Keeping her voice low, Haley leaned in. “It’s picking people with powers and one of the first is a speedster. I think it’s got a plan.”
I nodded. “Of course, it did. A lot of my calculations are dependent on speed.”
At the same time, my stomach sank. The League’s parents (including mine) were mostly still inside the circle. We did need to find a way to get them out—them and everyone inside.
Something of that thought must have shown in my face (or my smell or the speed of my heartbeat…) because Haley said, “What?”
“The obvious. The team’s parents, including yours and mine are still stuck here with that thing—which means that if it does they’ll disappear before anyone knows it. No one outside can get in, and we can’t get them out without risking humanity’s own extinction if we break the wards holding them in.”
I felt the warmth of Haley’s hand as I talked, but also noticed of all the people milling around, talking about school projects in groups at tables, or laughing.
“You know what’s really creepy? If The Thing doesn’t get weaker with every additional person, it could theoretically be part of everyone in this room but us?”
Haley’s eyes darted around the room. “You’re right. That’s creepy.”
When I looked at the room with the eye that everyone there could be controlled by the same evil, supernatural intelligence changed nothing and simultaneously everything. Instead of people with projects or lone students killing time, I could imagine them as army waiting for orders or hive mind of people who I individually only needed to give us one look.
“Nick,” Haley gave my hand a squeeze. “They’re not.”
“I know, but you know what I mean. That’s only true for now.”
Haley frowned. “That’s an awful thought.”
“But true,” I said. “Another thought… We should probably tell Amy about The Thing spawning more of itself. She might know something.”
Haley let go of my hand and grabbed her backpack. “If the other Bloodmaidens let her…”
My mind jumped back to something else. “You may not have been around for this, but when I punched The Thing That Eats, I drew blood. That’s weird. I never managed to do that to a Cabal soldier with a punch. I’m not sure that Jaclyn even managed to do that.”
Haley looked directly at me. “I did notice. I smelled the blood. That was right after it bit you.”
Nodding, I said, “And after the ward activated. I didn’t see that happen for anyone else, and I’m pretty sure other people punched it back in Turkmenistan.”
“I wasn’t close enough to the action to see.” Haley glanced over at the food area, and she wasn’t the only one of us who could smell meat cooking. “I’m done with classes for the day. Let’s get something to eat.”
We ate and then walked back to our dorm, talking about things that had nothing to do with otherworldly monsters—because we did talk about normal things too. Haley mostly talked about the Tigers’ chances of making it to the playoffs. I listened. She was excited, but even as someone who didn’t follow baseball, I knew that the Tigers didn’t ever make it very far.
When we got back to my dorm room, I pulled out my cell phone. When I logged in, I found that there were messages waiting for me on my Heroes’ League account.
This wasn’t too strange after a public fight. I knew it would mostly be reporters wanting a comment for their story, government officials or property owners wanting to talk about the damage. Some of them would want to sue.
Over the past couple years, I’d learned what to do—forward the property damage issues to legal, ignore the reporters, and check to find out what was left after that.
Watching as I logged in, Haley pulled out her own phone. “I took care of my messages before we met for supper… Shit. There are more of them.”
So then we were both clicking through our lists. I didn’t find anything unusual until the second to the last message.
I recognized the baritone voice (and indefinable accent) instantly even though I’d only heard it for the first time that day.
“Rocket,” the message began, “this is Andronicus. I know you know me as the host of the Great Hunger, but you must understand I’m no longer its willing host. When I was young and stupid, it bit me, and I accepted its offer of power. I know what it plans to do in this city and I offer it to you in exchange for your help. Free me of this thing, and I’ll owe you a great debt.
“Think about my offer. I’ll call you again.”
Haley and I looked at each other. She held her phone by her side. “Do you believe him?”
“I don’t know. I barely met the guy.”