Authors: Kelley Armstrong
WAS RUNNING THROUGH
the forest. Running on all fours, huge tawny paws touching down so lightly they seemed to skim the ground. Yet somehow my pursuers were catching up. The pounding of their boots was so close I swore my tail switched against them as I ran.
I couldn't keep this up. Cougars are sprinters, not distance runners. I had to get into the brush, up a tree, someplace, anyplace where I could hunker down, invisible, until they passed, and thenâ
A dart hit my shoulder. I reared back, snarling, clawingâ
Hands gripped my front legs. No, not legs. Arms. I saw hands wrapped around my wrists, a familiar face in front of mineâwavy blond hair in need of a brush, blue eyes underscored with dark circles, wide mouth tight with worry and exhaustion.
“DanielÂ .Â .Â . ?”
He released my wrists.
Corey's voice sounded to my left. “Um, guys? Causing a bit of a scene here.”
I looked around to see strangers staring. A man in a button-down shirt was making his way over, gaze fixed on us. Behind him was a counter stacked with books. In front of me was a computer, while Corey was seated at another beside me.
A library. We were in a library.
The man walked over. “Is there a problem here?” He was looking at me and I wasn't sure why, until he shot a glare at Daniel and I realized how it must have looked, him holding my wrists as I struggled.
“No,” I said. “We were justÂ .Â .Â . goofing around.”
Not the right thing to say in a library. Even Coreyâthe king of goofing aroundâwinced.
“I'm sorry,” Daniel said. “It won't happen again.”
As he spoke, he held the librarian's gaze and kept his voice low, calm. Using his powers of persuasion. With Daniel, it really is a power. I don't think the librarian needed it, though. He seemed content to leave us be. But the incident had caught the attention of people around us and, under the circumstances, we really couldn't afford to make ourselves memorable. So we left. Quickly.
“Well,” Corey said as we tramped down the front steps. “It's not the first time we've had to leave a library. But it is the first time I wasn't responsible.”
“I was having a vision,” I said. “I can't control those.”
“Uh, no, Maya. Unless you snore during your visions, you were asleep.”
“I don't snore.” I looked at Daniel. “Tell him I don't snore.”
Daniel feigned great interest in the fountain. Corey didn't ask how Daniel would know if I snored. Daniel and I had been best friends since kindergarten. Though our parents had decided sleepovers required separate rooms years ago, we'd spent the last few days sleeping side-by-side as we trekked through the wilds of Vancouver Island. Not a voluntary hiking trip, either. A helicopter crash had stranded us with Corey and three other friends. That helicopter had been supposedly rescuing us from a forest fire that threatened our town, but it'd actually been kidnapping us. Now, less than a week later, we were in the city of Vancouver, only the three of us left, the others captured by the people we were still fleeing.
“You were exhausted,” Daniel finally said. “Corey and I slept on the ferry. You didn't. I would have let you keep sleepingÂ .Â .Â . but the snoring
getting kinda loud.”
I aimed a kick at him. He grabbed my foot and held it, making me dance and curse. A passing security guard shot us a warning look.
“Holy hell,” Corey said. “It's a sad day when I'm the responsible one. Speaking of responsibility, I'm going to take the reins of leadership and suggest food. It's nearly eight. Maya, use that cat nose and lead us to dinner.”
Yes, my dream hadn't been pure fantasy. I was a shape-shifter. I'd discovered my secret identity about a week ago. Not surprisingly, it marked the point where life went to hellâfor all of us.
I wasn't the only supernatural kid in our tiny town. In fact, Salmon Creek seemed to have been built as a petri dish to resurrect extinct supernatural types. Project Phoenix. I was a skin-walker, like Rafe and Annie, a brother and sister who'd come to Salmon Creek looking for answers. Daniel was a benandantiâa demon-hunter. As for Corey, we were pretty sure he had powers, too, but we didn't know what they were yet.
And as for the people chasing us, it was two groups, actually. The St. Cloudsâwho'd founded our town and Project Phoenixâand the Nasts, a rival supernatural corporation that thought we seemed like valuable commodities. Our friends were now divided between the groups, and we were on the run, trying to find someone to help us get them back. We wanted something else back, too: our parents. They'd been told we'd died in that helicopter crash. I'd been trying very hard not to think about that, what they were going through. I just kept telling myself it would all be fixed soon. It had to be.
We ate dinner in a chain restaurant. It wasn't one we knew, and we'd stood inside the door for five minutes, going over the menu, feeling like country mice in the city. That's nothing new. We grew up in a town of two hundred people. Put us in a metropolis of two million, and it didn't matter that we were private-school educated and wearing the same labels as every other kidâwe still felt like hicks.
“This is what we need, guys,” Daniel said after we ordered. “A huge city where we can just blend in and lie low for a few days.”
“I know,” Corey said. “But I feelÂ .Â .Â .” He looked around at the other tables and scowled. “It's the St. Clouds' fault. All those years of stranger-danger classes, teaching us that no one outside Salmon Creek can be trusted. They did that on purpose.”
“I know,” I murmured.
“Teaching us to be afraid of the outside world so we'd never leave, when the real danger wasn't out here at all. It was right there. With everyone who was supposed to be looking out for us. Everyone we were taught to trust. Our teachers. Our doctors. Even some of our own parents might have been in on it. Hell, I'm not even sure my mom wasn'tÂ .Â .Â .”
He trailed off. I didn't rush to tell him I'm sure she hadn't been a willing participant. We'd already been through this. There were no guarantees.
In Corey's face, bitter and angry, I could find no trace of the guy I'd grown up with, the one who was always grinning, always up to something, never thinking any further ahead than the next party.
I cleared my throat. “So, what did you guys find out while I was sleeping on the job?”
We'd gone to the library to research a name that Rafe's mother had given him to contact as a last resort. We had no idea if this guy couldâor wouldâhelp us, but it was our only shot.
“Cyril Mitchell is an unusual enough name. I narrowed it down to the most likely guyâthe others were too young. I have a phone number, but that's it.” Daniel unfolded two notes from his pocket. Scrap paper from the library. He ran his finger down his notes and let out a deep breath. If Corey looked bitter, Daniel looked defeated, and it was just as painful to see.
“It's okay,” I said. “We call the number. We talk to whoever answers. That's all we can do.”
One of the toughest parts about making that call was picking a pay phone. Not only are they rare these days, but we wanted one a fair distance from where we'd spend the night. Sure, the risk that someone was tapping this guy's phoneâor that he was working for the people chasing usâwas slight. But right now we only trusted one another.
We caught the SkyTrain and found a pay phone. Then I prepared to call the man we hoped was the right Cyril Mitchell.
While Rafe had been captured the first time, he'd found information about another experiment: Project Genesis. The kids who'd been guinea pigs in that one had supposedly escaped, along with their parents. Rafe was sure Mitchell would know more. If we could find those subjects, maybe they could help us.
I pumped five dollars in coins into the pay phone and dialed.
When a woman answered, I asked to speak to Cyril Mitchell.
“Sorry, wrong number,” she said.
I read her back the number I'd dialed.
“That's right, but there's no one named Cyril here.”