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By Emily Raymond
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Whit and Wisty Allgood have fought and defeated their world's most pernicious threats: the evil dictator, The One Who Is The One, as well as his wicked father and son. But just as the heroic witch and wizard start to settle into their new roles in governance, a deadly crime wave grips their city, with all signs pointing to a magical mastermind every bit as powerful and heartless as The One.
Now the siblings find themselves persecuted as the city turns against all those who possess magic. They're questioning everything, including each other and their abilities. Can they confront the citizens' growing hostility and their own doubts in time to face the new enemy barreling toward their gates?
Table of Contents
A Preview of Maximum Ride Forever
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THERE'S BLOOD EVERYWHERE. Bright red pools of it on the gurney, and still there's more gushing out, running in rivulets to the floor. It seems impossible that there could be a single drop left inside the little girl. Her face is obscured by a tangle of dark hair, but the skin I can see has gone gray and her breath comes in harsh, wet gasps.
I rush to her side as the rookie attendant who brought her in retches in the corner. "Stabbed," he heaves, barely getting out the words. "Multiple times."
"Who—" I begin.
"The Family," he spits.
I rip away the girl's shirt to reveal the worst of the damage as Janine, a newly trained trauma nurse at City Hospital, presses her fingers to the thin little wrist.
"There's no peripheral pulse," Janine barks. "We've got to hurry."
"Tell me something I don't know," I growl. I put my hands on the girl's punctured abdomen and begin to recite a healing spell.
Unfortunately I'm getting used to this kind of work. And I owe it to the Family, a secretive, savage cult that's been terrifying the City for weeks. Every day there's a new robbery or assault, a new reason to fear. I'm no stranger to the criminal element—hell, I was a wanted criminal under the New Order—but members of the Family make the average robber look like a puppy swiping a treat. They live to steal, and they don't care who they hurt. Even if it's a little kid.
The girl gives a weak cough. My fingers tingle as I feel my powers beginning to build. I picture being inside her body, following the paths of her blood, searching out the wounds and binding them back together with magic.
Janine brushes the girl's black hair away from her face, and that's when I nearly fall backward in shock. This isn't some random street kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's Pearl Marie Neederman.
Lying near death on a cold metal table is the girl who once snatched my sister and me away from The One's zombie wolves. The kid who helped nurse Wisty back from the brink of death from the Blood Plague. The fierce little survivor who now looked more dead than alive. I let out a strangled cry. "Pearl!"
Janine gasps. "Oh, Whit," she cries. "Can we save her?"
It's not looking good. "I don't know," I say.
My fingers flex as they aim their healing magic, and Pearl's breath steadies. But then suddenly the electricity of the M starts to feel weird. Unbalanced. Instead of a tingle, it's a prickle, then a sting. An intense ache begins spreading from my fingertips, radiating up my arms and into my head.
"Something's wrong," Janine yells.
I don't understand what's happening, but it's bad. I close my eyes and try to beat back the surging pain.
A nurse appears at my elbow, screaming. "What do you think you're doing?" she yells. She tries to shove me aside so she can pack Pearl's wounds with gauze.
"Voodoo," snarls another. "The girl needs donor blood, not spells."
She's wrong. Even through my rising panic, I'm sure of it. I've been working at the hospital ever since we formed the new Council, and I've seen enough to know that magic is Pearl's only hope.
But Janine is the only one on my side. The only person in the entire room who believes in me, that what I'm doing is right.
The door bursts open and the Neederman family rushes in. Hewitt's shirt is on inside out and the look on his wife's face nearly tears my heart out.
"Oh, my baby," Mama May cries. "My little baby—"
"Those barbarians!" Hewitt spits out vehemently.
I'm giving it every ounce of strength I've got, but I'm feeling exactly what Pearl's feeling: my heart spasming, my lungs filling with blood, choking off my oxygen. My brain shooting off electric charges of terror.
I'm capable of thinking two things. The first: I faced down the evil Mountain King to rescue this kid, and I am not going to give up now.
And the second: how awful it is to die.
"Her blood's going acidic—" Janine calls.
My eyes fly open and I see Wisty blaze in and skid to a stop, her eyes sparking in fear.
"Whit," she cries. "You're bleeding!" She stumbles toward me and a nurse grabs her, holding her back. Wisty pushes her off, but another nurse snatches her other arm, and now they've got her pinned.
"Let her go," I gasp through intense throbbing, trying to keep focus on Pearl. I can't let this little girl die. She's like another sister to me.
The staff is no match for a determined Wisty, who shakes them off like gnats. Then she's at my side, yelling.
"Whit, you have to stop. It's killing you—"
Her voice sounds like it's a million miles away. When she hits me, hard, on the arm, I can barely feel it.
"Blood!" Wisty screams. "Blood is pouring out of your ears!"
I'M BLEEDING out of my ears? That might explain the agonizing pain in my head, like something's inside my brain and chopping at it with an axe.
"More time," I gasp. My hands are sticky with gore and the spells are gone. Pearl and I are racing together to the gates of Shadowland.
Then Wisty's grabbing at my shirt, pulling me away. She's screaming my name. No! I want to shout. I can't leave Pearl now. Not ever. But Wisty's using magic now, too—on me. She yanks me back against the wall.
Pearl's eyes fly open, silver and unseeing. They roll back in her head. Then her body shudders—and goes still.
Wisty wraps her arms around me. "It's over," she whispers. "We lost her."
I slide out of Wisty's embrace and sink to the floor. "Exsanguination": bleeding to death. A terrible word for an even more terrible fate. "No, I lost her," I moan.
Wisty crouches down by my side. "It was too late," she says gently. "No one could have saved her. Not even you." Tears glitter in her eyes and she tries to blink them away. Behind her, I can see Mama May and Hewitt holding each other, rocking back and forth in their grief. I'm too wrecked to cry.
"Don't listen to them," Wisty urges.
I don't know what she's talking about. I'm numb. "Don't listen to who?" I say flatly.
That's when I start to hear them: all the nurses and doctors who watched the battle I lost to Death.
"Freak," one of them says.
"No one should have such unholy powers," says another.
And I realize they're talking about me.
Janine's voice cuts through the noise, pleading. "Please," she says. "Be reasonable—he's saved so many lives—"
But no one's listening to her. The angry clamor builds until I want to cover my ears.
"He's a monster."
"He might have helped kill that little girl."
I clench my fists until my nails cut gashes into my palms. Those people have no idea how much Pearl gave to me, to my family. How much she suffered, too.
"He needs to submit," says a tall, sour-faced doctor.
Wisty stiffens and her cheeks flush red. "Don't even say that word around me," she yells.
The doctor's face contorts into a cruel grimace. "Submit," he says again. "Give up your dark magic. Both of you."
He doesn't care that Wisty and I stopped General Matthias Bloom from surrendering our City to the wicked Mountain King. Or that we defeated The One Who Is The One and ended his totalitarian reign of terror. No: all that matters to this man is how much he hates our powers.
Our powers—the phrase taunts me. How could I save an entire City but not one little girl's life?
"Abomination," says a nurse.
"Speak for yourself," Wisty says defiantly. "I didn't see any of you saving Pearl's life." Then she reaches out and grabs my bloodstained hands. "Get up, Whit. You need to show me you're okay."
I hear the fear in her voice, and I struggle to stand. As Wisty hurries me away, Janine catches my eye. But Mama May and Hewitt don't look at me as they clutch each other in their overwhelming grief. I will never be able to make up for this loss.
When we get outside, the sunlight feels like a slap in the face. Pearl is dead, and everyone in the hospital thinks I'm a demon. Maybe even the Needermans do, too.
The sobs come now in a wretched-sounding torrent. "How could the Family do that to a little girl?" I croak.
Wisty's face goes dark. "Actually," she says, and then stops and shakes her head.
"The Family didn't kill Pearl, Whit." She swallows. "She was a member of the Family."
I don't think I heard Wisty right. I shake my head. "No. That's impossible."
"You know there was a robbery this morning," Wisty goes on. She takes a deep breath. "And now you need to know that Pearl wasn't the victim of the crime. She was the one committing it."
I'm too stunned to speak.
"She robbed that store with a gang of kids. But unlike the rest of them, she didn't get away."
Pearl, a knife-wielding outlaw? My brain just can't comprehend it. And then, whether it's exhaustion or grief or shock, I don't know—everything goes dark.
THE ALERT COMES IN seconds after I've helped a barely conscious Whit into his bed. There's been another break-in, this one at a theater down by Industry Row.
I pull the covers up to my brother's chin. "Be safe," I whisper, "I've got to run."
Whit's proud of me for signing on as a consultant to the police force—he says I'll be way better at it than I was as a member of the Council—but right now he clutches my hand. Hard.
"You be safe," he gasps, and then slips back into his fever dream. It's a little unnerving.
A dirty kid on the street corner stares in wonder as I climb onto my chromed-out motorcycle and pull back on the throttle. His gray eyes remind me of Pearl's, and my throat constricts in a flash of pain. I hope the hospital staff lets the Needermans light a candle for her, but after that nasty scene in the operating room, I kind of doubt they will.
I peel out into the street and tear down the main thoroughfare, going way too fast. I want everything that's bad—Pearl's death, my brother's collapse, and the voices demanding that we submit—to get blown away by the wind.
I don't know why people have started talking about magic like it's a weapon to be confiscated. Yes, the City's suffered through more than its share of evil magic: from The One, and the Mountain King, and loathsome Pearce, just to name a few. But who, in the end, stopped the villains? People with good magic. People like my brother and me.
It doesn't matter to the Normals, though. Supposedly they've even developed a procedure that sucks the power out of you like a vacuum. Surrender your gift, they say, and you'll live a life of peace and quiet and contentment.
Honestly, I can't imagine anything worse.
I race down a tree-lined avenue, alongside the newly reopened art museum. A half mile past that is the almost-finished new aqueduct, still crawling with workers as busy as ants. But then I careen around a corner and have to screech to a halt, seconds before ramming into an old man carrying a squawking chicken under his arm. It's market day: the town square is jam-packed with vendors, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to resoled shoes and jerry-rigged bicycles.
I take a deep breath, downshift, and begin to weave my way through the throngs. It's proof that under the new Council, life's returning to normal. Our City is healing. The kids kidnapped by the Mountain King are back with their families, and General Bloom, that dough-faced traitor, is in exile.
We had to learn the hard way that adults couldn't be trusted with City leadership: power corrupted them too easily. By unanimous vote, we banned anyone over nineteen from serving on the Council.
And so far, so good. The market's hopping, and the nearby central stadium—where we can host everything from foolball matches to rock concerts to benefits for new schools and health centers—is back in business.
Take that, you middle-aged cynics!
A stray dog skitters in front of me, and I swerve to the right, knocking a basket of oranges onto the ground. I don't have time to stop, so I snap my fingers and the oranges float up, spin around, and deposit themselves back into a neat stack.
The surly vendor shoots me a black look, then makes the sign I've seen all too much of lately: two fingers crossed in an X in front of her chest, like she's warding me off. It's an ancient gesture, left over from the days when people believed in man-eating goblins and bloodthirsty bogeymen. It means, basically, Demon, begone.
Some people are so rude!
A guard stationed by the fountain raises his baton at me. "Walk the bike," he hollers.
I pretend not to hear him. It's not a bicycle—it's the fastest machine in the entire City, and I'm definitely not going to walk it. But then he plants himself in front of me.
"Turn off the motor," he says. His eyes are narrow and mean.
"I'm in a hurry," I tell him. "Police business."
"Turn off the motor, witch."
The way he says that word makes it sound like a curse. My skin begins to tingle and flush. No one talks to me like that. Not today—or any day.
"I said turn off—" he begins.
But tongues of fire are licking out of my fingertips.
His eyes widen and he takes an involuntary step back, knocking over the same basket of oranges. The vendor curses, but she can pick up her own damn oranges this time.
"Oh dear, what's this?" I say, faking total confusion. The ends of my hair have combusted, the red curls turning into the delicious heat of curling flames. "Could I maybe just… scoot by you? Sir? I, uh, seem to be on fire.…"
The guard reaches into his belt—maybe he's going to call for backup, or maybe he's going to actually try to handcuff me (as if!)—but I seriously don't have time for this. So I close my eyes in concentration, and then—fwoop—my bike and I have rematerialized on the other side of him. Still in neutral, I gun the engine until it roars like a mythic beast.
The guard whirls around, reaching out to grab me, but I shift into gear and pull back on the throttle. I focus my power, and, using my own magic and the motorcycle's absolutely kick-ass engine, I rocket into the sky, shooting over the final six market stalls before landing on the other side of the square, flames following me like the tail of a comet.
Over the engine, I can hear the crowd gasp in awe—or maybe horror. Then I launch a white-hot fireball high over the street, and it explodes into a shower of multicolored sparks.
Submit? Never. I live to burn.
OUT ON THE WESTERN EDGE of town, the Academy Theater is wrapped in brightly colored police ribbon, like a present you don't want to open. The big front windows are smashed to pieces, and broken glass litters the sidewalk.
A pigeon flaps away as I step through the door that hangs crookedly from one hinge. Inside, it looks like someone picked up the lobby lamps and used them as baseball bats, knocking over trash cans, bashing up the popcorn machine, and clobbering the frames of the velvet couches.
"Hello?" I call. But it's dark and dead silent under the soaring ceiling. And even though I'm still hot from my flames, I shiver. "Hello?" I try again.
Then a figure in a black leather police jacket rounds the corner, playing a flashlight around the walls. His back is to me, his shoulders hunched in concentration.
"Glad you could make it, Wisty," a male voice says.
He doesn't turn around, but I'd recognize that voice anywhere. It's Byron Swain, one of my biggest nemeses and also one of my best friends, depending on the day. And, okay, maybe I've kissed him once or twice. But in this dark, godforsaken place, that feels like a million years ago.
I'm both reassured and annoyed that it's him. "Give me a break, Swain," I grumble. "I practically flew over the entire market to get here. Pissed off a guard, too."
"Typical," he says.
His voice is lower than it used to be, and I swear he's even grown an inch or two. Either his new job as a police investigator has matured him, or else he's finally hit full-on puberty.
He turns around to look at me then, shining the flashlight slowly up my body. I can't help but remember how he used to gaze at me for minutes on end, like he was memorizing every inch of my figure. Now he probably does that with his new girlfriend, Whatshername McWhatshername. She's a redhead, too. I guess he has a thing for those.
"Wisteria Allgood," he says smoothly. "Show-off extraordinaire."
I'm not in the mood for Byron's cocky new attitude. I take a step closer to him, my fingers flexing. "You want to check out the crime scene from the viewpoint of a weasel, Byron? Or a cockroach? Because I can make that happen. Just. Like. This." My index finger points threateningly at his chest.
Unsurprisingly, Byron backs down. He always was kind of a chicken. "Very funny, Wisty," he says. He sighs. "I'm just saying you should be careful. Try not to put your powers on display. People don't like it."
"I don't care what people like," I retort. I give his sternum a poke.
Again, he sighs. "Come on. We're wasting time here."
I drop my hand. "Fine. Truce. Although I would have enjoyed turning you into something small and squishable." I squint around the dim room. "What do we know about the robbery?"
"The cash box is gone," Byron says. "And the movies."
"Can't imagine why they'd want to steal Agent Zero IV," I quip. "That movie sucked."
Byron ignores me. "I've pulled some fingerprints from the counter, and it seems like one of the perps left his hat." He points to a filthy brown knit cap. "I haven't checked the storeroom or the crawl space or the—"
"I get it," I say. "We've got a lot of ground to cover."
Part of the problem is that we need more good cops in the City. Byron is a natural, but there are too many officers who pledged allegiance to the New Order or General Bloom (or both), and it's tough to trust them. But the Council is training new forces every day. They know we need to stop the current crime wave. If we don't, say the newspapers, we risk the City falling into irreversible chaos.
"Do you think it's the Family?" I ask.
Byron shakes his head. "I don't know."
He hands me a spare flashlight and we search the main theater and the bathrooms. There's nothing but old ticket stubs and more spilled popcorn.
Then we walk back toward the storeroom—and we see the foot.
I stop short, my breath catching in my throat. I desperately want to believe that we'll turn the corner and find some lazy kid asleep on the job.
But I'd have to be pretty stupid to think that, and I am not stupid.
Byron strides forward and rounds the corner, and reluctantly I follow him. On the floor is a girl, probably fifteen or sixteen. Her arms are covered in lacerations, and her neck is bent at a strange angle. She's lying halfway through the door of the storeroom. The stack of napkins she'd gone back to get is scattered around her. Many are red with her blood.
I feel like I'm going to be sick. I grab Byron's arm to steady myself.
"DOA," he says softly, almost to himself.
"They could have just shut the door," I cry. "Locked her in so she couldn't call for help. They didn't need to kill her."
Byron says nothing. He points to the graffiti on the wall. The letters are a dark, violent purple, and almost as big as he is. "No, they didn't need to kill her," he finally says. "But they wanted to."
Take what you want, the spray-painted letters read. It belongs to you—the Family.
A chill shivers up my spine. "It's one thing to take money—but the life of an innocent girl? Why?" I whisper.
Byron's tone is matter-of-fact. "To provoke terror," he says.
Two gruesome deaths in one day, and a heinous message scrawled for everyone to see. My heart is pounding hard in my chest, and adrenaline sparks in my limbs.
"Well, it's working."
THE LITTLE BOY expertly juggles a soccer ball with his knees: sixty-eight, sixty-nine, seventy times without letting it touch the ground once. But his black eyes keep darting over to the Academy Theater. He's waiting for the girl to come out.
Not the one who worked there—she's never coming out again.
Well, not alive anyway, he thinks, unable to suppress a snicker.
Sure, it was too bad she had to die. She'd seemed nice, and she wore such pretty dresses, and she'd begged so fervently for her life. But orders were orders, and the Family always followed their orders.
Orders, of course, which he had given to them.
No, the boy is waiting to see the other girl. Wisteria Allgood: the one with the name of a flower and the heat of a bonfire. The one they call witch.
He's getting impatient, though. He kicks at his stupid ball and it turns, instantly, to dust. It's time to shift things around a little bit. His outline shivers, then fades.
A moment later, there's no boy. Instead there's a homeless woman, dressed head to toe in filthy rags. She shuffles back and forth in front of the theater, muttering to herself. She pulls at her long, rank hair. She's no more patient than the boy.
"Such incompetence," she grunts through a nearly toothless mouth. She could tell that smarmy police investigator anything he needed to know, if he'd only step outside. And then she could see the fire girl, too. She'd like to whisper things into that pale, delicate ear.
But… perhaps not in this form. The old woman's smell might be a bit of a turnoff.
Around her, a crowd has begun to gather. People are nervous, and rumors swirl in the air. "It was just kids, breaking windows," says someone. "No," says someone else. "It was the Family."
Bingo! she thinks gleefully.
Then she scoots toward the back of the crowd, and they give her a wide berth—she really does stink—then she vanishes in a tiny burst of light.
When she reappears, in her true form, it's as a handsome young man with cold, pitiless golden eyes. He is Darrius Z: the father, so to speak, of the Family.
He sidles up behind a pretty girl with a long gold braid. Smooth and light as air, his hand slips into her purse and withdraws her wallet. He grazes her hip with his fingers. "Finders keepers," he whispers.
Then he's gone, and the girl has a smile on her face.
Yes, Darrius can make being robbed feel nice.
He straightens his broad shoulders, and muscles ripple down his long, lean torso. He looks like an athlete, but games don't interest him, unless the consequences are life-and-death.
Such are the games he plans on playing with Wisteria, once they finally meet.
IT'S A TOTAL mosh pit of people outside the Academy, except that no one's dancing: they're just milling around like a bunch of frightened sheep. They want to know what happened, why the police have cordoned off the theater.
They don't know about the dead girl yet. When they do, things are going to get a lot nastier. These people think the new government's too young, too inexperienced, and too soft on crime—and they're going to want to take their fear and frustration out on someone.
Personally, I think Byron's as good a target as any. So, it's time for yours truly to split.
I give him a quick pat on the shoulder and wave. "Sayonara, Swain," I say. "Make some new friends, why don't ya?"
His eyes flash nervously, but he's too proud to ask me to stay.
The only problem with my quick exit, though? My motorcycle is gone.
That's right: gone.
I shove my way through the throngs in the street, scanning madly in all directions for a glimpse of it. I strain to hear the roar of its engine. My fingers begin to tingle in fiery anticipation—I'm probably about to erupt in flames of rage—but then, from far away, I hear the sound of a horn. My bike's horn.
Instantly I'm sprinting toward the sound, down a narrow alley lined with trinket shops and toy boutiques, most of them still shuttered. My feet slam on the old cobblestones as I dodge rain barrels and trash cans and skinny stray cats.
I know the thief can't be too far away. This part of the City is old and labyrinthine, full of blind alleys and pathways that suddenly get so narrow only a street rat could slip through. I push myself to go faster, and my lungs scream in pain.
When I race around the next corner, nearly losing my footing on a pile of gravel, I see my motorcycle in the lane ahead. On top of it is a hunched, unfamiliar figure in black.
As the bike slows to navigate around a crater in the road—an ugly reminder of The One's bombing campaign—the driver wobbles and the engine almost stalls. I grit my teeth as I speed up.
If that thief wrecks my motorcycle, today is his LAST day on earth.
- On Sale
- Nov 10, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- jimmy patterson