Rack or Ruin (The Desecrated Pack Book 3), page 1
Rack or Ruin
The Desecrated Pack, Volume 3
Published by Jude Marquez, 2019.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
RACK OR RUIN
First edition. September 12, 2019.
Copyright © 2019 Jude Marquez.
Written by Jude Marquez.
Table of Contents
The concussive blast threw me off my feet.
I landed on my back and it knocked the air from my lungs. I choked before finally heaving in a breath and then another.
The branches above me blocked out the moonlight, and I got to my hands and knees, trying to gather myself enough so I could go back and help Azolata.
Then I heard a twig snap and my head snapped up. I reached blindly for my rifle and raised it. I listened closely and adjusted my aim. I flicked the safety off and held still, despite the fact that the air was still burning a bath into my chest.
“Where’s Billie? Where’s everyone?” I asked. I swallowed, tried to figure out where I was, exactly, and who I was with.
“I don’t know,” a familiar male voice replied.
The woods were dark and unfamiliar and I was already worried about being there alone. I had been here with Azolata before but without his comforting presence, the darkness carried more threat than promise.
“Stephen?” He asked.
“Dante?” I asked.
He let out a breath. I flipped the safety back on and reached out for him. We both stumbled around until he reached out and steadied me.
“What happened? Who’s left? Where are they?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. Let’s go somewhere... else,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea but I also wasn’t sure if staying here in the woods was a good one either. I knew firsthand that indecision was almost as bad as exposure, so I shouldered my rifle and followed Dante.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“The high school. It’s northeast of the town square. There shouldn’t be anyone there,” he muttered.
It was almost an hour before we caught sight of the high school. Dante kept to the shadows as he scanned the area.
“I can’t hear or see anyone. It smells like they haven’t been here either. We’re clear.”
“Well, let’s not make it a stroll,” I whispered.
The combination middle school and high school was a square building with red brick and white pillars. The classrooms had windows, but they were all dark. Of course they were, the town had been evacuated and even if there was anyone in town, after that blast, they would have gotten out as fast as they could.
Dante stood at the edge of the woods and scanned the area. There was a wide open field and a parking lot, but they were both empty. He took a deep breath and nodded, his eyes glued on a side door. He ran for it and I stayed right behind him. There weren’t any warning shots or even calls for us to halt. We made it to the door safely and Dante opened it with one mighty shove. Once inside, I noticed that we were in the teacher’s lounge. It looked like they had updated it in the seventies when bright orange couches were all the rage.
Dante went over to the fridge and when I opened my mouth to suggest that now wasn’t the time for a snack, he pulled it away from the wall and picked it up. He dropped it in front of the door we had just come through, blocking the entrance.
I stared at it for a moment, speechless. I wasn’t sure why this casual show of strength threw me for a loop but I stood there and stared at the fridge like I had never seen one before.
When I finally turned, Dante slumped down onto the hideous brown and orange couch. I watched the dust fly up around him. He kept his eyes on the ground and I hated to see that defeated slump in his shoulders. I hadn’t known him long, but I had never seen him like this.
“I think we lost,” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“I don’t know where anyone else is. Not here. I mean, I know that much. But I can’t tell you if even Lou- if Lou is even-” his voice hitched and I could feel the same pain in my chest as he gulped down a breath.
“Where’s Billie?” I asked.
I was so stupid. I shouldn’t have gone off just like that when Azolata handed me those keys. I should have stayed with her or made her go with me.
But ever since I met Azolata, my head felt like it was on backwards.
“Last I saw, she was with Artie and the others, going with Gerri,” Dante said.
“Where?” I asked. I had to put the rifle down and bow my head. Everything was swimming.
“The fae court.”
I DIDN’T ENJOY BEING unconscious. Not that it happened often, but when it did, it seemed like it was worse than the time before.
When I came to, I could feel the road beneath us and the engine purring. There was some kind of soft rock station playing and for a moment, I felt like I was ten years old again, and we were all driving to a family reunion. I felt like if I sat up, Eli would be in the back reading a book. My parents would be in the front, my mom dozing in the passenger seat and my father with one hand on the wheel and the other holding my mom’s hand. He would look at me in the rearview mirror with a smile and say, “I’m glad to see you’re awake. Did you see the moon?”
Then it all rushed back to me. I remembered everything that happened back at home and how we were all forced to split up and run. I could feel myself breaking into pieces like my pack had. I felt my chest ache when I realized that my brothers were out there alone. I felt like my chest was too tight to breathe and that the dizziness would overwhelm me once again.
My mind turned from my brothers to Azolata. He had talked so much about the torture that he would endure if they found him helping us. And he had helped us. If it hadn’t been for him, they would have killed us easily.
Him and Stephen.
I knew that Savannah had taken Stephen somewhere, but I didn’t know where. Where he was, along with Marcus and Dante, remained a mystery in my head.
I wanted more than anything to force myself back to sleep and continue dreaming about taking a road trip with my family when all the decisions weren’t mine to make. When they weren’t mine to mess up, time and time again.
But we didn’t have time for that. I forced myself to sit up and looked out the windshield.
“You don’t have your headlights on,” I noted.
Savannah glanced back at me and looked forward. “But I can see perfectly fine.”
“Yes, but that’s because of whatever you are now. Even if you are just half fae, then your eyesight will be ten times better than that of a regular person. So, of course you can see fine. But, if we drive past a cop, you will get pulled over,” I pointed out.
Savannah turned on her headlights. Both her and Gerri winced and leaned back as she did.
I rubbed my head. “Where are we?”
“We are about five minutes outside of Sonora,” Savannah said.
“Okay. As soon as you can, pull over into the first gas station. We need to figure out where we are going,” I said.
Savannah nodded a
“Were you able to get in contact with anyone?” I asked and nodded at the cell phone was in the center console. Gerri handed it to me.
“We called the number that you told us, but Eli didn’t want to talk. He said to call back when you were the one that was able to speak to him,” Savannah said.
“Good,” I muttered fiercely. The three of us had a system that we put together a long time ago. If anyone else answered the burner phones, and they didn’t use our specified code words, then we were to tell the other person to call back when one of us could talk. It was one of the few safeguards that we had to make sure we could tell who was who.
I flipped the phone open and hit redial. The phone rang once.
“Eli Ortega’s unconscious answering machine, how can I help you?”
I did not like how sounded. I could feel the bottom of my stomach fall to the ground and Gerri turned around to look at me. Savannah kept her eyes forward, watching the few people were in the parking lot in the rearview mirrors and in front of her. I guess even if she was a different being, some habits just didn’t die.
“I guess I can’t talk to him then, right?” I said, striving to sound casual. I clenched my free hand and looked down at the floor of the SUV.
The kid on the other end chuckled. “Nope, sorry. Is this Celia?”
“No. My name is Savannah,” I said.
Savannah looked in the rearview mirror and raised her eyebrows. I could only shrug.
“Well Savannah,” the kid said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “My sister and I picked up Eli and someone else on the side of the road. They are here in Vegas under our care. I can’t tell you what is wrong with him or the other guy. But they are safe here until they can take care of themselves.”
“Will you have Eli call me when he wakes up?” I asked politely.
“And the other guy? What do we do with him?” The kid asked.
I hoped and prayed that it was Lou with him and not anyone else. If he had already been lost, I didn’t know what kind of reaction Eli would have when he woke up. And I had no idea what I would do to get Lou back.
“Can you send me a picture of the other guy? Just to be safe,” I added.
“Hold on,” he said.
Less than a moment later, I got the picture. It was Lou, and he looked awful. He was bloody and torn up and dirty.
But at least I knew where they both were.
“He’s safe. If you could keep an eye on both of them, I’m sure that Celia would be grateful,” I said and closed my eyes.
“Okay, Savannah,” the kid said and laughed again. He hung up without another word.
I looked down at the phone in my hand but I didn’t have anyone else to call. The only other person I would have called in this situation was Artie, but he was unreachable, somewhere in the fae court. My stomach clenched when I realized that there was no way to contact him for the others.
I made a quick list of all the others that should have still been here but I didn’t know their exact whereabouts.
Stephen, Marcus, and Dante. The last I saw, they were still in town. They were not present when Lou laid everything flat so I didn’t even have a clue where they could be now or if they were still alive.
Azolata. The last I saw, he was collared and dragged away by a bunch of the Ascendancy. My best guess was that his brother had him somewhere.
Artie, Billie, and the other packs were in the fairy court. I didn’t know if there was a way to contact them.
Lou and Eli were in Vegas with the Bowman pack.
But the question was, where do we go from here?
A memory from my mother flashed before my eyes.
We were in the forest right before the full moon. I couldn’t have been very old, maybe sixteen at the most. I asked her, what would happen if we were all forced to split up? What would happen if she suddenly lost her entire pack?
She looked up at the moon and seemed impossibly sad. “There is no alpha without a pack. How can you lead with no one to follow?”
Now I knew. Without even Eli and Artie, I was directionless. I felt like I was in an abandoned ship in a storm-tossed sea.
I looked up and saw that both Savannah and Gerri were looking at me. They both wanted to ask me what we should do next. I could see it on their lips. But they must have seen how utterly lost I was and restrained themselves.
After a few moments of racking my brain, I looked to Gerri. “Is there any way I could talk to my brother?”
She nodded slowly. “There is. But we will need a few things first and it won’t be easy.”
I laughed, and it sounded hollow even to my own ears. “Well, nothing about this has been easy, so why should this be any different?”
Savannah nodded and glanced at the small convenience store in front of us. “We will need snacks.”
THE FIRST THING THAT I realized when I woke up was that I was starving.
Until this point in my life, I had thought I knew what the meaning of that word was. But now, I felt my hunger like it was a monster inside of me demanding to be fed. It seemed like nothing else existed outside of that hunger and if I didn’t satisfy it immediately, then there would be hell to pay.
The second thing that I realized was that there was a steady beat in the same room as me. I didn’t know what it was, but it was quickly becoming annoying.
Before I even opened my eyes, I thought back to the last thing that I could remember.
I remembered that deep dark ocean inside of me, that feeling of the magic welling up and crashing over me and laying flat everything around me. It had been a sledgehammer when what we needed at the time was a scalpel. But I was alive, so something must’ve gone right.
Then I opened my eyes and had to reconsider that thought. There were exposed wooden beams arching high above me. The blankets tossed over me were unfamiliar and smelled strange. Not bad, but like a detergent that I was not familiar with. I forced myself into a sitting position and saw where the annoying beat was coming from. There was a kid who was sitting in the same room as me and he had a dark blue ball in his hand that he was bouncing off the floor to the wall and catching it in one hand.
“Could you stop, please?” I asked.
The kid whirled around to face me not expecting me to be awake. The ball dropped from his hand and rolled away.
“You’re awake,” he said, somewhat stupidly.
I nodded and put a head a hand to my head. “Unfortunately.”
The kid came over to me and sat down. There was a small night table next to my bed, and he pulled it open. Inside there were protein bars and painkillers. He looked up at me. “Which one would you like first?” He asked.
I grabbed two of the protein bars and tore one open and shoved half of it in my mouth and chewed voraciously. I shoved the other half in my mouth and then opened the second one. The kid watched me with wide eyes. After the third protein bar was gone, my hunger subsided to a bearable level.
I looked around. It was just me and the kid in the room. There was the bed I was laying in, the nightstand where the protein bars and painkillers were kept, and a single chair. It was monk-ish in its decor and was about as welcoming as a crypt. When I glanced over at the nightstand, I couldn’t help but notice the thick layer of dust on the surface. There had been no one in this room in a very long time, I realized.
There was no sign of Eli either. I didn’t know where we were or who this kid was and as the hunger left me, panic began to set in.
“Where am I?” I asked.
The kid popped open a bottle of painkillers and poured two out in his hand before glancing up at me and pouring out another two. “Las Vegas.”
“Nevada?!” I asked.
“Is there another one?” The kid asked.
“Yeah, in New Mexico,” I pointed out. I secretly hoped that we were in that one. It wa
“Sorry, buddy. You aren’t in New Mexico. Nevada. My name is Eric Bowman,” he said and stuck out his hand.
I took the painkillers from him and popped them in my mouth and chewed them dry. I winced at the taste but I didn’t see a sink or any water nearby. Now that my hunger was gone the pain in my head was quickly escalating. I shook Eric’s hand as I swallowed the pills and made a face.
I remembered Gerri’s mother, the kiss she gave me, and the relief I felt.
I studied Eric for a moment. He wasn’t that old. It would surprise me to learn if he could even legally drink. He had gray eyes that were framed by dark lashes. His skin was a pasty white, and I wondered how he survived out here in the desert under the strong sun. He had the beginnings of a wispy mustache and a goatee he was stroking and pulling on. I could tell that he was very proud of it even though he shouldn’t have been.
From the color of this guy’s goatee, his hair on his head should have been an ash blonde. But he had shaved it down so that only a few spiky hands were exposed. The combination of his nearly bald head and wispy goatee was not a good one.
He studied me. I could tell that he was a non-human, but not magical. Not how I was.
“Where’s Eli?” I asked.
I didn’t feel well. I could tell that most of my magic was depleted, and I wondered if being away from Glenwood Lock would make it a harder and a longer wait for my magic to replenish.
Eric smirked, and I felt the irrational urge to punch him. I restrained myself, wondering what Celia would do if she were in this situation.
I forced myself to settle back in the bed, like this guy’s answer would not bother me. Like he could say that Eli was chained up in the basement with a dozen Ascendancy guards only waiting to take him out. Or even if the guy said he didn’t know where Eli was, I had to pretend that it didn’t matter. If they knew how much that Eli meant to me, he could be a weakness.
“Eager to know where the big guy is, I see,” Eric said.
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