Fallen Angel of Minepart #3 of Overworld Chronicles Series by John Corwin / Young Adult / Fantasy
Police officers outfitted in black body armor burst from the back of a SWAT van and stormed my school, assault rifles held at the ready. Wailing fire trucks and ambulances zipped past while police cars screeched into blocking position across the roads leading into and out of the school grounds. Pandemonium reigned at Edenfield High.
And it was all my fault.
Well, mostly anyway. Elyssa and I stood at the back of the milling student body. We'd evacuated to a church parking lot across the road and had front-row seats to the three-ring circus. I didn't want to watch. I knew exactly what had happened and didn't want to think about it. People had died. I was responsible for one of the dead. Vampires, half-crazed by the vampling virus, had killed everyone else.
The face of Mr. Turpin, my English teacher, caught my eye as he met a group of the po-po in the middle of the road and spoke with them. "If only those cops knew who they were talking to," I muttered to Elyssa.
"He's a creep," she said, gripping my hand as her gaze found my target. "But he's also full of useful information. "
Mr. Turpin, aka Underborn, was the most notorious assassin in the Overworld. But whatever information he had to offer wasn't worth it. "His price is too high. " I let go of Elyssa's hand, trading it for her shoulder so I could pull her closer. Without her, I wouldn't have survived the past few days. Underborn had marked my father for death. When I tracked him down and demanded he rescind the hit, he admitted it had mostly been a ploy to lure me to him. To test me, as he put it. As a price for calling off the hit, I'd had to help him with a vampire problem at my high school. Now our institution of lower education looked like a warzone.
"What a mess," I said turning away from the school. Violent images flashed through my mind, a stark reminder of the death and destruction that claimed the lives of nearly nine people, one of them a former classmate. "Everything I touch seems to go to hell, and Underborn thinks I'm supposed to be a leader?" Stress wormed its way into my insides, abrasive and painful.
"Even the best leaders can't plan for everything. " Elyssa pecked me on the cheek. "Just ask my dad. "
I chuckled. "Yeah. I'd rather not. " I'd be more likely to receive a sword through the guts than advice.
Elyssa's violet eyes met mine. "Underborn will want you to go after Maximus, instead of your mother and sister, won't he?" she said, phrasing it more like a statement than a question.
Maximus was actively recruiting high school students all over Atlanta—maybe even the entire country—to form a rogue vampire organization. I'd done my part, acting as Underborn's errand boy and now I needed to find my sister and mother.
"I know he's not done with me," I said as my mind churned through plans to force Underborn to tell me what I wanted to know. "But I need to be done with him. Unfortunately, he's the only person I know who might be able to help me find Ivy and Mom. "
"If I can convince my father to mobilize the Templars against Maximus, maybe that will be enough. "
I took my eyes off Underborn and turned to Elyssa. "You really think you can do that?"
She shrugged. "Considering everything we've been through, talking our way out of a situation instead of fighting has a certain appeal. "
A smile died on my lips as I thought back to my last fight. Maximus was a vampire, true, but he wasn't old enough to turn others into his kind. Instead, the turning failed, leaving behind an undead creature with vampiric abilities and a highly infectious virus, which would kill and turn others into what those in the Overworld called vamplings.
Maximus had turned Brad Nichols and the result had been carnage.
"Your dad is too focused on taking down the spawn to care about a rogue vampire. " I thought back to my disastrous meeting with her parents. To say Thomas Borathen despised my kind would be a huge understatement.
She brushed a lock of black hair behind an ear as a gust of wind dislodged it. "Underborn told us my father's feelings might change if we figure out who engineered the Thunder Rock massacre. "
Thunder Rock. Before I was born, Thomas Borathen had led a group of Templars to apprehend a rogue spawn responsible for manifesting into demon form and consuming the souls of those unlucky enough to cross his path. Instead of finding a lone spawn, they'd encountered hordes of dark creatures from the demon plane. Only two Templars escaped that day: Thomas Borathen and Kevin Sorensen. But Thomas didn't know about the second survivor. In fact, my eyes were looking at the presumed-dead Templar right now—Underborn.
"Pshhhht. Yet another mystery our beloved assassin wants me to solve," I said. "It's a never-ending cycle. He'll always want me to do more while he dangles Mom and Ivy's location like a carrot. "
Elyssa's eyes narrowed. "We can't just let him dictate terms for everything, Justin. I say we make him talk. Make him tell us where your mom is. "
"Or where Mr. Gray lives. "
She bared her teeth at the mention of the name I'd given the sorcerer who'd sent his gray-suited golems after me.
The pressure of eyes watching me prickled the hairs on my neck. It took less than a second to find the source. Nearly a hundred yards outside the police roadblock to my left, a blaze of red hair in the window of a parked limousine captured my attention.
The breath caught in my throat as the window on the car rolled up and the pale face vanished from sight. This wasn't good. Not at all. Dad's family, House Slade, had arranged a marriage between him and Kassallandra of House Assad. Except Dad had fallen in love with my mother, Alice, and run away with her. I was pretty happy with the outcome—being born and all—but hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Kassallandra was a demon spawn like my father. Her temper obviously matched her fiery hair because she'd sent hellhounds to track Dad down and fetch him like a human Frisbee.
But now she was here. Watching me. Why?
It didn't take long for my brain to connect the dots. She probably planned to use me to get to Dad. Time was running out for me to question Underborn. I gripped Elyssa's hand. "Think we could kidnap an assassin?"
Her eyes widened. "What?"
Agnes Wright, Principal Perkins's secretary, appeared through a break in the crowd. Her beady little eyes locked onto me. She jabbed a finger my way and spoke to two officers following close behind her.
"Oh, crap. " I took an involuntary step back.
Elyssa saw Agnes leading the policemen our way and grimaced. "Did she see Principal Perkins and Coach Burgundy take you outside the school earlier?"
I nodded. "Ted Barnes was there too. They took me to the football training room just before Brad and his two goons burst in and killed everyone. " Just thinking about the black veins racing up Brad's face made me shudder. The vampling virus had turned him into a half-dead lunatic with all the strength of a vampire. Perkins and his good old boys hadn't stood a chance.
Elyssa tapped her chin with a finger, eyes deep in thought. "If the cops ask you, tell them Perkins and Burgundy were telling you about scouts at the next football game. "
"Yeah, college football scouts. Tell them they were tipping you off there might be scouts and that you could get a college scholarship. Then they let you go back to class and that's the last you saw of them. "
"Yeah but what if these cops know about Perkins and the others blackmailing me to play football? For all I know the entire police department was in on it. "
"If there's one thing I've learned about corruption, the big players hold the most valuable information close to their chest and only tell their underlings what they need to know. If they were planning to make big bucks by manufacturing supernatural steroids from your blood, there's no way they would've told anyone outside their little group. "
I could have run away at supernatural speed and they never would have caught me. But if I did, the cops would assume I was guilty of something. Ending up on the FBI's most wanted list would be the perfect capper to a crappy day. So I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat and tried to act natural.
"He's right there, officer," Agnes Wright said, voice crackling with accusation as she and two local police officers closed in on me.
I almost gulped but somehow managed an innocent look of concern. "Who, me?"
"Yes, you, you rotten kid!" Agnes screeched.
"That'll be enough, Ma'am," said the officer to her right, a dark-skinned officer of medium build who looked like he wanted nothing more than to get the school secretary as far away from him as possible. He looked at me. "Justin Case?"
Technically, Justin Slade. I nodded. "Yes, officer?"
"Mind if I ask you a few questions?"
I managed a shrug. "Sure. " Elyssa squeezed my hand as a jackhammer pulse pounded in my chest.
"I'll take him to my car," the officer said to his companion.
I looked toward the milling mass of students in the church parking lot then across the road to where the nearest patrol cars sat, blue lights flashing. "What's going on? What happened?"
He gave me a shrewd look as we walked toward the car, a look that made me think he could see straight into my soul and pick out every little lie. Once we arrived, he retrieved a metal clipboard from the front seat and wrote a few things down on the paper clipped to it.
"Where were you at ten this morning?"
"Biology class. "
"And after that?"
"Uh, Ms. Wright called my class on the intercom and told me to go to the front office. "
"I went there and met with Principal Perkins and our football coach. " That much was true.
He scribbled on his notepad. "What was the nature of the meeting?"
"They took me outside and told me some college scouts might be coming to our football game this Friday and if I played well, I might have a chance at a scholarship. " Actually, they hadn't said much of anything until they'd gotten me inside the football training room where Sheriff Skinner, Chief Amerson, a doctor, and two goons with guns were waiting.