When I stepped into the living room everyone was still on their feet, fighting gravity as much as they were exhaustion. Even Dani. She leaned on Felix, the parts of her that loved him still intact. Her face was pale; eyes bruised from the tears she’d left on my corpse. She looked cored, like whatever darkness Celia had ripped out of her was trying to slither its way back in.
Andre and Vogle looked on edge, narrowed eyes shifting from me to the front door where Shay stood guard outside, urging me to say something before the Dreamers realized they were confined to the porch because we were talking about them. We’d sequestered them when we started moving the bodies inside, afraid that one would catch a glimpse and think the worst. Or that they’d see their doppelganger in Andre’s arms and think that they’d been saved. Until they looked up close and saw the scars and the burns and the emptiness.
“They’re asking questions,” Andre said through tight lips.
“If we’re going to do this we have to do it now,” Vogle said. “Before they even realize what’s happening.”
The Dreamers were lit fuses and if I was going to take their dreams before successfully reuniting them with their bodies—living or not—then we had no other choice but to be careful with them, which meant that for the ones who were dead, we had no other choice but to lie. I didn’t know what would happen after I touched each Dreamer—to the ones who’d live; to the ones who’d die. It didn’t matter now. All that mattered was that we were running out of time. Now that I was awake, fully and truly awake, the cracks in the universe that Anso’s daughter had warned me about were only going to widen, letting dangerous things through. Nightmares. Unless I stopped them. Unless I woke every Dreamer the same way death had woken me.
“Who’s the most dangerous?” I asked, eyeing the window.
“There’s a girl out there,” Andre said, “belongs to the dead; claims she can solidify her skin, like metal scales or something.”
“Then we can’t spook her,” I said, nodding for Domingo to step outside and retrieve her. “I need her skin to be exposed or it won’t work.”
“Fan out,” Andre said, backing towards the stairs. “Cut off every opening.”
“You think she’ll run?” Felix asked as he pulled Dani behind him.
“Wouldn’t you?” Roman said.
“If someone was trying to steal my magical powers I’d do more than run,” Felix said.
Roman lit up, ready for a fight.
“Maybe it’ll be quick,” Dani said, cowering behind Felix.
“Yeah.” I tried to keep my voice steady. “Quick. Easy.” I took a deep breath, turned to Roman. “Cool off or she’ll get suspicious.”
The sun set beneath his skin, sparks dying near his fingertips. “You can do this.”
Through the curtains I could see Samson hanging his head back, laughing, while Magda was discreetly trying to peer inside. Another Dreamer sat on the bottom steps, hugging her knees, while the rest, strangers whose names I didn’t know yet, were whispering amongst themselves, talking about where they’d come from and who’d they’d left behind. Things I would know as soon as I touched them. That was the real reason I was so nervous.
I remembered chasing Eve through the trees behind Dr. Banz’s farmhouse, the shadows hunting us both in a nightmare of her father’s creation. He’d drugged me in the hope that I’d find Eve and I had. And then I’d touched her. I remembered the way her memories had rushed into me, the brush of my skin setting her free and confining her entire existence inside me at the same time. The same thing had happened the moment I’d touched Sam, all eight years of her life injected straight into my heart like a serum made of moonlight and laughter.
But the Dreamers outside and the Dreamers we’d yet to find weren’t all children. They were slaves or runaways or just afraid. The aftershock of their identities wouldn’t look or taste or sound like joy. Anso had already stolen that from them and all that would be left for me would be their nightmares. Every single one. I would watch and feel and live them all. Over and over until every Dreamer was awake or dead. Until I was finally neither.
“Bryn?” Roman’s voice jolted me. “Are you ready?”
Domingo shut the door before I could answer, the sound startling the girl too. The silence was artificial and too abrupt, heightening her senses.
She eyed us one by one. “If you wanted to see my parlor trick…all you had to do was ask.” Her arms grew scallops, hard and made of metal, the transition taking over the rest of her body in the blink of an eye. There was not one exposed surface for my hands.
“What’s everyone looking at me like that for?” Her face changed, confused, and she took a step back. “What’s going on here?”
“We…” I thought the lie would just fall out of me like the others but all I could think about was her body upstairs, limp and covered in burns.
“Did you find it?” Her voice was a sharp spike, frantic but full of attitude.
I knew she was talking about her body and it worried me how close the Dreamers’ theories had gotten to the truth.
“Yes,” I said, the feigned lightness in my voice the very thing that gave me away.
This girl wasn’t just made of armor. She was good at spotting others who were made of it too.
“Show it to me,” she hissed, the fear already manifest into tears.
I nodded, wracking my brain for a way to explain, to convince her that waking back into it was still a possibility. Because that was the only way she was going to let me touch her, taking the dreams that never belonged to her in the first place.
Andre carried her body into the living room, a line of Rogues blocking the windows—Vogle, Roman, Rafael and Domingo. Celia had wrapped it in a sheet, hiding the mark of flames that luckily hadn’t reached the girl’s face.
When the girl saw her body strewn there she couldn’t speak, every word resolved to air. I looked away before the sight of her could tie me in a knot. The moment I wished away the feeling it disappeared.
“Your name,” I said, trying to distract her, just long enough to expose an inch of skin.
Her breath caught as she registered my words. Suddenly whatever concentration had turned her into a human shield was broken, the metal scales turning back into flesh one at a time. She turned to me, fraught. “Devyn.”
“Devyn,” I repeated with as much gentleness as I could muster, “it’s going to be okay.”
She nodded or trembled but I could tell she was desperate to believe me. I approached her, stopping every time she tensed like prey. She could feel that’s what she was. I tried my hardest not to hunt, but to reach with my humanity instead, even though I could barely reach it myself.
“I need you to give me your hand,” I said.
It was still shielded but I knew if I could just get her close enough I could reach for her cheek or some other exposed part of her instead.
“Who…I don’t understand.” She glared. “What are you supposed to be?”
She looked from me to her body, distressed. Her eyes widened as they settled over a charred scab barely visible along her hairline. “You’re going to try to put me back in there.” She barred her arms over her chest, sensing the death. “No, you won’t. You can’t.”
“It’s going to be okay.” I pleaded. “Trust me.”
She stopped moving and for one instant I thought I had her. But then she shed every bit of flesh, trading it for something unbreakable. She was a wrecking ball, running for the door, knocking over Celia’s coffee table and tea set, picture frames shattered as she tried to throw herself into something that wasn’t made of flames. But the Rogues were alight, sending sparks across her metallic surface.
“Let me go! It’s dead. I’m dead. You’re all liars!”
As Devyn screamed, the voices outside grew hushed. She went hurling towards the old wooden piano that sat in the corner but all I had to do was think the word silence and it was thrust out like a wave. The quiet was tangible, like a sharp breeze that started from the floorboards and soared up. I saw the shimmer like heat as it rounded over us, the sound of the breaking piano keys, of Devyn’s cries, of her landing with a thud among the debris swallowed up into nothing.
She startled, crawling onto her feet and searching for the sound as if it was something she could see. She screamed. Silence. She hurled a table lamp in my direction and I caught it. My eyes flicked to Roman, just for a second, and then he lunged for her, sprawling her onto her back as I climbed on top of them both. She thrashed, spitting at me, the horror behind her eyes making me dizzy. They were blue, the ocean churning beneath each iris. She blinked back tears, a muffled scream raging up her throat, and then I plunged my finger into her right eye.
She was still; we both were, wild static pouring out of her and into me.
I tasted it first, flames licking the tip of my tongue before filling me like a wave, roiling and rising. I wondered if she could feel it too; if I was hurting her worse than the hole I’d dug into her skull. Even if I was, it felt too good to stop. Whatever I was taking from her felt good and it made me feel strong. On fire. Awake. Alive. For the first time since finding my corpse I felt alive.
The moment I let go, the taste lingered like an electric charge, and as I stared down at her body, registering the blood and the limp pieces of her that were still writhing in agony, all I wanted was more.
*This excerpt is from a WIP and is subject to change*