A Stone Heart: Chapter Nine
The truth is revealed.
The receptionist left me sitting in Lake’s office forever. I slumped in the chair and let my head drop against the wall. My energy had flagged since I stepped out of the tree, and now I wanted a nap. Still, I’d done something I’d never been able to do. Mom told me about giving energy and…
I jerked awake, confused. I glanced out the window and was shocked to see the sun was setting. How was that possible? When I came in it was barely morning. Yet the receptionist was gone, and Lake was the only one left.
“I was starting to worry. We’ve tried several times to wake you, and you were passed out.”
Lake stood over me, a smile on his face. Something slithered through my stomach and brain. This wasn’t possible. Could merging with the tree and bringing it back to life really have taken that much out of me? I tried to stand, but stumbled.
Lake clutched my arm. “Hey, go slow.”
I jerked away from him. “This is wrong.” I pointed to the window. “When I came in, it was morning. The sun’s almost down now. How?”
“Like I said, you came in and—”
“Stop! That’s bullshit, and you know it. Huey never would have let me be gone all day without checking in on me.”
“We tried to call him, but—”
“No! He wouldn’t have left me. He—”
Lake sighed. “Dex, you came in and told me about the tree. You said how exhilarated you felt, and then you went into almost a state of hibernation. I can’t explain why Huey didn’t come looking for you, but you’ve been here all day, sleeping.”
Huey wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Lake sounded sincere, but there was something there that didn’t ring true.
“I have to go.”
I tried to get to the door, but my legs were like rubber.
“Why don’t you sit down and—”
“No!” My hands trembled as I withdrew my phone. “I need Huey.”
A frustrated breath, then Lake stalked closer to me and knocked the phone from my hand, causing it to clatter to the floor. He raised a foot and brought it down hard, shattering the screen. Then he turned his attention back to me. “My parents said you’d be trouble, but I said no, I could handle you. I should have done what they said, but there’s so much magic in you and I had to have it.”
“What?” My head swam. “What are you saying?”
He put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re the most powerful magic user we’ve ever seen. There’s enough there for all three of us to last us years.”
“Three?” I stumbled back, my mind reeling. “Huey. Help me.”
“Oh, Huey doesn’t know where you are.” Lake clapped his hands and the door opened. Trevor and John walked in, their heads down. “Thanks to Trevor, Huey thinks you’re here for an extended session.”
I peered up at Trevor. Both his and John’s eyes were glassy and their expression was blank.
“What did you do to them?”
Lake ran a hand over Trevor’s head. “He’s simple minded. A man in love makes foolish choices.”
My stomach clenched. “I don’t understand.” My head hurt. “Why are you doing this?”
“Oh, I wish I had time to explain, but those herbs won’t keep you passive long, and we have to get the magic out of you while we can.”
Take the magic out of me? That wasn’t possible.
“Magic is part of me.”
He gave me that snake-like smile again. “Maybe once, but no more.” He gestured. John and Trevor shambled forward and each grabbed an arm. I tried to resist, but there was no energy in me.
“Don’t bother,” Lake said as they pulled me into the corridor and dragged me down the hall. “Though I have to say, I’m surprised. There hasn’t been a person who was this lucid. Even your mother—”
Fear gripped my heart in an icy fist. “What did you do to my mother?”
“Relax. She’s fine. She and your father provide a good deal of magic, so we certainly wouldn’t want to hurt them. We’ve been after her for years to get you here.”
We got to an elevator and stood there was Lake stabbed a finger at the button. He hummed a mindless tune, a sick smile on his face. The doors opened, and we got on. The elevator lurched, and we headed up.
Huey, I need you. I’m….I’m scared.
I had no control over my body, and I couldn’t reach for my magic. Lake grabbed my chin and jerked my head up. “God, I wanted to keep your magic for myself. Twenty-five years, and no one has ever given us such a tasty treat.”
The doors opened again, and Lake led the three of us into the room where I had my sessions. John and Trevor put me in the chair, then stepped back. Lake regarded them with amusement.
“Return to your rooms, and forget this ever happened. You’ll wake in the morning, wrapped in each other’s arms, and fuck each other for hours.”
Without a word they turned and slipped back down the elevator.
“How are you doing this?” I demanded, though it was barely a breathy plea.
Lake strapped the mask to my face, blocking my vision. He was nearby, and I could make out the muffled sounds of him working on something. “My grandfather discovered magic existed almost a hundred years ago. He thought to expose it to the world, but no one believed him. In fact, they humiliated him. Bitter and angry he withdrew from the world, but he never forgot. He dedicated his life to evening the playing field. If there were creatures out there that had magic, then he wanted it too.” Lake’s voice came closer and he started messing with the mask. “It took him thirty years, but he discovered a way to drain the magic from beings who had it. Unfortunately, the process took it all and left them as withered husks. Still, the experiments gave him the results he needed to refine the process. Admittedly it was still rough, but allowed him to keep them alive for months as he drained every bit from them.”
He lifted the edge of the mask and gave me a smile.
“He eventually got it right. It’s amazing when the magic is drained, how pliable your minds become. When your mother and father would come, they’d talk about you. Your mom was always worried that you’d never come fully into your magic. Your dad told her she needed to be patient. After their…treatment, we’d tell them they had to get you here. We needed you to tap into your magic, though, and you did! You were amazing, if not a little rough. I thought we could help you focus enough to make you of use to us. Wild magic like yours is dangerous. Usually we drain it all outright. But you? God, we couldn’t let you go. You were like the fucking holy grail.”
Huey… Please, for the love of the gods, help me.
He finished attaching something to the mask, then slipped it back down over my eye.
“It was my father who discovered the academy. For thousands of years, they’d trained your kind. It was easy for him to get a job here, because the proctors were all so fucking haughty, thinking they were better than us. They were just like my grandfather said, but we showed them. One by one we took them. We couldn’t kill them all, of course. I mean, someone had to run the school. But we kept their minds off what we were doing.
“Personally, I wanted to keep you for myself. After your little displays, though, we decided that you’re too dangerous to keep. Pity. But know that your magic is going to keep us powered for years to come. We won’t even need these others now.”
He was going to kill them all.
“I can see by your expression you’re figuring it out. Compared to you, these others are like appetizers. You’re the whole fucking buffet. We’ll drain them all and store their magic until we need it, but once we have yours, that could be decades or more.”
The click of metal and the hum of machines caused me to clench.
“Don’t worry. The process is almost painless. Definitely a lot better than it was when Grandpa invented it.”
Electricity flowed over me, and my mind cleared slightly. I needed to do something, otherwise I was going to die. I reached out for the power and tried to coax it into me. Inused as it was with something, it didn’t react quite like natural electricity, but it still responded. Every bit that I absorbed burned away whatever Lake had given me. In the distance the rumble of thunder shattered the quiet of the night.
“What are you doing?” Lake’s voice sounded panicked. I could hear him banging on something. “Fuck!”
A sharp pain in my arm and my mind swam slightly.
“Oh, you’re impressive. I really wish we could have kept this going for years.”
It was getting harder to think as I was dragged down into a familiar morass.
“Yes, Mr. Daystar.” Lake cleared his throat. “Although he’s human, we can’t have him upsetting our plans. I’ll have to have one of the boys kill him, of course. We’re doing this for humanity, you know. Magic messes with the balance of power that humans are meant to be on top of. As for Mr. Daystar, there’s no way he’d believe Trevor if he said he didn’t want Huey around. He seems slavishly devoted to you.”
He was threatening Huey? My Huey? No fucking way. Huey had given so much to care for me, and this bastard wouldn’t touch a hair on his fucking head. I would bring this school down around his ears before I let that happen.
The rumble of thunder from earlier was dwarfed by an ear-shattering jolt. I drew every erg of energy I could from Lake’s machine and any flower, tree, and blade of grass in the area. No way in fuck would I let him have Huey. Another prick of a needle being stabbed into my arm, but now it was too late. Power surged through me, so I was burning off whatever he was using faster than it could overwhelm my mind.
“Dex! Stop. You’re going to hurt the others.”
There was an edge of panic in Lake’s voice. I reached up and ripped the hood from my face. Through the overhead skylight I could witness the building fury of the perfect storm that mirrored my own anger. I stood, though my legs were will like jelly. Lightning streaked the sky, enormous bolts that lit everything for miles around. Lake stumbled back.
Energy cascaded around me, dancing from point to point. It seemed that I finally found total control. I wondered how I looked. For the first time in my life, I might actually have appeared a little threatening. Go me.
“No!” He whipped out a gun. “Mom was right. You’re too dangerous.”
He fired, and the bullet struck me in the shoulder. Fucking gods, it burned! The impact of the bullet drove me back several steps, but I stayed standing.
“Why not use your magic?” I mocked him. “Oh, wait. Because it doesn’t belong to you, and what you’ve stolen doesn’t compare to mine.”
I tried to focus, but the pain was overwhelming. Still, I wouldn’t back down. Huey’s life was at stake.
Lake raised the gun again, ready to fire once more. I drew my magic around me, doing my best to protect myself. When the skylight shattered and shards of glass rained down, Lake jerked his attention to the ceiling. A figure, huge and shrouded in darkness dropped through it and landed between us with a deafening thump. It turned to me and smiled.
I had never been so happy to see Huey, but Lake had the gun.
“Huey, you have to go.”
The gunshot was loud. It dwarfed the overhead storm. My scream drowned them both out as Huey jolted forward and wrapped his arms around me, pinning me to his body.
“Close your eyes, Dex. You don’t need to see this.”
He cupped the back of my head and held it to his chest as Lake continued shooting. With every bullet, Huey’s body jolted.
“No! No! Stop it you fucker!”
Tears streamed down my face as I struggled to pull away from Huey. He just kept whispering I should close my eyes. When the shots finally stopped, I expected Huey to fall over dead, but he didn’t. He stepped away from me and smiled. It wasn’t possible for him to still be standing. Then he spun toward Lake and my mind was blown. Huey’s clothes were shredded, and a truth I never suspected was revealed. When I’d said that Huey had a body like granite, apparently I was a lot closer to the truth than I realized. His skin was ripped away, and beneath it was dark stone. Huey Daystar, my best friend since I was a child, wasn’t human.
“You’re…you’re a gargoyle,” I whispered.
Huey advanced toward Lake, and his voice was dark and gravelly. ”You tried to hurt Dex,” he growled. “No one hurts Dex.”
Faster than Lake could run, Huey reached out and gripped him by the arm.
A roar burst from Huey’s throat as he grabbed Lake’s other arm, holding him aloft. Skin began to flake off, revealing the stone beneath.
“Dex is mine, do you understand? MINE!”
Huey reared back, stretching his arms apart. I heard the snap of the bone and the ripping of the skin as Lake’s arm was torn from his body. As terrifying as the sounds were, the screams were infinitely worse. Huey dropped Lake to the floor, with Lake keening in agony.
“You brought him here to use him. To hurt him. He trusted you and you betrayed that.”
Huey slammed Lake in the face with his own arm, the blood spattering in arcs across the room.
“I won’t let you touch him again. None of you.”
He continued using Lake’s arm to beat him, savagely. Huey, the sweetest man who’d ever lived, was in the process of murdering Lake. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it, but Huey shouldn’t lose his soul for this.
He turned, his eyes wild. But as soon as they landed on me, they softened.
He sounded so terrified. He glanced down and saw what he was holding. He dropped it, his horror obvious. I opened my arms, hoping to coax him into a hug, but he stepped away and stared at his bloody hands. He glanced back at me, and I knew he was going to bolt.
I moved closer. “Don’t go, Huey. I need you.”
“What did I do?”
He sounded so lost. “You protected me, like you’ve always done.”
Lake moaned, so I figured he wasn’t dead. Damn the luck. Huey clenched his fist and slammed it into Lake’s head, effectively silencing him.
“Come here, Huey.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.” He held his hands up. Well, claws, I guess. They were talons made of stone, each one dripping with Lake’s blood.
“What am I?”
“A gargoyle,” I replied, putting a hand on his arm. The stone was rough, a total contrast to the skin I’d thought about for so long.
“Aren’t you afraid?” His voice trembled. “How is this possible?”
He peered at the hole in my shoulder, and his eyes widened.
“Don’t worry. It’s already healing,” I promised. Didn’t mean it wasn’t aching like a bitch.
I finally got close enough to put a hand on his. It felt strange, but at the same time it seemed right. The fake epidermis continued to peel away, exposing more stone. He was fucking magnificent.
There was obvious terror in his voice, and I couldn’t allow that. I threw my arms around him, clutching him tight, doing my best to hold him in place. Something in me told me if I let him go, I’d never see him again.
“You should run,” he whispered in my ear.
“No, never. You said I was yours. You get that means you’re mine too, right?”
He kissed the top of my head. “I’ve always been yours.”
The moment was perfect, so of course I’d have to ruin it. “I know you don’t feel about me like I do for you, but—”
“I don’t know what love is,” he blurted. “I didn’t know any real emotions, except where you’re concerned.” He pulled me closer. “I felt your fear, and that had me running here.”
He felt my fear? Sure, why not? Not like the night could get weirder.
“Where did you come from?”
“I don’t know.”
He sounded shattered. I guess that made sense, when you found out that everything you thought was true about yourself wasn’t.
“You didn’t know, did you?”
“No.” He brought his mouth to my ear. “I’m scared, Dexter.”
“Don’t be. We’re going to figure this out. I promise.”
I squeezed tight, hoping he could hear my sincerity, because I wasn’t sure he could feel my touch anymore.