The Calling Page 19

“I’ll go see if I can find some berries,” Daniel said.

“You won’t and even if you do, eating a little…” I looked around at the others, then back to Daniel. “Sure, that’d be good.”

“No,” Hayley said. “Eating a little will just remind us how hungry we are. There has to be a summer cabin around here somewhere. Everyone leaves food behind. I’d settle for cold beans from a rusted can.”

Corey’s knee looked the same as it had that morning—scabbed over, bruised and tender to the touch. It had to be killing him to walk, but when I asked if he wanted to stay behind, his response was an emphatic no with an edge of panic.

“Can I apologize again for snapping?” he said.

“No.” I sat back on my haunches. “We need to slow down for you. You’re in pain and you’re not going to remind us of that.”

“It isn’t that bad. Really. I—”

“See? Gotta be a tough guy.” I lowered my voice so the others wouldn’t hear. “How’s your head?”

“I didn’t hit my head. Not yet anyway.”

“You know what I mean. Your headaches.”

“I’m fine.” When I opened my mouth to protest, he clapped his hand over it. “I’m not pulling any macho crap, Maya. My head is fine. I’m getting twinges, but it’s nothing I don’t get everyday, even with the meds. I’ll be okay.” He looked around him. “And as soon as we get out of this place, I’ll be even better. So let’s hit the trail.”

The ascent was getting steep, so I decided to hike ahead. The others would follow slowly—we all had to get over this mountain, one way or another.

Someone needed to come with me, for safety’s sake. Daniel would be my first choice, but when Sam volunteered, I took her up on it. I wanted to talk to her. Alone.

I left Kenjii with Daniel, using a length of vine as a leash. She didn’t like that. He didn’t like it much either, until I explained that by keeping her, he could find me as they followed along behind at their own pace.

We picked a landmark, then Sam and I hiked off toward it. It was rough going. Daniel would find an easier route for the others, but I was taking the most direct one, which meant rock climbing. Soon Sam was puffing, red-faced. I found a stream—not much more than a trickle over the rocks—and we drank our fill, then I made her sit on the rocks so we could rest.

“You’d never met your aunt and uncle before your parents died, had you?” I said as we rested.

She shook her head. “Never even heard of them. At the funeral, my parents’ lawyer introduced us. I knew my dad had a couple of sisters, but it freaked me out, no matter how nice the Tillsons were. I tried to run away. Told the lawyer they weren’t really my relatives. Everyone thought I washaving a breakdown. The doctor gave me something. The rest was a blur. I expected to wake up locked in a laboratory.”

“Instead you woke up in Salmon Creek. Did you think the Tillsons were really your aunt and uncle?”

“I tried to.” She stood and stretched, then we started walking again, hiking up a steep incline. “Most days I believed it. Even when I didn’t, I figured it was a mix-up and I didn’t want to argue. Mr. and Mrs. Tillson are”—she swallowed—“were great. Really nice to me, no matter how much of a brat I was. Salmon Creek wouldn’t have been my choice of a place to grow up in, but it seemed safe. If I had to be somewhere, I might as well have been in some nowhere Canadian town where the bad guys wouldn’t find me.”

“Only they did. That’s what you thought when Mina Lee started asking questions. That they’d found you. Until you figured out what Daniel is. And by then it was too late to run. You were on the helicopter with us.”

She nodded. Didn’t add anything.

“The book Daniel and I read said there aren’t any more benandanti,” I continued. “It said they were wiped out during the Inquisition. Only they weren’t. They just hid their powers and intermarried with regular people until future generations didn’t have any powers. The benandanti went extinct. Then they were resurrected in an experiment.”

She looked over at me so sharply she bumped into a tree.

“Mina Lee hinted at something like that,” I lied. “With Salmon Creek being a medical research town, I figured any resurrection must be science, not magic. Daniel was born there. You were brought there. They say the town was created to do medical research but…” I shrugged, then continued, “You thought you’d wake up in a laboratory. You did. Just not the kind you expected. I think Salmon Creek is one big petri dish, designed to protect and nurture the first members of an extinct supernatural type.” More than one type. I glanced over at her. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

She paused, and I realized she hadn’t figured all that out.

“You do think there are more in town, right?” I said. “More benandanti?”

“Maybe Corey,” she said. “His parents aren’t Italian, but that doesn’t mean anything. We’re a long way from the Inquisition. There’s been a lot of intermarrying.”

Like my birth mother, who apparently carried the skin-walker gene, but looked Caucasian. I didn’t. I’d inherited my looks from my… I thought of the man in the forest and squeezed my eyes shut. Enough of that.

“Daniel and I thought that the people who started the fire were after the research,” I said. “And we were right. We just didn’t know kids were the research.”

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