“I thought she’d head back toward the lake for the helicopter extraction,” Priyanka explained, her voice betraying her exhaustion, “but it’s like she became the darkness. She must have gone a different direction. I couldn’t make her stay…I couldn’t make her stay.”
The words, how she kept repeating them, made Priyanka sound like she was drifting away. I gripped her arm, trying to steady her.
“Do you want to look for her?” I asked. “The ground’s damp enough that we can probably track her with better light.”
In truth, I didn’t want to go after the girl who had just tried to hard-boil my brain. But I couldn’t take the thought of her out there, doing what she did to another Psi. It hadn’t just been the way she’d hurt us. It had been the way she’d relished it.
“No. If we keep chasing her, she’ll run farther and faster,” Priyanka said miserably, rubbing her forehead. “We have to find a way to get her to come to us.”
When I didn’t answer, Priyanka must have read my thoughts on my face. “Listen…Lana is…She’s different.”
“I missed that part,” I said wryly.
She bit her lip. “She’s not herself. That’s not her. I don’t know what they’ve done to her, but that’s not the Lana I knew.”
“Let me guess, she’s usually a ray of sunshine.” I remembered the nickname Priyanka had used a second too late to stop myself. “Sorry.”
She lifted a hand, waving it off. When I started back toward the house, she followed.
“But clearly there’s a connection between her and the kidnappers,” I pressed. “So what’s the story there?”
Priyanka looked like she might be physically ill. “I…think that the kidnappers might have actually been after me and Roman. I’m sorry—I’m so sorry. I wasn’t sure until I saw Lana here. He…they must be trying to drag us back.”
I wasn’t sold on her theory. There were still too many pieces to this that didn’t fit together. The warning on the teleprompter, for one. And if the kidnappers were just after Roman and Priyanka, why stage a whole explosion? But a larger question loomed.
“Who’s ‘they’?” I asked. “The Psion Ring? She mentioned a ‘he’ too. That ‘he’ made her stronger.”
Her expression was so distant, I wasn’t sure she’d heard me until, at last, she said, “I don’t know. Someone could have…someone could have taken over the Psion Ring. Changed things. They didn’t use to work with non-Psi, but things…they change. We weren’t supposed to leave. Ever. Someone wants us back.”
Priyanka seemed to be genuinely struggling to pull herself together enough to speak. “When we left, she didn’t come with us. We never should have left her, but it was unavoidable. It was, I swear.”
“I believe you,” I said, startled by how badly she seemed to need me to understand. Her eyes were haunted.
“We tried to make contact with her, but we couldn’t reach her. And in the meantime, they’ve done this to her….” Her hand slid up, clenching in her hair.
“Are you talking about her power?” I asked. “It seemed like she could be some kind of Orange, but how could she do that?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know—they’ve—Lana was a gentle, sparkling person, not—not whatever that was.” Priyanka looked near tears. “Somehow, they’ve trained her to hurt people. I shouldn’t have left her.”
I couldn’t keep my family together, Roman had said. I couldn’t save my sister in the end.
In a way, he’d tried to tell me the truth. As much as he’d been able to while still protecting her. At the time, I thought he meant that his sister had died, so I hadn’t pressed him on it, knowing the exact degree of pain that came with blaming yourself for another person’s death.
“She’s still in there,” Priyanka said. “I know she is. She hasn’t taken off my mother’s necklace—that little gold flower, did you see? I know she seems angry, but there’s still love in her. We can reach her.”
I hadn’t sensed any of this supposed love, and was covered with enough cuts and bruises to make a strong counterargument. But Priyanka’s feelings for Lana were unequivocal.
“Why did you want to come here?” I asked.
“Because we’d heard about Daly—about your friend, Ruby,” Priyanka said. “We’d heard that Lana might have left the Psion Ring, and we were hoping she’d be here, or your friends might have heard something. I was so stupid to think she could have gotten away from them.”
My thoughts were too tangled to put them into words.
“You were right to hope they would help,” I said. “They would have, no questions asked. But they’re not here. About two weeks ago, Ruby went missing on a run to pick up another kid.”
The wind ruffled the trees overhead.
“Holy shit,” Priyanka breathed out. “Seriously?”
Her voice was lost to the scream of a helicopter ripping through the air overhead—moving not toward the lake, but away from it. Priyanka and I exchanged a look.
We took off together, weaving through the forest back to the trail, only to find that Roman was already there. He ran up the dirt path at a steady clip, Sasha clinging to his back, her tear-streaked face pressed against his shoulder.
“It’s done,” he said quietly, then looked to Priyanka. She shook her head.
“We should go,” I said. But Roman had turned again to the forest, that hard look of determination back on his face. We didn’t have time to chase after someone who didn’t want to be found, not right now. “Come together, leave together. Right?”
His eyes found mine, but the prickling heat I felt at the base of my skull had nothing to do with that look, and everything to do with a familiar power signature nearby.
I was running again, leaving the others to follow as I moved up the path. My feet slowed until, finally, I saw it. The spiderlike device whirred as it floated over the bodies of the soldiers, passing over the scene in slow, intentional passes. It lit the ground beneath it, which only would have been necessary if it was taking photos or video.
Miguel had destroyed the phone with the original set of photos—but if this device had photos of our attackers, I wanted it. As Mel always said, people want to believe, they just needed a narrative plausible enough to justify it. Mine, at least, had the benefit of being true.
I heard Priyanka and Roman catch up behind me, but didn’t turn. I began unraveling the silver thread of power in my mind, only to cut it off. It would be too easy to fry it and render it useless. So, instead, I raised the pistol. The drone was about as big as a cat, which was probably not a comparison I should have let my brain make as I tracked its movement and aimed.
“What are you doing?” Roman whispered.
The drone hovered low over the porch, scanning for something. I took a deep breath in, adjusted the angle of my arms, then fired.
The bullet tore through one of its wings. It bobbed, trying to adjust and forcing me to shoot out a second one. The drone crashed into the charred wood of the porch, skidding across it.
“Careful,” Priyanka warned as I approached it. “The camera’s probably feeding directly to someone.”
“Good,” I said, gripping the drone and turning it over. Glancing back over my shoulder, I found Roman watching me, his anxious expression fading. Priyanka knelt beside one of the soldiers, searching his pockets and belt, removing his flashlight and sliding something into the pocket of her jeans.
The drone’s propellers stopped spinning, but there was still a small red light on beside the glossy camera lens.
I brushed the dirt off it, just so it would have as clear an image as possible.
“I don’t know who the hell you are,” I said. “But if you come at me or my loved ones again, you better pray to God you actually kill me, because I’m right behind you and I’ve got nothing else to lose.”
The red light blinked off.
AT THE END OF THE long, crude tunnel dug beneath Haven was a storm drain that opened into a trash-st
rewn field. We found the others there, sitting together in a tight cluster, the kids leaning against each other’s shoulders and backs, fighting to keep their eyes open.
Lisa and Miguel had gathered the late arrivals from the tree houses and were tending to cuts and bumps, plying them with water and tight hugs. The first-aid kits open in the wild grass already looked empty.
Roman climbed out of the sludge-filled pipe first. Ankle-deep in the sopping-wet mess, he took Sasha’s arm and steadied her as she took the big step down. Priyanka used his shoulder for balance as she followed the girl toward where Jacob and some of the others were sorting through a pile of soot-stained belongings. Someone must have gone back into the house to gather up a few things to take with them.
Finally, Roman turned back toward me, raising his hands as if to help me down the way he had Sasha. Instead, he hesitated, ghosting a touch over my forearm before I took his hand and stepped down. Roman stared at his own hand the whole time, as if he had to focus all his attention on this simple task.
“Are you all right?” I asked him.
Roman startled, glancing up at me through his mussed dark hair. “I’m not hurt.”
“I meant about Lana,” I said. “Priyanka explained to me a little of what happened. I wish you had just been honest with me.”
“I should have,” he said. “I’m sorry, Suzume.”
“Zu,” I corrected.
He met my eyes again. “Zu. I know it doesn’t matter, and I don’t expect forgiveness, but I wanted to tell you the truth a thousand times.”