Never Fade Page 54

I must have nodded off at some point, because the next thing I knew, I was startled awake by a cold blast of air. Vida was at the opening of the tent, unzipping it slowly and as quietly as she could and stepping through. My head was slow to come up out of the fog of sleep, but I was alert enough to be suspicious, no matter how much I wanted to drift back into dreamland.

I counted to thirty, to sixty. I listened as her footsteps grew softer. Watched, waiting for her to come back.

She didn’t.

What are you up to? I thought, crawling over Chubs’s long legs to the tent’s opening. If she had needed to get a breath of fresh air or relieve herself, she would have been back by now.

Despite the crippling dark, I spotted her right away. She was shivering, rubbing her arms to try to shake off the night’s icy grip. I saw her glance back toward the tent once, and pulled back, hoping the moon wasn’t bright enough for her to make out my shape behind the tent’s thin waterproof covering.

Vida slinked her way around Chubs’s tan Ford Explorer, circling it twice before coming to stop by the driver’s side.

Sucks to be you, I thought, feeling a little smugger than was probably necessary. I had reminded Chubs to lock it, and with the gun inside the glove box, she’d have to find a rock or something heavy enough to break the glass if she wanted in—something that would be difficult to manage quietly.

If it hadn’t been for her bright hair, I would have lost her in the darkness as she headed off the trail into the forest. I stood and slipped out, tracing her steps around the car, trying to see how far she’d go. My toes were frozen stiff, sticking to the frost of the clumps of wild grass and mud. Vida kept walking, and I kept inching forward, more and more, until she was far enough for her hair to disappear into the night-cloaked trees completely—but not far enough to hide the blue-white glow of the device in her hands that cut through the darkness.


WAIT FOR HER TO COME BACK, my mind reasoned. Surprise her here.

But I was running, even before the thought had fully formed in my mind. All of the training the League had tried to drill into me, all of my better judgment, all logic was ripped away with the first flash of that strange light. If she were contacting Cole, why would she have to hide it from us? Why would she need to send a message to him in private?

Because she’s not contacting Cole.

I slid around the car. The coming winter had stripped the nearby trees bare; the naked branches snapped against my face and arms. The fine patches of ice and frost coating the clumps of grass stung my feet like hell, but it was nothing compared to fighting my way through the thickets of dead brush.

It didn’t matter how much noise I was making. I wasn’t aiming for surprise; it was impossible to get the jump on Vida. I just wanted as much momentum as humanly possible when I tackled her to the ground.

She was still clutching the device when I lowered my head and rammed my shoulder into her. Vida had enough time to try to swing a knee up, square into my chest. With my full weight on her, and only one foot planted on the uneven hill, we slammed into the ground.

I hooked my leg around hers, and she reached up to get a good grip on my neck, and neither of us was willing to let go, even as we rolled down the slope, smashing through underbrush and nailing what was very likely every single rock on the damn mountain. We didn’t stop, we couldn’t, not until we crashed into a tree and sent a shower of dead brown leaves down over us.

My vision swam both from the spinning and the blows, but I was on top—I had the advantage, and I took it. A warm burst of Vida’s breath clouded the air. I had my legs locked around her center, trying to keep her in place as I started to reach for the black device lying beside her neck.

Never in my life had I seen terror like that in Vida’s eyes.

She reared up under me, freeing her arm from where it was pinned beneath her, and slapped me hard enough that, for a second, my vision blanked white. With a grunt, she swung her open palm again, clubbing me in the ear and effectively knocking me off her.

Vida jumped to her feet and I staggered up after her. My sight split in two, and I wasn’t sure which one of her feet was actually flying toward my stomach until it made contact. I threw my arms up in front of my face to block the next one.

“How could you—?” I gasped out.

My fingers caught her wrist, but she ripped it free. I swung my fist toward her again and watched, stunned, as she went flying back through the air a good two dozen feet before I could even touch her.

“—op! Stop!”

I panted hard and was only able to keep on my feet for one more second. I sagged sideways into the rough embrace of a tree and slid all the way down onto my knees. The words were faint under the roar of blood pulsing in my ears. I turned, watching as Jude stumbled down the slope, tripping through the dense cluster of branches and soggy leaves until he dropped to his knees at Vida’s side.

Chubs stood a short distance away, his arms still outstretched in the direction he had thrown her. “What,” he called, “the hell is going on?”

“S-She—” I sputtered, bringing a shaking hand to swipe at my mouth. He marched toward me, flicking his flashlight in my direction. “She had—device—calling—DC—”

When he finally reached me, he grabbed my arm. I squirmed away from the intense light he was trying to shine directly into my face. I lurched away from him, the ground rising up to meet me. “Do you see it?” I heard myself asking. “Do you see it? Give me—give me the light.”

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