over the singed wood, his wide eyes fixed on Carlyle. “Jake?” Lynn whimpered aloud and telepathically. “Mum?”
Carlyle’s head snapped back, and she loosed a scream of pure agony. Another surge of adrenaline dulled Ashlynn’s pain as she watched wrinkles crisscross the witch’s face. Her blond hair faded to white, falling out as her skin turned to parchment and her flesh sunk in to her petite frame. The ancient woman’s scream became a croak, then silenced. What little remained of her body collapsed into pile of dust, which the fire sprinklers washed into the waterlogged carpet.
Dad–Almeida sprinted across the room toward Ashlynn. She shrunk back until she saw the expression on his face. That combination of worry and anger was all Dad. Letting her pent-up tears flow, she reached for him with her good arm.
“Lynn!” He pulled her close briefly, then drew back and winced at her mangled, blistering leg. Pain and the gory sight itself made bile rose in her throat. Ashlynn closed her eyes and choked it back. She heard two sets of footsteps squish toward her: one rapidly, the other limping.
“No, moppet, stay with us,” Mum said, anxiety plain in her voice. She kneeled near Lynn’s head, stroking her sopping wet hair. “Shane, help her!”
Dad’s frustration rolled over Ashlynn. “I can’t! If I use my prism, Almeida will get control again.”
“I’ll do it.” Jake’s voice was clear and confident. His hand gently grasped Ashlynn’s.
“Her shoulder’s dislocated,” Dad said as a prism hummed to life.
“I know.” Jake’s emotionless voice made the statement matter-of-fact. “Lynn, I’m going to numb the pain–”
Ashlynn managed a brief smile. “Good idea.”
“–and then Dad’s going to pop your shoulder back in. Okay?”
Ashlynn nodded. Moments later the pain subsided. She breathed with relief as Dad’s hands clasped her upper arm and shoulder. He jerked, and pain spiked as the joint slid back into its socket. “Ow, Jake!”
“Does it still hurt?” her brother asked.
“Then quit complaining.”
Ashlynn opened her eyes and scowled at him anyway. “What about my leg?”
“We’re going to set the bone and splint it,” Dad said.
Ashlynn waited for more, but there was none. “That’s it?”
The light from Jake’s crystal winked out. “I have to heal Ri next.”
Mum poured reassurance into Ashlynn. “We need her alive for a little longer. We’ll get patched up–we’ll see to your leg as soon as we can, moppet–and then we’ll deal with Almeida.”
Ashlynn looked at each of them in turn. “How?”
Although Dad tried to hide it, fear leaked through his shields. “You’re going to kill me.”