The explosion at the university, I thought, pounding down the stairs. I’d been standing so close to the speakers as they’d blown…My ears hadn’t been able to pick up much of anything after, and while my hearing had eventually returned, it was completely possible that I just couldn’t hear the mind-clawing frequency layered into the White Noise anymore.
Where is it coming from?
I forced myself to slow as I came down the last few steps. The hallway was a mess of paper and glass; the art that still clung to the walls was crooked or upside down.
Taking a deep breath, trying to envision how Vida would approach this, I raised my gun.
The floorboards near the door creaked. I spun toward the sound. A dark form dressed in head-to-toe black stood in the doorway, the barrel of his rifle aimed at my head.
Instead of raising my pistol, I threw up my left hand. His earpiece was enough. I seized control of that small bit of power and amplified it until it burst like a firecracker against the side of his face. The other electronics on him—the flashlight looped onto his belt, the scope on his rifle, the Taser—crackled, rippling as I drew a white-blue charge out of them. Their plastic casings made a horrible snap, like a bone breaking clean, just before they exploded.
The man screamed as he went down, trying to yank off his belt to pat down the fire. I started toward him, my mind darkening with the thought of finishing him, punishing him, for coming to this safe place. One step forward, one more. The gun was steady in my hands.
Two shadows moved along the exterior of the front windows, just beyond where he’d fallen to the floor, groaning. They streaked toward the porch; I wasted a second watching them through the patchwork of holes they’d made in the front door before turning and bolting.
I ran down the hall, passing through the living room and into the kitchen. The door that led outside from the laundry room was still locked, but I didn’t take any chances. I drew the short curtain draped over the door’s window to the side, keeping my back to the wall. A glint of silver caught my eye. I pulled the erasable chore chart off the wall beside me, angling its silver frame to reflect the space just outside the door.
No one was coming. I ducked out into the fog that had rolled up from the lake. The smell of damp earth was everywhere, mingled with gun smoke. The White Noise continued to blare; it was next to impossible to hear anything over it, including my own steps as I made my way deeper into the woods, trying to track the pulse of power the speakers emitted.
I glanced left, along the path. The same figures in black were pulling the limp bodies of kids down from the tree houses. I pivoted toward them, my finger so tight on the trigger of the gun I was surprised I didn’t fire by mistake.
One by one, in a horrible chain, they dragged the kids farther down the path, toward the lake. My mind was screaming at me to fire, but…
I can’t. I could maybe take down one of the men before alerting them to my location. I bit my lip hard enough to taste blood. No—I needed to stop the White Noise. I needed the others to be able to use their abilities to help me stop this.
“Come on…where are you?” I whispered. The White Noise filtered through the forest, blanketing every square inch of it until it seemed to be pouring out from everywhere and nowhere. It hadn’t knocked me out, but the intensity of its core sound meant I couldn’t focus on any one thought for long. I was navigating through the forest on sheer instinct, feeling out the charge.
I was so distracted that I tripped over the first speaker.
My knees absorbed the dull shock of my landing. I felt across the rocks and piles of mulch for the speaker’s case. I hadn’t uncovered any wires, which wasn’t good news—it meant it wasn’t connected to the other speakers, and I was likely going to have to find them one at a time.
I shook my head, letting that silver thread uncoil in my mind. My heart jarred as my power connected to the device. I coaxed the charge hotter, stronger, until the battery began to blister inside. The casing melted with a squeal, finally cutting off the sound.
Jumping to my feet, I braced a hand against the nearest tree and cast my gaze like a net, searching the trees.
Someone was screaming, begging, “Don’t, don’t!”
My jaw clenched. Move, I thought, move!
The tree to my right exploded, bullets turning its bark and leaves into splinters. A jagged shard caught me across the cheek, the shock and sting enough to make my eyes water and my vision swim. I dropped, falling beneath the line of fog, clutching at the place where warm blood was now dripping down over my chin.
None of it mattered. An electric circuit sang out from behind an overgrown fern, dousing everything in the audible fire that was White Noise.
Close—I was so close. The speaker’s power licked at the fine hairs of my ears, my face, my neck. Mud seeped through my jeans as I crouched, focusing my attention on connecting to the device’s power signature, even if I couldn’t see it. This one must have been larger than the first, because the charge pushed back twice as hard against my senses.
A sharp pain snapped against the base of my skull. Tingling warmth exploded there, the sensation crawling up and down the length of my spine as my hands flew back, searching for the wound, for the place the bullet had cut through bone and nerve and muscle.
But it wasn’t there. No blood, no gash—
As suddenly as the knifing pain had come on, it disappeared, throwing off my sense of balance. I barely caught myself on my hands as I tipped forward. Crawling, I tore at the mud and underbrush, calling to the silver thread in my mind, trying to spark it in the direction of the speaker.
A trill of panic, higher even than the White Noise, wormed its way into my chest.
There was no prickle of awareness of the speaker’s power. No pulse of its current. No static to curl against my mind as I entered its circuit.
I staggered forward through the foliage until I found the device. I slapped my hand against the speaker’s hard shell. I felt nothing. I was alone in my own body with only that emptiness in my head opening its jaws, devouring me whole.
There wasn’t a single spark left in me.
My power was gone.
I clenched my hair in my hands, squeezing my eyes shut, concentrating on the silver thread, imagining it there, coiled in my mind. The longer I crouched, my heart kicking at my ribs, the deeper I fell into that spiral of horror.
Someone screamed—they screamed my name.
I snapped back into myself, registering the weight of the gun in my hand and the reality of that moment. The White Noise was shredding the silence, and it seemed to only scream louder the longer I stood there, doing nothing, feeling nothing.
But in the dark chaos of the moment, a single, clarifying thought managed to get through.
“Like you need psionic powers to destroy a speaker, you idiot,” I breathed out.
Shutting out the sounds and movement on all sides, I took aim and fired directly into the face of the device. It leaped off the ground as the shot pierced it. A second bullet finally silenced it.
The other speaker was close enough to track by sound alone. I braced my feet against the ground, swiveling until my ears pricked with pain, pinpointing the direction of the sound. My gaze narrowed, searching through the fog, the darkness, the trees—everything that stood between it and me.
It was an impossible shot—impossible because I couldn’t see to aim, and I couldn’t get any closer, not with the men and kids on the trail. Instead, I pointed up, aiming at the thick arms of the oak that supported the unfinished frame of Tree House Ten.
It felt like the gun was trying to rocket out of my hand as I fired, unloading the clip on that branch. Bullets swarmed the trees like wasps, coming in from every direction, but I didn’t stop shooting, not until the massive branch cracked.
I threw myself down as it split off the trunk
. I heard, rather than saw, the branch crash to the ground, taking with it the beginnings of the tree house Liam had built. The wood pounded the ground, and, in the end, I hadn’t needed to find the exact location of the speaker. The limb and debris buried it, muffling the White Noise.
A branch snapped behind me. I spun, catching a glimpse of something moving in the corner of my vision. I trained my gun at it.
At a girl.
The teen was a shade of white too pale to be truly healthy—her skin had hollowed out beneath her wide eyes, and her cheekbones looked too thin, like you could strip away her clothes and see where all of her blue veins connected to her beating heart. Full, dark lashes framed her startlingly blue eyes.
I relaxed, just slightly. At least one kid had gotten away from the tree houses.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
She reached up, touching the small gold flower charm on her necklace as she stared at me. Clearly overwhelmed by what was happening.
“You need to run,” I told her quickly. “Go in through the back of the house and take the hatch in the laundry room out—the others have already gone ahead.”
The girl smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Thanks for letting me know.”
I hadn’t heard the man come up behind me, but I sure as hell felt the butt of his rifle cracking against the back of my skull.
Lights burst in my vision, and I dissolved into agony, into darkness.
My legs dragged against the damp ground, feeling like they were filled with sand.
That was…The name…Owen was…The thought was there in my mind, just out of reach. It fluttered beneath the insistent tug of sleep, and each time the name was called out, only one color flashed in my mind.