Choke: 2 (Pillage Trilogy (Pillogy)) (7 page)

I had no idea where I was.

I sat up carefully. It was pretty obvious why nobody had used the death slide in awhile. I scooted my legs off the side of the slide and was happy to find solid ground. I eased myself up and put my arms out in front of me to feel my way forward. Within two steps I had reached a wall. I slid my hands along the cold stone surface feeling for any sort of light switch or door.

I could find neither.

I was about to bravely scream for help when the sound of a match being struck scratched behind me. Every hair on my neck stood up and froze. A soft glow filled the room and I spun quickly, throwing my hands up to protect myself from whatever it was. When nothing assaulted me, I slowly put my arms down and gazed at the light.

“You!”

The old, pale man with the sword was standing there holding a lit candle and staring right at me. The light glowing up into his shadowy face made him look like an ancient Boy Scout about to tell a ghost story. That wasn’t really necessary, seeing how I was already completely spooked. We were standing in a narrow room with a brick floor and stone walls. I could see the end of the slide and there was a tiny table in the opposite corner behind the old man. I could also see a ladder on the wall.

“What are you doing here?” I asked nervously, stepping back.

Whitey hung his head and shook it slowly. He looked like someone who had just been caught doing something he shouldn’t.

“I don’t understand,” I huffed. “Who are you?”

“There isn’t time for questions,” he insisted.

It was just like a grown-up to say something like that. In the time it had taken for him to say that he could have just answered my question.

“You must listen,” he continued.

I nodded, slowly looking around for some way to escape.

“Where’s that stone?” he asked.

“I thought you said there’s no time for questions.”

He moved one step closer and growled, “Listen, Beck, I am ill at ease.”

“Maybe you need some sun,” I offered kindly.

“I must know where that stone is.”

“I destroyed it.”

“That’s a lie.”

“Well, it’s gone.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I really don’t,” I said honestly, trying to back up as far as I could.

“In seven days it will be too late and that stone will hatch, regardless of where you have put it.”

“How . . . ?”

“Listen,” he interrupted. “It will produce a queen. And you must tend it or it’ll be a perverted mess of a dragon with a mind of its own and no way to stop it.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” he said, his chin quivered in the
candlelight. “You’re the only one who can hatch it and destroy it.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You have the book,” he insisted.


The
Grim Knot
?”

He nodded.

“I’ve already read it,” I informed him.

“I’ve heard there’s more to it than words.”

“I don’t even . . .”

“Stop,” he snapped. “You have started the ending by bringing those dragons to life, but now you have to finish it. You must plant it within seven days or she will destroy everything.”

“She?”

“The queen,” he growled impatiently. “Find the stone, nurture it as it grows, and then destroy her when she is born.”

My mind was racing as fast as my body had been while falling down the slide. None of my thoughts made sense and I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know who to believe. I had trusted Milo and he had turned out to be an old creepy magician. How did I know that this old man wasn’t just someone weird in disguise? Maybe he was like the opposite of Milo. Instead of coming to me friendly-looking and turning ugly, he had started off ugly and mean but was going to turn friendly and then be nice to me.

Like I said, none of my thoughts made sense.

“In the hospital you said the dirt would turn on me,” I reminded him.

“You have neglected your task. You’re a Pillage. The soil’s angry,” he explained.

“Really?”

I couldn’t see him clearly because of the way the candle-light was flickering, but I think he nodded.

“The stones must be stored properly or the soil will ruin them,” he said hotly. “You didn’t take care of the stone.”

“I didn’t know.”

“How foolish your father has been.”

I didn’t like him talking about my father that way so I changed the subject. “I still don’t understand why you’re here. And what are these passages?”

“I was coming to see you,” he insisted. “As for the passages, ask your father.”

The old man pushed on the wall behind him. A part of the wall moved back and opened like a door. I could see and hear the outdoors. The old guy now looked nervous and shaky.

“So, you’re a Pillage?” I asked, thinking he had to be related.

“Find the stone,” he insisted, ignoring me. “Tend it properly and then destroy her when she is born.”

“I can’t find . . .”

“You must,” he roared. “If not, in seven days it will be too late.”

“Even if I could find the stone, where do I take care of it?” I argued. “Half of the conservatory is knocked down, and I’ve seen people hike through just to take a peek.”

Whitey was silent.

“People are always trying to take pictures of the conservatory,” I added. “There’s not as many curious weirdos as there used to be, but I can’t risk it.”

“Interesting,” he said. “Then look behind the garage.”

“Where?”

“Behind the garage,” he barked.

“Sorry,” I said, taken back by his bark. “Do you know there’s nothing but trees behind the garage?”

“Look down,” he said nervously.

I looked at the floor.

“Not in here,” he scolded. “Behind the garage. You’ll find what you should follow.”

“I . . .”

“You listen,” he said hoarsely. “I’m taking a great risk coming here, but you’re taking a far greater risk abandoning that stone.”

“My father’s said nothing about stones growing by themselves.”

“Your father knows nothing of dragons,” Whitey said. “He has chosen to hide himself instead of participate. His ignorance is self-inflicted and may be the ruin of us all.”

“Don’t . . .”

He interrupted me again. “You have seven days.”

“Okay, okay. Starting now?” I asked. “And does that mean exactly seven days, or is it sort of an estimate?”

“This is no joke,” he insisted. “Seven days.”

I was going to say more, but the old man pinched out the flame on the candle and slipped out the open wall. It was dark, but the moonlight outdoors was spilling in, making it possible to see the outline of things. I could hear the sound of falling water. I stepped though the door and was surprised to find myself in the courtyard near the twisted snake statue. I looked at the wall I had just come through and carefully pushed it closed. Once it was shut it was impossible to tell it was there. The patterns of the stone hid any trace. I looked across the courtyard to where the back door was and marveled over this secret place being there all along.

“Who designed this place?” I whispered.

I looked up at the gargoyles hanging off the top floor, but they didn’t answer me. I walked over to the back door and made my way up to my father’s room. I had a few things that I needed to ask him.

When I got to the top floor and knocked on his door, there was no answer. I knocked louder but there was still no reply. I pushed the door open and stepped into the room. The windows were open, and a soft wind was blowing around. The light switch didn’t work but I could see the outline of the few pieces of furniture.

“Dad,” I called.

No reply.

“Dad.”

I was alone. I climbed down the stairs to the floor below but there was still no sign of my dad. I sat down in a large wingback chair to wait for my father to come back. I was a little worried, but more than that, I was a lot intrigued.

Illustration from page 9 of
The Grim Knot

CHAPTER 7

Don’t Lose Your Head

I was having a vision about finally getting a cell phone when the sound of bells began ringing in my head. My mind tried to focus on the noise, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I shifted in the chair, and my butt slid forward, causing my whole body to slip out of the wingback and fall to the floor. The right side of my head smacked the wood floor, and a new kind of ringing bounced between my ears and behind my eyes.

I blinked and moaned simultaneously.

The original ringing grew louder and more obnoxious. I rolled over and pushed myself up. I now recognized the sound of the bells Millie and Wane used to summon people in the manor. The home was so massive that there was a system of bells to call certain people. The bells were located all over the manor, and they were activated in the kitchen. There were probably thirty of them. One bell rang the other kitchen, one rang the dome at the top of the house, one rang Thomas, one rang Wane, one rang the main library, one rang the banquet hall, one rang my room, etc, etc. . . . Whenever I didn’t respond to the one in my room Millie would ring all the bells hoping I would hear at least one of them.

“I’m coming!” I yelled, knowing she couldn’t hear me.

The bells kept ringing as I stood up and tried to get my wits about me.

“I’m coming! Stop ringing those stupid bells!”

They didn’t stop. I climbed down all the floors and finally made it to the kitchen. Millie was there pulling the bell strings as quickly as she could.

“I’m here!” I yelled.

She stopped pulling and turned to look at me. Her expression was not friendly.

“Where were you?” she demanded.

“Sleeping.”

“I rang your room.”

“I wasn’t there,” I pointed out. “I went to talk to my father last night but he wasn’t there. I guess I fell asleep in a chair waiting for him.”

“He’s not here,” she said.

I wondered if anyone ever really heard me. “I know.”

“He’s gone,” she said in a huff.

“I know,” I said again.

“There’s a note,” Millie said, sounding like someone who had just found a new mole on their nose. She handed me a yellow piece of paper that was ripped along the top edge. There were only ten words. “I have gone after something important. Keep Beck here! Aeron.” I read the ten words and looked at Millie.

“He never was very wordy,” she said in his defense. “And he never leaves the manor. He went out last year when the beasts were pillaging, but he’s been here ever since.”

Millie talked about the pillaging as if it were a school social.

“So you think he’s here in the manor somewhere?” I asked.

“No.”

I loved Millie, but she was a way better cook than conversationalist.

“When I talked to him yesterday he actually ran out of the room,” I told her. “He was kind of acting aberrant.”

Millie stared at me. “Are you still reading that dictionary?”

I nodded.

“Well, what did he say right before he left?” she questioned.

“He said ‘I’m going to write a brief note to confuse Millie. But I’ll really just be in the bathroom.’”

Millie stared at me with her one straight eye.

“Sorry,” I said staring at her with my two brown eyes. “So where are Thomas and Wane?”

“They’ve gone into Kingsplot.”

I desperately wanted to tell Millie about the pasty man I had spoken with in the secret room right behind the kitchen, but I knew it would only make things more confusing for her. Besides, I didn’t want to talk to anyone but my father about the man until I had checked out the area behind the garage.

“How about I start looking for my dad,” I suggested.

“Have some breakfast first,” she insisted. “It’s not much, but I’ve made some toast and eggs and a few sausages. And some bacon and flapjacks with warm syrup.”

“No orange juice?” I joked.

“I just squeezed some,” she said glumly.

“It’ll be okay,” I told her naively. I was actually happier that Millie was now speaking to me than I was worried about my father. He was sort of different, but I knew he was capable of taking care of himself. “He would never be away from your cooking for too long.”

“There’s a good soul down in you,” Millie smiled. “It’s always a treat when it surfaces.”

I smiled the way she liked me to and started into the breakfast. The orange juice and flapjacks were amazing.

After finishing off more than my share, I called Wyatt to invite him up, but he wasn’t home. So I ran outdoors and across the property to the garage.

The garage house was immense. The garage was long enough to park ten cars and deep enough to add thirty more. It was made of stone and the roof had several chimneys and dormers. There was also a huge weathervane on top of a tall stone cupola. The weather vane was in the shape of a cherub, but lightning had struck it so many times that it was burnt and the head had been blasted off. Now it looked like a charred, headless baby. There were storage rooms and offices on both sides of the garage as well as an upper floor filled with more rooms and mounds of junk. The stables were right next to the garage house, and they were almost as large but relatively empty at the moment.

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