Authors: Marie Rutkoski
Conn hadn’t noticed I was awake, yet the mere sight of him made every weary inch of me instantly alert and ready to flee—except there was nowhere to run, no obvious escape, unless I managed to ghost my way free. But guess what? My vanishing skills were on vacation. Wouldn’t return my calls. Pretended I didn’t exist.
I felt tattered and ragged and raw. All I could do was consider the disaster at hand. To see that I had been hunted and trapped, and to know that the handcuffs meant that Conn’s kiss was a lie.
And the ache deep inside me told one great truth:
Conn McCrea was my enemy.
So I swallowed my fear. I slitted my eyes. I watched, and waited for an opportunity.
Conn’s body shifted. I saw who was sitting before him and caught my breath.
“You sure took your sweet time, McCrea,” said the guy who had grabbed me outside the café. My mind flung back to that night and began to understand things very, very differently.
“It worked,” Conn said. “I made the arrest.”
“And got yourself mauled in the process. My way would have been better.”
“It’s done, Michael. Leave it at that.” Conn reached for the hem of his ruined sweater.
“Don’t.” I watched Michael cut at the fabric until it fell away from Conn’s chest. Once upon a time, the sight of Conn’s bare torso would have filled me with a kind of sore joy. Now it was a slap in the face. His tawny skin mocked me. It reminded me of how stupid I had been.
To desire him.
To trust him.
“Too easy.” Michael glanced dismissively at the bloody hole I’d bored into Conn’s arm. He shook what looked like a can of hair spray and pumped a fine mist over Conn’s bicep. The blood fizzed and evaporated, leaving a clean wound that began to glue itself together. In a matter of seconds, there was a round, white scar.
“Breathe.” Michael pressed his fingers along Conn’s naked, bruising rib cage. Conn gasped. “Thought so. Not much I can do here.” Michael began to unwind a roll of gauze around Conn’s torso. “She broke some ribs. They’ll have to heal on their own.”
Conn grabbed the gauze out of Michael’s hands. “I’ll do that.”
“Sir,” said one of the three lumpy ogres guarding me.
Conn turned toward our corner of the truck. My eyes slammed shut.
“The Shade’s waking up,” the guard muttered.
There was a rustle, then the thump of boots on the metal floor, growing closer. My chest began to heave uncontrollably. The footsteps were measured and firm, so different from the rhythm of my shallow breaths. I could smell Conn’s sweat.
There was no use pretending. I opened my eyes.
Conn was buttoning a gray shirt, a piece of the same uniform the guards and Michael wore, with a high collar and thick, stiff material. But his shirt, unlike the others, had a dime-sized red knot stitched onto the collar.
His frosty gaze flitted over me. I wondered if he could see the hate in my eyes, if I could squelch it, hide it for a few moments, for just long enough to surge to my feet and break my fire-filled chains right across his face.
Conn stepped back. “Hold her.”
The guards seized me.
“Knock her out, Michael,” said Conn.
“Gladly.” He flexed his hand.
,” Conn snarled.
got creative with her. Why can’t I?”
Conn stormed across the jolting truck, rummaged through the medical kit, and pulled out something that looked like a needle. He flicked a finger against its point and it glowed.
Then he was striding toward me, and I was straining away, pressing against the guards, who seemed safe in comparison with Conn and his smoldering needle. After a quick touch of my neck, he found the jugular and darted the needle in.
A bee sting. A roaring buzz in my ears, and I was smothered by dark, fuzzy sleep.
* * *
The truck had stopped. Conn spoke again, and his voice was unyielding. “Look at me.” He was crouched at my side, his elbows resting on his knees, hands dangling down.
“Why are you doing this?” I hadn’t meant to speak to him. I certainly hadn’t meant my words to sound so weak and tiny.
From his corner of the truck, Michael answered, “Because it’s fun. And we get paid.”
?” I said to Conn.
“So what was
, that night at the café?” I remembered Conn’s words to me, afterward:
You trust me, don’t you
. I drew my breath so sharply it seemed to cut. “You staged the attack. It was a trick. To make me like you.”
“Smart girl,” said Michael.
I looked straight at Conn. “Tell me,” I said thickly. “Tell me what is going on.”
He paused, then said, “If you really don’t know why you’re under arrest, I don’t have the authority to explain it to you.”
I don’t know? How would I—” I started to struggle to my feet.
A guard held me. “Sir? Another match?”
Conn shook his head. “She needs to be questioned. She’ll be fine. Won’t you, Darcy? You don’t want us to drag you out. Now, your firecuffs.” He tapped my glass chain. “You remember what they can do. You may not know, however, that they have different settings. When I cuffed you the first time, I used the lowest setting, for a small fire. Your chains are now set at the highest level. These”—he pointed at a guard’s silvery tube—“are flamethrowers. I want to make something very clear before we walk out of this truck. If you try to break your cuffs, if you try to escape, if you try to do anything that might make us think that you will be a danger to others, you will die. Do you understand?”
“Answer me.” Fiercely.
“Good. Help her stand,” he told the guards.
Conn flung open the back of the truck.
I stepped outside, and staggered.
It wasn’t the chains that made me lose my balance, or that a guard jerked too hard. It wasn’t even the crowd in front of a huge building, a uniformed crew of men and women gathered, it seemed, for the sole purpose of glaring at me with such rage that it throbbed from them like heat off asphalt.
It was the building.
An old monstrosity with columns. These words were carved into the marble above the entrance:
The Interdimensional Bureau of Investigation
Even crazier? I recognized it. I recognized everything. The globe-topped street lamps. The marble archway. I knew that there were exactly twenty-seven steps leading up to the main entrance. And I
know, because I had drawn this building in great detail, down to the chipped ear on a stone gargoyle. It was all in my sketchbook. Everything except the inscription—which, unlike everything else, I didn’t recognize from the sketch I’d drawn that day in Mr. Linden’s classroom.
I recognized it from my memory. I had been here before. If I didn’t know how or why, that could only mean I’d seen it sometime before being abandoned outside the Chicago firehouse.
My memory was so untrustworthy. Maybe I
done something to deserve these people’s anger. Something awful. But what?
I could never kill anyone.
Some things you just know for sure, right?
But then, I also used to think that the world was solid and governed by certain laws. That people don’t disappear—unless we’re talking about parents dumping their kids on the DCFS and saying, “Ta. See you never.” Nobody
vanishes into thin air.
I remembered slamming a fist into my ex–foster father’s face and feeling his jaw crunch under my knuckles. It had felt good.
Maybe I was dangerous after all.
Maybe I had no idea who I was, or what I was capable of.
My thoughts were swirling, tumbling like a load of dirty laundry. I barely noticed my surroundings as they marched me up those twenty-seven steps and through the entrance. My three personal guards were dragging me toward a guarded gate that crackled with energy, when Conn caught Michael by the shoulder.
“This is my arrest,” Conn said.
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Yours?”
“You weren’t there when it happened. And I outrank you.”
Michael shrugged off his hand. “Well, screw you, too,” he spat, and stalked away.
“McCrea.” One of the guards at the gate grinned at me. “Nice catch.”
“ID,” the other guy droned.
“I lost it,” said Conn.
“What?” said the first guard. “Prince Connor the Perfect, valedictorian of the IBI Academy, lost his badge? Well, I am truly sorry to say that I don’t think we can let you in without proper identification.”
Conn snapped at him with the irritation of somebody at the end of his rope. The first guard kept teasing him while the second one picked at his teeth with a thumbnail. Things carried on like this for some time. I had an almost serious thought of breaking my chains, just to make Conn and his old school buddy shut up, when a uniformed girl rushed toward us. She gazed at Conn with syrupy hero worship. “Chief Ivers wants to see the Shade right away.”
“Ivers?” The first guard’s eyebrows shot up. He pressed his fingerprint against a shiny square embedded in the nearest post of the electrified gate. The zing and crackle was sucked out of the air in front of us, and Conn swept through the gate without a backward look, letting me and the ogres trail behind.
Their boots rang down a hall that smelled old. Slightly dank and booky, like a library or a church. Then a door was flung open and I was ushered into a room with two chairs, one of which was made of iron and bolted to the floor. In the other chair, which looked infinitely more comfortable, sat a gleeful middle-aged man rubbing his mustache. Ivers, I assumed.
“Agent McCrea.” Ivers stood, and pumped Conn’s hand. “Fine work you’ve done here. Back from the Alter in record time, with barely a scratch on you.” He smiled widely, showing a set of perfect teeth. “You’ll get a commendation for this, I assure you.”
Conn shrugged. “I was doing my job.”
“Don’t be so modest. I know you. You’re ruthless, kid, and it suits you. God knows that it’s helped you bag more Shades than anyone else your age.” Ivers clapped his large hands once and then spread them apart like a showman. “Let’s unwrap your present.”
The guards dragged me to the narrow, iron chair and shoved me down, shackling my chains to the arms and legs. Ivers settled his well-fed frame into the chair across from me and dismissed the guards. He peered at me with a hard twinkle as he did it, apparently to communicate that he wasn’t afraid to be left alone in my oh-so-savage company.
“Wanna stick around, McCrea?” he drawled.
“I would, thank you.” Conn leaned into a corner of the room, arms folded across his chest.
Ivers shifted in his chair. He was built like a brick house. Big yet trim, with not an ounce of fat on him. He tugged at his uniform jacket and smoothed the fabric around his neck, drawing attention to the red knots stitched along his collar. There were a lot.
“Bewitching, isn’t she?” said Ivers. “Too bad she’s not human.”
Conn’s mouth twisted in a way that could have meant anything.
“Hello? I’m right here,” I said. “Why doesn’t someone talk to
and tell me what’s going on? Me, the human.”
“I’m totally human,” I insisted, though honestly I was beginning to have my doubts. “And I want a lawyer and a phone call,” I added, since that’s what people always say in movies.
“You have no rights.” Ivers almost sang the words. “Besides, we’re simply having a friendly chat. I even paid you a compliment, like the gentleman I am. See how nice I’m being?”
“‘One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,’” I told him.
He crinkled his brow. “What?”
“Shakespeare,” said Conn from his corner. “It’s a line from
Ivers craned his neck to look at him.
“Her friend’s in the school play,” Conn explained.
“Her human friend. In the Alter.”
I didn’t think Conn could betray me more than he already had, but his confirmation that I
human stung. “I’m a
,” I said. “You keep calling me a Shade, but I’ve no idea what that is, or what the Alter is, or where I am. All I know is that I’ve been abused and kidnapped and drugged.” I flung those last words at Conn. They didn’t touch him. His face was impassive.
“I want an explanation.” I heard my voice and wished I’d never spoken. That hadn’t been a demand. It had been a plea.
I was begging.
Ivers unbuttoned his jacket, reached in, and pulled out a lighter and cigar. “This is a good day for the IBI, a day for celebrating.” He flicked the lighter open and I jumped at the sight of its tiny flame. Ivers lit the cigar, puffing, and blew a cloud of smoke into my face. I choked.
“The Alter is our word for your world,” Conn said suddenly.
“McCrea,” Ivers warned.
“You’re in Chicago, but another version of the city you know. One where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 never happened. That’s what caused the interdimensional split.”
. Do I need to ask you to leave?”
A pause. “No, sir.”
“Good. Because the only explanation
need”—Ivers stabbed a finger in my direction—“is that that chair is made of iron so that if you catch on fire, you won’t burn the whole place down. But you will burn, sweetheart, oh, you will, if you don’t answer my questions.” He growled, “Exhibit A.”
An image glowed on the wall behind him. My name, dashed in colorful chalk on concrete. Alongside it in different handwriting was another name: Raphael Amador.
The image was replaced by another one: Raphael and me laughing as he tried to draw a daisy on the back of my tank top.
“What was your mission in the Alter?” Ivers demanded. “Why did the Shadow Society send you there?”
“You’ve been stalking me!” I stared at Raphael’s face as if he could help me out of this horrible, senseless mess.