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       Lost Boy, p.20

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Then, there were teeth.

  Peter let out a muffled yell and shot a ball of light into the mouth of the piranha-shaped morphling, but it swerved and bit his arm, breaking the brace from Peter’s wrist. The brace fell in pieces, slowly sinking to the bottom.

  He swam upward, but the morphling returned, biting Peter’s leg and dragging him down into the darkness of the river. His lungs burning, he unclasped the larger, stronger light gun from his belt. He fumbled for the button and began to charge it, praying that shooting it underwater wouldn’t kill him.

  He was running out of air. He had no choice, no time to let it charge to a safe level. He couldn’t miss his chance. He tried to calm his mind and heart, to trick them into thinking he had all the time in the world, enough air for an eternity.

  There was a sudden movement on his right. Peter whipped around, pulling the trigger on his light gun, and his world exploded.

  The detonation under the water propelled him out of the river and onto the rocky bank, his head cracking against a boulder, his body convulsing from the shock it took.

  But he’d gotten the morphling. He hoped. He looked toward the middle of the river and saw Wendy collapsed on the rock island in the middle of the river, a figure of the purest light leaning over her.

  “No,” he whispered before darkness engulfed him.

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  “No, children,” the voice filled with power said. “You cannot hide here. Come out.”

  Wendy felt the figure of light dig inside her and pull out the shadows one at a time. It was agonizing, and tears fell from her cheeks as she wept, partially from the pain of the procedure and in part from the loss of them. They were familiar. As if she could almost name them.

  When the last shadow was gone, she tried to look at the much larger being. It was then that she realized it wasn’t a shadow but a person bathed in light.

  “Who are you?” she asked the angelic being.

  “You know who I am Wendy.”

  She knew, and knowing it was true was even more painful to acknowledge.

  “Mom,” she cried out as the being faded and disappeared.

  Coldness permeated her skin. She was dead. Had to be. Why else would she feel this cold?

  Slowly, sound returned, a rushing noise. Way too loud, louder than John’s stereo. Water lapped at her fingertips, and Wendy forced her eyes open, but everything was wrong, out of focus.

  But she had to get up, had to help the boys. Help Peter.

  She struggled to sit up and saw that the river’s water level was rising.

  Wendy clambered to her feet, the water lapping at her ankles, and scanned the surrounding forest.

  “Peter?” she yelled, turning full circle. “Peter?”

  There, on the opposite bank, she could see Peter crumpled on the ground, his body eerily still.

  “No!” Wendy jumped off the island and swam across the freezing river. The current pushing her downstream, she reached up and clung to a branch from a low-hanging tree.

  Hysteria settled in as a lone figure stepped out of the woods, his black uniform and blazing red patch alerting her to his intent. A Red Skull, and not just any. She would never forget his angular jaw, that crooked nose, and his dark, dead eyes.

  Hook.

  Wendy tried to move but slipped below the surface. She clung precariously onto the branch, her fingers numb as she watched Hook make his way toward Peter. The darkness of the night and the tree’s leaves hid her from Hook’s view, but if she made any noise at all, he would see her, and if she let go, she’d certainly be swept downstream. She tried to call the shadows for help, but they kept their distance, refusing to come near her, scared of the person on the other bank, or afraid of coming to her again after being ripped out of her.

  Hook kneeled by Peter and pressed his fingers to the side of his throat, feeling for a pulse. He slid an injector gun from a side pouch and held it against Peter’s neck, then pulled the trigger.

  What was he doing?

  Hook picked up Peter’s limp body and carried him deep into the forest.

  “No!” Wendy released her grip and was swept away with the current, her head dunking underwater. She fought the pull of the current and swam, but her numb, weakened limbs were deadweight. Eventually, she made it to the other bank, but it had taken her too long. They were gone.

  She shivered and forced one foot in front of the other, stopping when she came to the rock covered in his blood. Too much blood.

  “Peter,” she whispered.

  She took to the woods, down the same path she’d seen Hook go, and tried to run after him. But she could hear the chopper taking off. Still, she kept running, but by the time she reached the clearing, the chopper was but a small dot in the sky, the beat and thrum of its blades beginning to fade.

  She let a wail escape her lips. She’d failed him.

  He was gone.

  Neverland had taken him.

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Peter awoke, a thrumming noise reverberating in his ears. Where am I? Groaning, he tried to move his hands, but they were secured with cable tie cuffs.

  He struggled to remove the cable ties but was met with pain as they cut into his skin. Everything was fuzzy, unclear, and Peter tried to assess his surroundings. The noise that he’d believed was in his head was actually coming from the blades of the helicopter he was flying in. A slim hand reached to check the tightness of the cuffs, and he looked into the cat-like eyes of a female too young for the soldier uniform she was wearing.

  “So, you are alive,” she purred as she sat back in the seat, putting on a headset. She was tall, graceful like a feline. Her brown eyes had flecks of gold in them, a color he had never seen before. Her fingernails were claw-like, not a regular tip for someone in the military, but she didn’t seem like she was normal at all.

  “Who are you?” he asked, confused. “Where am I?”

  “What’s wrong with him?” a gruff voice asked. Peter craned his neck to see the man with gray short cropped hair sitting across from the young female soldier. His face angular, his eyes dark, there was an aura about him that reeked of danger. The man had seen a lot of death in his life. His hands had faded scars that matched the ones on his neck. “Is he damaged?”

  “No, they call it panning,” a third voice answered. “When killed, Peter can come back to life but will have no memories. A perfect specimen for testing.”

  Peter swung his head around to see a handsome young man with the longest eyelashes sitting up front with the pilot. The man gave a cheeky wave toward Peter and spoke slowly as if to a toddler. “Welcome back, Peter! Since this is a new life to you, I’m going to do the introductions. I’m Curly, that’s Sgt. Lily, and this is Captain Hook. We’re your family.”

  He didn’t believe them. He didn’t know why he was in a helicopter or who those people were, but he was darn sure they weren’t any relation to him. Especially, the old guy. He didn’t trust any of them, and he needed to get away.

  “How many times can he regenerate?” Hook asked Curly, extremely interested. “I knew he could fly, but this news is even better.”

  “We don’t know for sure. It’s not something Peter likes testing, but Dr. Mee found a way to jumpstart the hippocampus and reimplant the memories. I gave you the file I lifted.”

  “Well, it is worth testing the limit. With his genetic markers, my soldiers would be immortal.”

  The pilot called over the radio. “Ground units are having problems breaching the school. They want backup.”

  “Send in a unit of my Dusters. I want to see them in action,” Hook said into his mic before nodding his head to Lily. “You ready?”

  Lily smiled. “I’m ready.”

  “Would you like to play with him a bit before you take him back to Neverland?” Curly called back to them.

  Peter glanced at the open helicopter door and knew that was his only option. He didn’t like the way Curly said play and had a feeling that jumping out of the he
licopter and dying was safer than staying. He slowly counted to three and with a burst of energy tried to make it for the door.

  Hook was ready for his attempt, probably even suspected it. His arm shot out, clotheslining Peter in the chest, knocking him to the floor of the helicopter.

  He groaned, and Hook chuckled. “I like his spirit. He’s got fight in him. Let’s see if he is willing to join our cause.”

  “We don’t need him for this,” Lily pouted.

  Hook glared her down until she looked away. “I want to see what he can do.”

  Curly rolled up his sleeve, unbuckled his belt, and moved to stand over Peter.

  “Don’t,” Peter begged. “Please.”

  “Such pretty words, that mean nothing.”

  Curly’s hand touched his arm, and an intense pressure began to build in his head—an overwhelming need to obey his commands.

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Every snap of twigs heightened her paranoia, making her afraid that the Red Skulls would return for her. As much as they scared her, as much as she didn’t want to do it again, she needed help. She needed to get back to the school. Her anger and fear helped her as she called the shadows to her. This time, they came willingly, and no one kept them at bay.

  They pulled her with them into the dark place where shadows go. Screams and cries greeted her as they passed through, and she tried not to look, tried to ignore all she heard. Jax’s warning haunted her. “I just know that the more you travel into their plane, the more of your scent you leave behind . . . the more of you that you leave behind. You shouldn’t do that. Promise me that you will never do that again.” She’d have to take that chance.

  Her body was already cold as ice from the river, and traveling through the shadow plane only chilled her further.

  In a whirl of shadow and sound, Wendy stepped into hallway outside her bedroom. With the morphlings gone, the boys had retreated into the school and were defending it against a far more physical attack by the Red Skulls. She could hear their arsenal of guns and explosions. Smoke was filling the hall from the smoke screen grenades. Seeing an abandoned toy in the middle of the hall filled her with trepidation.

  “Oh no!” She had abandoned Michael and Tootles. Wendy searched through the hallways, calling their names. She’d reached the front foyer when an explosion from above knocked her off her feet.

  The ceiling was gone, and a ring of fire surrounded her—ashes falling like snow.

  Perry was running toward the fire, and then streams of water shot from his hands and doused the flames. Then, Onyx, leading a charge of boys, rushed to where she was. She could hear the rapid fire of guns, and Wendy felt the terror from years ago take hold. She was reliving Neverland all over again.

  A rope dropped from the ceiling, and Red Skulls rappelled into the mass of boys, shooting and picking off running lost boys and dropping them.

  The room began to hum as Onyx’s eyes turned black, coming to life with power. A mercenary descending from above caught Onyx’s gaze, and the Red Skull’s body turned to polished stone. The soldier fell from the rope, his body shattering into a million sparkling pieces of gemstone.

  Onyx turned and spotted Wendy, and he fought valiantly to try and make his way to her side.

  “Cover your eyes!” he warned. Wendy shut her eyes tight, using her hands to block out the sight of him, terrified of being caught unaware in his Medusa-like gaze. She felt the room hum again, and something large fell behind her. She peeked between her fingers and saw another Red Skull turned to stone.

  “Wendy, run!” Onyx yelled as he pushed her toward the hall, his eyes no longer dark, but he gasped as something hit him from behind.

  Wendy held back a scream as Onyx dropped at her feet, his body going still. She reached down to help him and saw the silver dart in his back. She pulled it out and felt for a pulse. He was still breathing—just out cold. They weren’t there to kill the boys. The Red Skulls were there to take them, just like Peter.

  A flash of light streaked through the doorway horizontally, and a human shape of light appeared in front of her and kneeled by Onyx. The streak departed the same way, and Onyx was gone. It had taken him.

  “No!”

  She caught a glimpse of Michael hiding behind the rubble, and she made her way to him. He was cowering, his hands covering his ears. His mouth was working, and she could see him saying something over and over.

  “Michael, it will be okay,” Wendy yelled, pulling his hands away from his head. “We just need to leave now.”

  “I can’t stop them.” His breathing was ragged, and his eyes were pinpricks of black. He hit his head again and grimaced in pain. She slipped her hands around his wrists to keep them steady.

  “What’s wrong?”

  He pushed her away from him. “I can’t stop it!”

  “I’m not leaving you.”

  “Leave me!” he screamed at her.

  “Stop it!”

  “You don’t know what I’m doing.”

  Pffft! A tranquilizer dart hit Michael in the arm, and Wendy yelled, pulling him down, out of view. She cradled his head in her lap, and he stared at the dart.

  “Finally, this will help.” A smile played on his lips.

  “What will?” she asked.

  A blast knocked Wendy from her feet, and she flew through the air. Fire and rubble erupted around her, littering her with a cloud of white. She lay sprawled on the hardwood floor. Dust covered her, and she looked up just as one of the pillars and walls collapsed inward.

  She lifted her hands to cover her head, and another explosion detonated around her, deafening her. Her ears rung painfully, and as the dust began to settle, the dark outline of a familiar body took shape before her, his back to her, his hands extended outward to protect them both. He had taken the brunt of the blast, shielding her.

  “Peter,” she cried out, relieved that he was all right.

  He turned, and she saw his face and realized her mistake.

  “No, not Peter.” Jax’s hands were glowing red with power, his face a mask of grief.

  He didn’t touch her, just turned and began to throw blasts of fire at the Red Skulls coming through the roof. She couldn’t help but once again wonder—whose side was he on?

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  “I got it,” Tink crowed loudly. “Or at least I think I did. The signal stopped broadcasting, and I can see the virus. All I have to do is—”

  Just then, a Red Skull burst through the door, and Tink spun around at the intrusion, then felt an instant pain in her chest. She looked down at the silver dart, then up at John’s shocked face.

  “Oh, *#$!” Bells rang as she slid out of the chair onto the floor.

  John roared, overcome with rage, and tackled the Red Skull who had shot his girl. The soldier wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of a ticked-off, six-foot teenager, and John had the element of surprise to his advantage. He ripped the gun from the man’s right hand and punched him with his left. The dart gun spun on the floor, just out of reach. The soldier knocked him back and made a run for the gun. Then, John dived, knocking him down and grabbing the back of his head. He slammed his face into the floor, stunning him for the few seconds it took to regain control of the dart gun. He aimed it at the man’s chest and pulled, then hit him with a second dart in the neck, and the soldier went limp.

  Breathing hard from adrenaline, he kneeled by Tink’s side and pulled the dart out of her chest. He went back to the door, locked it, and slid a cabinet in front of it as a barricade. Then, he moved to Tink’s computer and examined the suspicious code she had highlighted. His fingers flew over the keyboard as he did everything he could to quarantine the virus. He breathed a quick prayer and hit enter. A few heartbeats later, the lights came back on, and he could hear the distant sound of the security doors closing.

  But they were too late. Looking up at the surveillance screen, he could see the soldiers had overrun the school. They were loading the boys on their shoulders and hauli
ng them out one by one. He rubbed his hands over his face, unsure of what to do. A second screen showed Wendy facing off with another Red Skull. Someone descended slowly from the hole in the ceiling, a large hovering form that blocked the security camera. When it moved, and John saw the figure, he swore under his breath.

  Wendy thought she was dreaming. Fire, smoke alarms, and screaming, and then she was confronted with her past. A tall figure stood in the middle of the chaos. Larger than life, his shoulders broad, and his nose crooked. A scar ran down his cheek. He was imposing, scary, and he looked as if he hadn’t aged a bit.

  Wendy trembled, facing Hook as he directed the attack. “Take them all. Don’t leave a single one behind.”

  More soldiers rappelled to the ground around him, each of them spanning out to search the school. Hook held a computer tablet and looked at it for directions.

  “That way!” he roared, directing more men up the stairs toward the control room. When the dust settled, he turned and stared at her, a smile forming on his face.

  “Where’s Peter?” she yelled, pulling out one of the Red Skulls’ guns from the debris, then turned it on Hook, taking aim.

  Hook stared down the barrel of her gun. His head dipped in acknowledgment, but his face shifted and he transformed physically, growing shorter, slimmer—someone she knew replaced her enemy.

  She hesitated as her brother John stood in front of her gun. “You wouldn’t hurt me, would you, sis?”

  Wendy took a step back.

  “No, but I would.” Jax grabbed the gun from Wendy’s slack hand and shot the shifter in the arm before giving it back to Wendy.

  The shifter lost control of John’s form, and she shrank into a young, freckled red-headed teen. She groaned and fell to her knees, staunching the blood flow on her upper arm with her left hand.

  A shadow cast over her, and Wendy looked up as a male figure descended from the opening in the ceiling to float in front of Wendy and Jax.

 
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