Chapter 44: Status

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-Jack

"I'm sure it's this way." I circled back to the group of sparkling buildings, Colton getting heavier by the second.

"Or... Or maybe it's over here." I turned away.

"We've already checked there," Colton complained. "Three times!"

I sighed and closed my eyes, trying to picture my first ride in a Car. Madame Noire had taken me to her orphanage, but I had already decided to escape at my first opportunity, so I hadn't actually been inside. Now I was just going to willingly waltz inside- figuratively- after tasting freedom so fully. Or at least, I planned to if I ever found it.

"You've still got the Magnet Scrambler?"

Colton scoffed.

I took it as a "yes".

I drifted, not really caring where I went; I had no clue where it was.

"What's it called again?" Colton asked.

"Madame P. Noire's Stately Orphanage House."

"I say, could that be it?" Tom piped up.

I turned my head as far as I could, which didn't turn out to be much- my neck had begun to change. Now the metal had spread from my lower neck to my shoulders, leaving the arm around my elbows normal, though not for long.

Tom had indeed seen it, from several blocks away. I could only imagine my stomach dropping when I caught sight of its darkened windows and four gray walls. I didn't fancy being trapped inside them. I already felt the panic of claustrophobia closing in on me. Fear squirmed from my stomach to my throat like a parasitic snake. Or at least, it should have. Disturbingly enough, I didn't actually feel much of anything. Just dim memories playing over where I should have felt.

I dropped in front of the darkened glass doors, the whole thing suddenly feeling surreal. Maybe it was the lack of noise, movement, and security measures. Either way, it felt deserted. I had expected guards and weapons and possibly flying for my life. Instead, all was silent.

"Do you think it's unlocked?" Colton asked, for some reason still clinging to my neck, despite being close enough to the ground to get off.

"One way to find out," I murmured back.

I flew forward and tried to shrug Colton off. Oh yeah. Shoulders.

"Colton?"

He leaned forward, grasped the handle, and pulled. The door opened silently.

Neither of us moved. We hardly even dared to breathe. When nothing happened, I floated slowly over the threshold, unable to shake the thought that this wasn't right.

The only light in the hallway was what spilled in through the open door. Yup. Claustrophobia. It was barely wider than my shoulders.

"Time to get off," I said quietly, and Colton complied.

Taking as deep a breath as I could, I flew farther in. Just look straight ahead, I told myself with a swallow. Straight ahead.

"There's a door." Colton extended his arm beside me to point up ahead. Yes. I saw it too: a rectangle darker and smoother than the rest of the hallway. It looked to be made from the same type of steel as the wall erected around Juxtaposition.

"Quietly. . ."

We crept forward.

I stopped before the door, staring at my eyes reflected in its dark, watery surface. I hung there for a moment, unable to tear my eyes away from my otherworldly likeness. Then with a hiss, the rectangle receded and slid to the left, behind the gray stone wall.

I almost expected to see a dragon inside, after the door opening in a way that was so obviously magical. The room's occupant was far less welcoming.

"If it isn't my favorite nephew."

I ground my teeth to keep from crying out.

"And look. He's brought a friend."

Madame Noire was alone in the room, her face half in shadow. The walls almost seemed to glow blue in places, lighting over her features not in shadow. As far as I could tell, the chair she sat in was the only furniture in the room.

"Where are they?"

She laughed, the sound of it setting my nerves on edge, like the screech of fingernails run down a blackboard. "And after all this, you still refuse to behave mannerly." She stood, the chair not so much as squeaking under the change in pressure.

"I know you have them."

She didn't seem to hear me, just started walking forward. "You lost your home, lost your family, and you are in the process of losing your life. You have run. Had us chasing you everywhere. But he needed her, so when the giant failed to finish you off, I made sure you would come straight to me."

Her voice was quiet, and as she stepped ever closer, I saw her eyes glint with something cruel and cold. I backed up.

"And now, my Habib has told me you shall die." The glint in her eye was manic. She kept advancing, one slow, clicking step at a time.

"And when the two of you are gone, he will give me all. I will have supreme status."

She looked down at me, and I felt her minty breath on my face. She had the same deep blue eyes my dad had had, and brown hair, like everyone in my family. Something I had never before realized hit me with full force.

The only family member I had left was trying to kill me.

"I haven't lost all of my family," I whispered, feeling my elbows glaze over with steel.

My aunt arched her neck and curled her lip. "Too bad you're just a filthy little Farm Boy."

With that, she looked past me, suddenly casual. "Take them."

Click click.

I slowly turned enough to catch the glint of metal in steady hands, all around us.

We were trapped.


A/N: Thanks for reading! Comment below: what did you like? Dislike? I'd love to hear from you!


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