The lost, p.1

The Lost, page 1

 part  #5 of  Witch & Wizard Series


The Lost
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The Lost

  Begin Reading

  Table of Contents

  A Sneak Peek of Maximum Ride Forever

  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.



  Chapter 1


  THERE’S BLOOD EVERYWHERE. Bright red pools of it on the gurney, and still there’s more gushing out, running in rivulets to the floor. It seems impossible that there could be a single drop left inside the little girl. Her face is obscured by a tangle of dark hair, but the skin I can see has gone gray and her breath comes in harsh, wet gasps.

  I rush to her side as the rookie attendant who brought her in retches in the corner. “Stabbed,” he heaves, barely getting out the words. “Multiple times.”

  “Who—” I begin.

  “The Family,” he spits.

  I rip away the girl’s shirt to reveal the worst of the damage as Janine, a newly trained trauma nurse at City Hospital, presses her fingers to the thin little wrist.

  “There’s no peripheral pulse,” Janine barks. “We’ve got to hurry.”

  “Tell me something I don’t know,” I growl. I put my hands on the girl’s punctured abdomen and begin to recite a healing spell.

  Unfortunately I’m getting used to this kind of work. And I owe it to the Family, a secretive, savage cult that’s been terrifying the City for weeks. Every day there’s a new robbery or assault, a new reason to fear. I’m no stranger to the criminal element—hell, I was a wanted criminal under the New Order—but members of the Family make the average robber look like a puppy swiping a treat. They live to steal, and they don’t care who they hurt. Even if it’s a little kid.

  The girl gives a weak cough. My fingers tingle as I feel my powers beginning to build. I picture being inside her body, following the paths of her blood, searching out the wounds and binding them back together with magic.

  Janine brushes the girl’s black hair away from her face, and that’s when I nearly fall backward in shock. This isn’t some random street kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  It’s Pearl Marie Neederman.

  Lying near death on a cold metal table is the girl who once snatched my sister and me away from The One’s zombie wolves. The kid who helped nurse Wisty back from the brink of death from the Blood Plague. The fierce little survivor who now looked more dead than alive. I let out a strangled cry. “Pearl!”

  Janine gasps. “Oh, Whit,” she cries. “Can we save her?”

  It’s not looking good. “I don’t know,” I say.

  My fingers flex as they aim their healing magic, and Pearl’s breath steadies. But then suddenly the electricity of the M starts to feel weird. Unbalanced. Instead of a tingle, it’s a prickle, then a sting. An intense ache begins spreading from my fingertips, radiating up my arms and into my head.

  “Something’s wrong,” Janine yells.

  I don’t understand what’s happening, but it’s bad. I close my eyes and try to beat back the surging pain.

  A nurse appears at my elbow, screaming. “What do you think you’re doing?” she yells. She tries to shove me aside so she can pack Pearl’s wounds with gauze.

  “Voodoo,” snarls another. “The girl needs donor blood, not spells.”

  She’s wrong. Even through my rising panic, I’m sure of it. I’ve been working at the hospital ever since we formed the new Council, and I’ve seen enough to know that magic is Pearl’s only hope.

  But Janine is the only one on my side. The only person in the entire room who believes in me, that what I’m doing is right.

  The door bursts open and the Neederman family rushes in. Hewitt’s shirt is on inside out and the look on his wife’s face nearly tears my heart out.

  “Oh, my baby,” Mama May cries. “My little baby—”

  “Those barbarians!” Hewitt spits out vehemently.

  I’m giving it every ounce of strength I’ve got, but I’m feeling exactly what Pearl’s feeling: my heart spasming, my lungs filling with blood, choking off my oxygen. My brain shooting off electric charges of terror.

  I’m capable of thinking two things. The first: I faced down the evil Mountain King to rescue this kid, and I am not going to give up now.

  And the second: how awful it is to die.

  “Her blood’s going acidic—” Janine calls.

  My eyes fly open and I see Wisty blaze in and skid to a stop, her eyes sparking in fear.

  “Whit,” she cries. “You’re bleeding!” She stumbles toward me and a nurse grabs her, holding her back. Wisty pushes her off, but another nurse snatches her other arm, and now they’ve got her pinned.

  “Let her go,” I gasp through intense throbbing, trying to keep focus on Pearl. I can’t let this little girl die. She’s like another sister to me.

  The staff is no match for a determined Wisty, who shakes them off like gnats. Then she’s at my side, yelling.

  “Whit, you have to stop. It’s killing you—”

  Her voice sounds like it’s a million miles away. When she hits me, hard, on the arm, I can barely feel it.

  “Blood!” Wisty screams. “Blood is pouring out of your ears!”

  Chapter 2


  I’M BLEEDING out of my ears? That might explain the agonizing pain in my head, like something’s inside my brain and chopping at it with an axe.

  “More time,” I gasp. My hands are sticky with gore and the spells are gone. Pearl and I are racing together to the gates of Shadowland.

  Then Wisty’s grabbing at my shirt, pulling me away. She’s screaming my name. No! I want to shout. I can’t leave Pearl now. Not ever. But Wisty’s using magic now, too—on me. She yanks me back against the wall.

  Pearl’s eyes fly open, silver and unseeing. They roll back in her head. Then her body shudders—and goes still.

  Wisty wraps her arms around me. “It’s over,” she whispers. “We lost her.”

  I slide out of Wisty’s embrace and sink to the floor. “Exsanguination”: bleeding to death. A terrible word for an even more terrible fate. “No, I lost her,” I moan.

  Wisty crouches down by my side. “It was too late,” she says gently. “No one could have saved her. Not even you.” Tears glitter in her eyes and she tries to blink them away. Behind her, I can see Mama May and Hewitt holding each other, rocking back and forth in their grief. I’m too wrecked to cry.

  “Don’t listen to them,” Wisty urges.

  I don’t know what she’s talking about. I’m numb. “Don’t listen to who?” I say flatly.

  That’s when I start to hear them: all the nurses and doctors who watched the battle I lost to Death.

  “Freak,” one of them says.

  “No one should have such unholy powers,” says another.

  And I realize they’re talking about me.

  Janine’s voice cuts through the noise, pleading. “Please,” she says. “Be reasonable—he’s saved so many lives—”

  But no one’s listening to her. The angry clamor builds until I want to cover my ears.

  “He’s a monster.”

  “He might have helped kill that little girl.”

  I clench my fists until my nails cut gashes into my palms. Those people have no idea how much Pearl gave to me, to my family. How much she suffered, too.

  “He needs to submit,” says a tall, sour-faced doctor.

stiffens and her cheeks flush red. “Don’t even say that word around me,” she yells.

  The doctor’s face contorts into a cruel grimace. “Submit,” he says again. “Give up your dark magic. Both of you.”

  He doesn’t care that Wisty and I stopped General Matthias Bloom from surrendering our City to the wicked Mountain King. Or that we defeated The One Who Is The One and ended his totalitarian reign of terror. No: all that matters to this man is how much he hates our powers.

  Our powers—the phrase taunts me. How could I save an entire City but not one little girl’s life?

  “Abomination,” says a nurse.

  “Speak for yourself,” Wisty says defiantly. “I didn’t see any of you saving Pearl’s life.” Then she reaches out and grabs my bloodstained hands. “Get up, Whit. You need to show me you’re okay.”

  I hear the fear in her voice, and I struggle to stand. As Wisty hurries me away, Janine catches my eye. But Mama May and Hewitt don’t look at me as they clutch each other in their overwhelming grief. I will never be able to make up for this loss.

  When we get outside, the sunlight feels like a slap in the face. Pearl is dead, and everyone in the hospital thinks I’m a demon. Maybe even the Needermans do, too.

  The sobs come now in a wretched-sounding torrent. “How could the Family do that to a little girl?” I croak.

  Wisty’s face goes dark. “Actually,” she says, and then stops and shakes her head.

  “Actually what?”

  “The Family didn’t kill Pearl, Whit.” She swallows. “She was a member of the Family.”

  I don’t think I heard Wisty right. I shake my head. “No. That’s impossible.”

  “You know there was a robbery this morning,” Wisty goes on. She takes a deep breath. “And now you need to know that Pearl wasn’t the victim of the crime. She was the one committing it.”

  I’m too stunned to speak.

  “She robbed that store with a gang of kids. But unlike the rest of them, she didn’t get away.”

  Pearl, a knife-wielding outlaw? My brain just can’t comprehend it. And then, whether it’s exhaustion or grief or shock, I don’t know—everything goes dark.

  Chapter 3


  THE ALERT COMES IN seconds after I’ve helped a barely conscious Whit into his bed. There’s been another break-in, this one at a theater down by Industry Row.

  I pull the covers up to my brother’s chin. “Be safe,” I whisper, “I’ve got to run.”

  Whit’s proud of me for signing on as a consultant to the police force—he says I’ll be way better at it than I was as a member of the Council—but right now he clutches my hand. Hard.

  “You be safe,” he gasps, and then slips back into his fever dream. It’s a little unnerving.

  A dirty kid on the street corner stares in wonder as I climb onto my chromed-out motorcycle and pull back on the throttle. His gray eyes remind me of Pearl’s, and my throat constricts in a flash of pain. I hope the hospital staff lets the Needermans light a candle for her, but after that nasty scene in the operating room, I kind of doubt they will.

  I peel out into the street and tear down the main thoroughfare, going way too fast. I want everything that’s bad—Pearl’s death, my brother’s collapse, and the voices demanding that we submit—to get blown away by the wind.

  I don’t know why people have started talking about magic like it’s a weapon to be confiscated. Yes, the City’s suffered through more than its share of evil magic: from The One, and the Mountain King, and loathsome Pearce, just to name a few. But who, in the end, stopped the villains? People with good magic. People like my brother and me.

  It doesn’t matter to the Normals, though. Supposedly they’ve even developed a procedure that sucks the power out of you like a vacuum. Surrender your gift, they say, and you’ll live a life of peace and quiet and contentment.

  Honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse.

  I race down a tree-lined avenue, alongside the newly reopened art museum. A half mile past that is the almost-finished new aqueduct, still crawling with workers as busy as ants. But then I careen around a corner and have to screech to a halt, seconds before ramming into an old man carrying a squawking chicken under his arm. It’s market day: the town square is jam-packed with vendors, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to resoled shoes and jerry-rigged bicycles.

  I take a deep breath, downshift, and begin to weave my way through the throngs. It’s proof that under the new Council, life’s returning to normal. Our City is healing. The kids kidnapped by the Mountain King are back with their families, and General Bloom, that dough-faced traitor, is in exile.

  We had to learn the hard way that adults couldn’t be trusted with City leadership: power corrupted them too easily. By unanimous vote, we banned anyone over nineteen from serving on the Council.

  And so far, so good. The market’s hopping, and the nearby central stadium—where we can host everything from foolball matches to rock concerts to benefits for new schools and health centers—is back in business.

  Take that, you middle-aged cynics!

  A stray dog skitters in front of me, and I swerve to the right, knocking a basket of oranges onto the ground. I don’t have time to stop, so I snap my fingers and the oranges float up, spin around, and deposit themselves back into a neat stack.

  The surly vendor shoots me a black look, then makes the sign I’ve seen all too much of lately: two fingers crossed in an X in front of her chest, like she’s warding me off. It’s an ancient gesture, left over from the days when people believed in man-eating goblins and bloodthirsty bogeymen. It means, basically, Demon, begone.

  Some people are so rude!

  A guard stationed by the fountain raises his baton at me. “Walk the bike,” he hollers.

  I pretend not to hear him. It’s not a bicycle—it’s the fastest machine in the entire City, and I’m definitely not going to walk it. But then he plants himself in front of me.

  “Turn off the motor,” he says. His eyes are narrow and mean.

  “I’m in a hurry,” I tell him. “Police business.”

  “Turn off the motor, witch.”

  The way he says that word makes it sound like a curse. My skin begins to tingle and flush. No one talks to me like that. Not today—or any day.

  “I said turn off—” he begins.

  But tongues of fire are licking out of my fingertips.

  His eyes widen and he takes an involuntary step back, knocking over the same basket of oranges. The vendor curses, but she can pick up her own damn oranges this time.

  “Oh dear, what’s this?” I say, faking total confusion. The ends of my hair have combusted, the red curls turning into the delicious heat of curling flames. “Could I maybe just… scoot by you? Sir? I, uh, seem to be on fire.…”

  The guard reaches into his belt—maybe he’s going to call for backup, or maybe he’s going to actually try to handcuff me (as if!)—but I seriously don’t have time for this. So I close my eyes in concentration, and then—fwoop—my bike and I have rematerialized on the other side of him. Still in neutral, I gun the engine until it roars like a mythic beast.

  The guard whirls around, reaching out to grab me, but I shift into gear and pull back on the throttle. I focus my power, and, using my own magic and the motorcycle’s absolutely kick-ass engine, I rocket into the sky, shooting over the final six market stalls before landing on the other side of the square, flames following me like the tail of a comet.

  Over the engine, I can hear the crowd gasp in awe—or maybe horror. Then I launch a white-hot fireball high over the street, and it explodes into a shower of multicolored sparks.

  Submit? Never. I live to burn.

  Chapter 4


  OUT ON THE WESTERN EDGE of town, the Academy Theater is wrapped in brightly colored police ribbon, like a present you don’t want to open. The big front windows are smashed to pieces, and broken glass litters the sidewalk.

  A pigeon
flaps away as I step through the door that hangs crookedly from one hinge. Inside, it looks like someone picked up the lobby lamps and used them as baseball bats, knocking over trash cans, bashing up the popcorn machine, and clobbering the frames of the velvet couches.

  “Hello?” I call. But it’s dark and dead silent under the soaring ceiling. And even though I’m still hot from my flames, I shiver. “Hello?” I try again.

  Then a figure in a black leather police jacket rounds the corner, playing a flashlight around the walls. His back is to me, his shoulders hunched in concentration.

  “Glad you could make it, Wisty,” a male voice says.

  He doesn’t turn around, but I’d recognize that voice anywhere. It’s Byron Swain, one of my biggest nemeses and also one of my best friends, depending on the day. And, okay, maybe I’ve kissed him once or twice. But in this dark, godforsaken place, that feels like a million years ago.

  I’m both reassured and annoyed that it’s him. “Give me a break, Swain,” I grumble. “I practically flew over the entire market to get here. Pissed off a guard, too.”

  “Typical,” he says.

  His voice is lower than it used to be, and I swear he’s even grown an inch or two. Either his new job as a police investigator has matured him, or else he’s finally hit full-on puberty.

  He turns around to look at me then, shining the flashlight slowly up my body. I can’t help but remember how he used to gaze at me for minutes on end, like he was memorizing every inch of my figure. Now he probably does that with his new girlfriend, Whatshername McWhatshername. She’s a redhead, too. I guess he has a thing for those.

  “Wisteria Allgood,” he says smoothly. “Show-off extraordinaire.”

  I’m not in the mood for Byron’s cocky new attitude. I take a step closer to him, my fingers flexing. “You want to check out the crime scene from the viewpoint of a weasel, Byron? Or a cockroach? Because I can make that happen. Just. Like. This.” My index finger points threateningly at his chest.

  Unsurprisingly, Byron backs down. He always was kind of a chicken. “Very funny, Wisty,” he says. He sighs. “I’m just saying you should be careful. Try not to put your powers on display. People don’t like it.”

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