Chapter Sixteen

They had gone back to get their cars, but Atlas had left his car to them as Ben, Blythe and he went to his house as soon as they could. Doug headed straight there as well, but he had to drive his truck. Luckily, the roads were relatively clear of traffic, so they were able to get there in good time. He was nervously glancing around the entire time he drove, fingers tapping on the wheel despite this, and when they pulled up to the house, he didn’t even wait for Zoey to open the door, he was already out of the truck and running towards the house.

The grave feeling that had begun in Zoey’s stomach continued to grow. She knew Blythe was alive when they had found her, but from what she had heard, that didn’t mean she couldn’t still die from the change. It sounded as if there were stages for the transformation, but even if you passed all of them, you could still be too worn out to survive. Zoey headed towards the house and heard everyone else driving in, save Skyler, Sullivan, Misae and Tarian, who had yet to be informed of the situation. Atlas’ house was brick, and reminded Zoey of an oven, even having a little chimney on it. When she reached the door, she tried to visualize everyone’s life force inside, including Blythe’s. Hers had to be there. She was almost too shocked to go in on her own, but didn’t want to loiter by the door until the others got out of their cars. She had to see her again, and know how she was.

            When she figured out her way around the house, the others were hurrying in. She had found them in the bedroom, and Blythe was almost completely patched up, Doug working away, hyper focused, hands moving quickly. He continued his work when Zoey walked in, but she was trying to see if Blythe was even breathing. She certainly wasn’t awake yet, and Atlas was sitting beside her, holding her hand, watching even more intently for each breath, face contorted in emotion.

            Zoey wasn’t sure Doug knew she was there, until he asked, without looking up, for her to get a glass of water for when Blythe woke up. Having something to do, she dashed off to do just that. Now that she knew Blythe was in a safe place, she wanted to help. Everyone else had probably now crowded into the room, and she started to head back with the water, except Ferris and Rebecca threw the door open at that moment, causing her to almost spill it, but catch herself.

            “I-I-Is she okay?” Rebecca stammered, trying not to cry, but looking as if she had been.

            “Doug is looking after her right now, but she hasn’t woken up so I don’t really know what that means. I’m bringing her water for when she does.” Zoey explained, heading towards the bedroom again.

            Ferris didn’t say anything about this, but both he and Rebecca followed to the now-crowded room. Zoey passed the water along through the group until it reached Calder, who was close enough to place it on a bedside table. Even his hands shook, and the glass rattled against the surface as he put it down.

            Doug looked as if he had finished patching her up, having produced whatever herbs and plants he could to tuck under the bandages to prevent infection and speed healing. Still, he was sitting there, counting silently on his hands, going through mental lists, trying to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. There was a smear of some green poultice across his fingertips.

            Atlas was mainly staring at Blythe, waiting for her to stir or wake up. Every few moments, he would glance back nervously at his friends, as if to make sure they were all moving too, and he wasn’t frozen in a terrible reality.

            Doug sounded a little broken, and as if he was speaking to himself when he said, “I’ve done everything I can think of.” He looked up to Zoey, and her heart ached. She could see that if things didn’t work out, he was going to blame himself. It was the same pain that Rebecca was currently feeling, and that Atlas was feeling.  Doug slid back, joining the crowd that had nothing to do except hope.

            Luckily, it was at that point that they heard a groan, and Blythe’s eyes slowly opened, blearily taking in the group around her. For a moment, her eyebrows drew together, not understanding why everyone was staring at her. Then, she remembered, gasping, starting to cry, and trying to sit up, panicked. She feebly tried to claw at the blankets around her, as if she was feeling trapped by them, but her normally athletic body was worn out.  Atlas started talking to her in a low voice, trying to calm her down, gently trying to keep her from standing, while Doug had dashed forward again to tuck her bandages back into place. She was still weak from the ordeal, and so her panic was limited to lying down and crying for a few minutes, until her head fully cleared, and she became exhausted even to crying. Still, she shivered every few moments with tensed muscles, but at least she was steady.

            “You’re going to be alright, Blythe. You’re safe now. I’m so sorry this happened, my love.”

            Zoey could finally hear what Atlas was saying now that Blythe was done sobbing, and she had never heard him talk so sweetly. He still looked horrified by the whole ordeal, but greatly calmed by the fact that she was awake.

            Blythe closed her eyes tightly, and then sighed, trying to will herself to calm down. Then she glanced around the room, but her eyes were unfocused, and when she spoke, it was if she was looking for answers from no one in particular.

            “They buried me. Did they think I was dead? I had to-move the rocks and dirt. I had to get out.” Her voice was weak. She lifted her hands slightly, miming lifting rocks, but then shook her head, looking confused.

            Doug looked up to Ferris, who sighed and stepped forward silently. The other dragons started to file out of the room, with the others giving them odd looks.

            “Welcome to the wonderful world of being a rock dragon.” Ferris muttered, deadpan. “That’s how they figure you ‘activate’ the serum… in our case at least.” He added, Doug giving him a look for not being a bit kinder sounding, but saying nothing.

            She looked confused again, probably because while she was struggling to unbury herself, the world had been marred by pain, and she didn’t realize how she had moved the soil. She mulled this over, and then gasped, looking up at Atlas. “Did they light you on fire?” she asked, sounding horrified. Her hands were shaking. He tipped his head from one side to the other.

            “Sort of. They put me in a room that was on fire. It was metal, with basically flamethrowers throughout it, and I think wood and straw to make sure there were flames everywhere.” He was looking past Doug’s shoulder when he said this, trying to keep his own voice steady.

            She didn’t ask any more questions, and Zoey glanced at Doug out of the corner of her eyes, terrified but curious as to what the ‘activation’ had been for him. She guessed Rebecca hadn’t known what Ferris’ was, as she had began quietly crying when he stepped forward, and had to leave the room shortly after. It was something they probably didn’t talk about openly, as it was such a traumatizing experience. It should have been foggy since it happened so long ago, but because of the pain and horror, it was solid in their minds, as was much of their time with the organization.  

            Blythe had lifted her head to look at Ferris when he spoke, but then let it fall back heavily, and she croaked something about needing to rest. Everyone but Atlas hurried out, Ferris pushing past Zoey and Doug to follow wherever Rebecca had gone off to. Everyone who had left earlier was in the living room, talking with great fervor. Zoey heard them report the message that Karver had sent just before they walked in.

             Rebecca’s shoulders dropped when she heard this, and she stopped crying. Ferris had arrived just before them, and was now working his jaw, remaining silent.

            “Are you kidding me right now?” Rebecca asked, her voice serious, still cloudy from crying. “Does he not understand that these are people he’s toying with? That the whole group of them are life-ruiners?” She spat, standing up, fists curling up, then relaxing as she ran her hands through her hair. “Next time I see Karver I should just attack him myself. I’m angry enough to. And you can bet there’s going to be a next time, because apparently he doesn’t understand when he isn’t wanted. They can’t get away with doing this to Blythe.” Others were nodding as she announced this, wanting something to focus their emotions on, even though this was far from a solid plan.

            “I wonder if there is some way to take care of JARGON for good?” Zoey asked, jumping when Sullivan appeared from the shadows behind her, saying,

            “We had better not be planning something dangerous here.”

            “Isn’t waiting around for the next attack pretty dangerous?” Ferris remarked snidely, arms crossed. He hadn’t even reacted when Sullivan arrived, and didn’t when Skyler burst in the door.

            “You know Skyler is working on that. It’s difficult when this town is so corrupt… The police all work under JARGON, we learned that when nothing happened after rescuing Rebecca… and although they don’t seem to know what’s going on, they just agree to be quiet and not put any employees in jail. Skyler… he’s only been a lawyer for a little while, but maybe he will be able to figure out inside information…” Sullivan trailed off, sounding disheartened. He pulled one edge of his cape up around his mouth, looking to the floor.

            “Our plan is not really solid. Originally, the plan was, become a lawyer, and live a normal life. But they’re making it hard to do that. This…” Skyler inclined his head towards the bedroom. “Is one of the worst things they have ever done. I’m flabbergasted. I’m livid. I am also not sure what to do. We need to find out who they have working there that have powers. I don’t want to fight, but I also want no fatalities on either side.” Skyler finished, cracking his knuckles and sighing.

            There was a general murmur of agreement, which made sense as leading a normal life usually meant not killing anyone.

            “I’m so angry I feel like I could do it.” Admitted Brinly, looking down. “But,” She continued, “If it came down to it, I doubt I could. It would be…” she trailed off, and didn’t continue.

            Skyler let out a shaky breath, and gave everyone a glance over. “If everyone is alright, I’m going to check in on Blythe.” He told them, heading towards the bedroom.

            Sullivan followed him, and Ferris looked at Lynda suddenly. “Why did you text them?” He asked, glaring down, probably unintentionally, but it was hard to tell.

            “They need to know about this, Ferris. It’s unpleasant, but she’s not going to be reversed out of this.” Lynda replied, her tone serious, a strange juxtaposition against her bright clothes and normally chipper attitude.

            Oscar sent Ferris a quick glare, and Ferris gave him a confused look.

            “You’re glaring.” Whispered Doug, and Ferris looked surprised for a moment before changing his expression to one that was more neutral.

            “I hope they don’t think badly of me for what I was saying. I’m really not in any place to talk.” Rebecca said quietly, her anger not quite gone, but calmed for a moment. “If there was a way to get revenge for you guys without involving or endangering you in any way, I would do it in a heartbeat. That’s wishing for something impossible though. So I have to just brush that off.” She motioned brushing something away, and everyone was silent again.

            “Since we know Karver isn’t giving up, why don’t we try to learn as much as we can whenever we run into him? He seems to like to talk.” Calder suggested, getting up from his chair. Brinly followed him and they left without hearing an answer to the suggestion. It wasn’t terrible really, and it was all they had to go off of right now.

            “He is the son of the guy in charge of JARGON. He probably knows quite a bit, and since he thinks he knows everything, he kind of is… chatty.” Doug admitted.

            The meeting turned to discussing Blythe’s condition and trying to figure out what to do about that. They could get her notes from her classes, but it was hard to tell how quickly she would bounce back, and they knew how long it took them to get over what had happened to them.

            Zoey felt very out of place in this conversation, not having had to go through a whole lot in comparison. She knew JARGON was awful, but this last attack on Blythe had floored her. She wasn’t sure what she could do to help, it wasn’t like getting her flowers and a card to ‘get well soon’ would fix this. It felt like a waiting game with an unknown ending. JARGON held all the game pieces, so they didn’t even know what they were playing.

            Zoey wanted to stay home from school the next day, and since her parents were on another business trip, she could have easily. She felt she should go, however, to help spread the ‘news’ that Blythe had been mugged when visiting the city nearby. It was mostly to explain why she was out of school, but also to keep the students wary. Skyler was worried that since the experiments were continuing, they would be searching for new ‘subjects’, and wanted to protect the student body as best they could. He and Sullivan had even promised to mention it at work in case some of their co workers had younger kids that could be abducted.  Everyone at school was shocked by the news, and it spread fairly quickly, which was probably the best thing they could have hoped for.

            Aisha wondered if she should cancel her plans to go with Stacey to the city on the weekend, but Zoey tried to convince her that she would be okay if they just stuck together. Zabrina wanted to send Blythe some tea that she thought would help her get over the traumatic experience. Zoey promised to give it to Doug to pass along, knowing she would see Blythe herself, but not wanting to encourage visitors right now.

            “I’m so sorry that this has happened. And so close to our town, I can barely believe it.” Zabrina told her, sounding incredulous, as they walked through the hallways between classes. Doug was silent behind them, probably listening to see if Zabrina was believing the story. Zabrina offered Zoey a sip of tea from her thermos, and Zoey accepted, burning her tongue in the process. She didn’t often drink hot beverages, and normally let her tea cool until it was nearly cold. Still, chamomile and vanilla did seem to calm her nerves a little bit.

            “I think we can be glad it wasn’t worse. She’s going to make a full recovery, and be alright.” Zoey said, trying to comfort her friend.

            Zabrina played nervously with the top of her thermos, opening and closing it. Zoey felt bad that the news had made her best friend jumpy, but also secretly worried that she could become a target thanks to being close to them.

            “You are right, it is good that she’s going to be okay… I just need some time to get my head wrapped around it. I thought this town was so safe.” Zabrina admitted, causing Ferris to snort beside her. Used to his behaviour, she only shot him a slightly confused look before brushing it off.  “When Blythe is ready, we should have a little get together to make her feel better. Maybe I could bake something. Do you think she would like that?” Zabrina asked, focusing her question on Doug this time.

            “I’m sure she would, I’ll have to ask her when she will feel up to it though.” Doug replied, sounding like he was trying to keep his voice from cracking.

            Zabrina shuddered. “I know you guys are keeping quiet about how bad it was, but I know it was pretty bad because of how you’re acting. Tell her I’m thinking of her.” She told him sincerely.

            It was at this point that they came across Brie talking to Dominic in the hallway. She was talking low, but they could tell it was about something serious because Dominic looked very concerned. And suspicious. He was leaning down in order to hear her, and was hyper focused on whatever she was saying. When he saw them coming, he straightened up, and his suspicious look fell off, giving Brie a look that said he didn’t quite believe whatever she was saying. Zoey expected her to glare at him, but instead she looked straight at the group approaching, seeming angry, fists clenched at her sides. Zoey prepared for a sharp remark, but then she noticed Brie’s hands were shaking, and that the anger in her eyes was trying to hide the fear in them too.

            “I’m right, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.” She hissed to Dominic, before turning back to them. “You’re dangerous, all of you. I know that for sure. Aisha says she’ll talk to Zoey and Zabrina, but only when the rest of your group isn’t around. I knew something was off. I hope Dominic sees the truth soon too.” She dashed off before they could say anything.

            “What was she saying to you, Dominic?” Zoey asked, when she could speak again. She felt Doug tense up with Brie’s accusations, and Ferris had looked off to the side, avoiding eye contact. She guessed that Ferris had been called that before, but if Doug and their whole group was being called dangerous, something must be wrong.

            “Mostly just that you guys were dangerous. She didn’t actually tell me why, so I’m not even sure if she knows. Maybe she just doesn’t want people to hang out with you, or she thinks you’re bad luck because of what happened to Blythe.” Dominic replied. He didn’t seem irked by what she had said, but he did give them a concerned look. “How is Blythe doing by the way, when I heard about what happened, I felt sick.”

            Doug seemed to relax, which helped Zoey relax, as even though Dominic had looked suspicious for a moment, he seemed to have cleared his mind completely now. “She’s going to be okay, we were just talking about that with Zabrina.” Zoey told him.

            Ferris was still looking off to the side, so Zoey couldn’t see his face. She wondered if he was still nervous about the exchange, but she saw Doug glance over to him twice.
“Let’s get to class, we can talk again at lunch.” He told them quickly, walking off without them.

            Dominic shot him a confused glance. “I guess Ferris is excited for class for once.” He remarked, then his eyes darkened again. “He might be trying to take his mind off of everything.” He nodded to himself, as if that was the answer, and they made murmurs of agreement, following after him.

            Doug began texting everyone furiously as soon as he sat down in class. Brie’s words could not be ignored. They couldn’t do anything about what she had said, but they had to be alert, not knowing what she knew or where she got her information from.

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