Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  This Tunnel wasn’t one of them.

  As his boots splashed through the rancid water, rats scurried through the watery sludge. Nox was grateful the Tunnel wasn’t well lit. Though he didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out in sewage tunnels, this probably wasn’t far off—which was a depressing thought, considering that the place he was going was far worse.

  CHAPTER 4: RIDLEY

  Dreaming Neon Black

  You remember every second of your death. At least, that was the way it was for Ridley.

  If she was dead.

  She wasn’t sure. That part was a little foggy.

  First came the guitar solo, crackling through the radio. Then sounds and images flooded her mind.

  The black truck speeding toward the Beater—

  The tires screeching and metal buckling—

  Screams ringing in my ears. Link shouting my name—

  And smoke, and heat, and flames—

  Ridley opened her eyes slowly. She was lying on her back, and her head was fuzzy. Everything was coated in a hazy film like she was looking through a camera lens smeared with Vaseline. A terrifying thought ran through her mind.

  Please don’t let me be in a coffin. Seriously. I had epic plans for my funeral.

  She blinked hard until she could make out what resembled a blurry bedroom ceiling above her.

  Thank god.

  She patted around her body and felt a stiff mattress beneath her.

  Where am I? And how long have I been here?

  And more importantly, where was Link?

  She tried to remember the details of the crash, but after the flames and the smoke, there was nothing.

  If he’s dead … after all we’ve been through, I’ll kill him myself.

  That would be just my luck.

  To finally lose my heart to a guy right before his stops beating.

  She swiped at her face with her free hand, rubbing away a few stray tears. She hadn’t even felt them coming, but the sudden movement sent a shock wave of pain tearing up her back. Her body felt like someone had taken a hammer to it. Her neck was so tender that it hurt every time she took a breath. Her arms were covered in yellowish-purple bruises, and if the way her shoulders and back felt was any indication, they probably were, too.

  “Make sure you let me know when she wakes up,” a man said from somewhere in the distance. “It should be soon.”

  Ridley turned her head to the side, wincing from the pain, as she struggled to fight her way out of the haze. She took in her surroundings in broad strokes. An ornate chandelier dripping with crystals provided the only light, and an expensive-looking Persian kilim covered the concrete floor. The stone walls had been whitewashed a pale gray in an unsuccessful attempt to make the room look less like a prison, but the barred door ruined the effect.

  I’m locked up in a cell someone decorated like a psychotic B and B. This is Silence of the Lambs territory. Any minute now, some whack-job serial killer will be standing on the other side of those bars, deciding what kind of coat to make out of my skin.

  Another man’s voice, harsher than the first, echoed beyond the bars. “You need to figure out where that hybrid went, or it’s your ass. I’m not taking the blame for this. Are we clear?”

  Hybrid.

  They’re talking about Link.

  Maybe there’s still a chance he’s alive.

  “You already lost one of them,” the second voice continued. “A mistake he’ll make us both pay for when this situation is under control. Find the hybrid, or I’m throwing you under a lot more than a bus. Understand?” The guy sounded Southern, like Link’s neighbors in Gatlin.

  The conversation dissolved into a string of mumbling as the fog wrapped itself around her once more.

  Breathe. Close your eyes and focus. Even if it hurts.

  It took a few moments before the muffled words began to make sense again.

  “You really think the Siren will tell us anything?” the guy who’d taken a tongue-lashing asked.

  The Southern guy laughed. “By the time he’s finished with her, she’ll tell him everything. That’s when the real fun starts.”

  Ridley pressed the heels of her hands against her temples, trying to clear her head. If their voices weren’t echoing and vibrating like she was inside a carnival fun house, maybe she could figure out who she was dealing with.

  What the hell did they give me?

  Horse tranquilizers?

  “So he juices her up. What then? Think he’s gonna sell her?” the first guy asked. “I bet there are dozens of Casters in the Syndicate who’d love to have a hot little Siren like her.”

  Ridley’s breath caught in her throat.

  Sell me?

  Who are these psychos? And how am I going to get out of here and find Link?

  She didn’t let herself consider the other possibility—the chance that there was no one left to find.

  The guy in charge was silent for a moment, which didn’t seem like a great sign. “He might keep this one for himself. He doesn’t have a Siren, and the good ones are hard to find.”

  Who are they talking about?

  Footfalls echoed against the concrete floor, growing quieter with every step. Ridley took a deep breath, hoping the two men were leaving.

  As the echoes grew fainter, she heard the Southern guy one last time. “She’ll make a perfect addition to the Menagerie.”

  Ridley had no idea what he was talking about, but she had the feeling it was a lot worse than being locked in a gilded birdcage. She’d been in enough trouble in her life to recognize the kind she was in right now.

  It was the kind that started with being kidnapped and drugged by a man she didn’t know and ended with her wishing she were dead.

  “Hey? Are you okay in there, Pink?” A girl’s voice pulled Ridley out of the fog she couldn’t seem to fight her way through.

  She had no idea how much time had passed, but someone had left a tray with a bowl of cloudy, pee-colored soup and a glass of water on top of the mirrored nightstand beside her bed.

  How did someone come in here without me knowing?

  Ridley tried to sit up, but she didn’t have the strength. Her legs were cold, and she realized she was wearing what felt like a hospital gown—something as shapeless as a sack of rice, and about as rough and cheap. Nothing like the silk geisha robe she normally wore when she lounged in bed. And she wasn’t about to touch her hair. She shuddered.

  Excellent. Why didn’t they just kill me and get it over with?

  Ridley reached for the glass of water on the table beside her. She misjudged the distance, and it crashed to the floor.

  Who am I kidding?

  She had trouble moving, like she was trying to swim through a pool of Jell-O. A few hours ago, she probably wouldn’t have heard it if a train had come through here. But now her head was clearing, and she shivered, realizing the person must have been right next to her bed if they’d left the tray there.

  She reached out again, more carefully this time, and stuck her finger in the questionable bowl of soup on the tray. It was still warm.

  Then she noticed the Binding Ring on her finger. It was lifeless, no color at all. As if the power was gone, along with whatever it was that had kept her Bound to her friends.

  To Link.

  She could feel the tears begin to well again.

  “Hey, Pink? I just wanna know if you’re all right.” It was the same girl’s voice, barely above a whisper. “They were kind of rough on you.”

  Ridley managed to push herself up and leaned against the headboard. Her arms were heavy, as if she was pulling them out of wet cement every time she moved. But that was nothing compared to the throbbing in her head.

  They must have given me something stronger.

  Do they make elephant tranquilizers?

  Someone had drugged her for sure, and whatever they had given her was bad news. Sirens had a high tolerance for drugs and alcohol, and this was unlike anything Ridley had ever expe
rienced.

  Still, she managed to slide down from the bed and crawl across the floor, determined to find out who the voice belonged to, and if she could see where they were.

  By the time Ridley made it over to the bars, she was feeling better and worse. Her thoughts were less jumbled, and her coordination was returning. But now waves of nausea racked her body with every breath.

  Ridley laddered her hands up the bars until she was standing, even if her legs were shaking. “Who’s there?” she whispered. “Get me out of here.”

  “I can’t. I’m locked up, too.” The voice sounded as low as she felt.

  The words sent a jolt through Ridley; at that moment, her instinct for self-preservation was more powerful than any drug. “How long have you been here?” she asked.

  “Months,” the girl said. “I don’t know anymore.”

  “Nine months,” a second girl, with a German accent, muttered from somewhere in the hallway. It was so quiet Ridley had to strain to make out the words. “Drew’s been here nine months. She came in after me. My name is Katarina.”

  This is a bad dream, Ridley thought. Or a drug-induced hallucination.

  Either way, it’s not real. It can’t be.

  “Who locked us up like this?” she asked. It wasn’t her first time in a cage, but she’d never imagined it would happen again.

  The luck of the Siren.

  Footsteps echoed through the passageway. “Wake her up. She’s been asleep long enough.” Harsh voices. Men’s voices. The kind that didn’t care who heard them.

  Ridley scrambled back to the bed, her vision blurry. A shadow moved in the hallway outside her cell.

  A moment later, a hulking figure appeared on the other side of the bars.

  “Sweet dreams, Siren? Hope you had a nice nap,” an enormous guy said. Ridley recognized his Southern accent. He unlocked the cell and stepped inside, slamming the door behind him.

  Ridley fought to keep her eyes fixed on him and summoned her Power of Persuasion.

  You don’t want to be here.

  You want to turn around and leave.

  Don’t bother to close the door.

  The guy pocketed the keys, moving closer. When he noticed Ridley staring at him intently, he laughed. “Don’t strain yourself, Siren. Darkborns are immune to the Power of Persuasion.”

  Ridley let her vision blur again and slumped against the headboard. If she couldn’t use her powers against her captor, how was she going to get out of there?

  “What are you going to do with me?” she asked.

  “Right now, I’m going to give you another shot of the good stuff.” He slid a syringe from his pocket and uncapped it, tapping it with his finger. “On the house.”

  “Leave her alone. If you turn her brain to mush, your boss will be angry,” Drew said from somewhere beyond the bars.

  “Shut your mouth,” the Darkborn wielding the needle snapped. “Or you’ll be next up, Oatmeal Brain.”

  Ridley shrank away. “You don’t have to do that. I’m not gonna scream or anything.”

  “Scream all you want, Siren. No one will hear you down here.” He grinned, his teeth flashing in the darkness. “And I love screaming. I live for that crap. Ask your new friends.” He raised his voice. “Am I right? You got anything to add now, Oatmeal?”

  Ridley shivered, and no one said another word.

  He reached for Ridley’s wrist. She tried to fight him off, but the huge Darkborn was even bigger than Sampson.

  This is one fight I’m not gonna win.

  The needle slid into her arm, a thin, gray worm beneath her skin, and she winced, then involuntarily relaxed as a cold wave of chemical sleep rolled through her. She struggled to resist it, but her body floated away.

  “Nice rock,” the guy said, looking at her hand. “What’s that, a present from your boyfriend?” He laughed, and she wanted to tell him where he could stick his stupid needle, but suddenly she couldn’t even remember why.

  No.

  Fight.

  If you lose control now, you’ll lose everything.

  Stay awake and find a way out.

  Link will find you.

  “What is this place?” she mumbled as the room pitched in and out of darkness. She had to know. She had to stay awake. She had to tell Link….

  She heard heavy footsteps; then the cell door closed.

  “Welcome to the Menagerie.”

  CHAPTER 5: LINK

  London Calling

  Link and Floyd hurtled through the darkness, finally crashing into a heap. It hit Link right away: the familiar dizziness of Traveling—defying space, time, and the laws of physics as only an Incubus could.

  It was exhilarating. And freeing. And—

  “I think I’m gonna throw up,” Floyd said from somewhere beneath him.

  Nauseating.

  Link rolled to the side and untangled his legs from hers. “Just stick your head between your knees. It works. Or you can hurl. That works, too.”

  Floyd took his advice, her long hair brushing the grass. “You really need to practice if you’re gonna keep Traveling. You gotta stick the landing.”

  “Don’t worry, I will.” Link looked around. “On our way back.”

  “Promises, promises.”

  Link sat up, holding his hand high, and took a good look at his Binding Ring. It was glowing as red as fire. Knowing it still worked was bittersweet. It wasn’t totally busted, only broken when it came to finding Rid.

  “They gotta be here somewhere,” he said. “John and Liv. My Caster mood ring is goin’ nuts.” He jammed his hand back into his pocket.

  “You sure this is the right place?” Floyd sat up, rubbing the grass out of her hair.

  Truthfully, Link wasn’t exactly sure if he’d Ripped them to Oxford University or some other place with weird-looking buildings that reminded him of churches. Aside from a trip to Barbados through the Tunnels, he’d never been outside the United States—or outside the South—until this summer, when he and Rid had taken off to New York City.

  And the day Rid and me spent in the South of France. She was wearin’ her red bikini. But that was France, the place where the french fries sucked (go figure), and he’d wasted all day searching for the Colosseum (until Rid explained it was in Italy). How was he supposed to know what the UK looked like? Link racked his brain, trying to remember as much as he could from the Harry Potter movies. “Big red buses and phone booths, right? And guys in bow ties, and supersized beers?”

  “What are you babbling about?” Floyd lifted her head up.

  “The Unified Kingdom,” Link said.

  Floyd looked like she was trying not to laugh. “Yeah? Is that what it’s called now?”

  Link shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I hope we’re in London.”

  She pulled her long hair out of her face and into a ponytail. “So let me get this straight? John’s girlfriend, Liv, is a student at Oxford, so you took us to London?”

  “You got a problem with that?”

  “Yeah, genius. Because Oxford University is in Oxford. That’s probably how they came up with the clever name.”

  Link looked around. They had landed in an open courtyard surrounded by gray stone buildings. He headed toward one of at least a dozen identical archways around them and hopped over some bushes and onto a covered walkway.

  “Slow down,” Floyd called from behind him.

  “Sorry.” He grabbed her and hoisted her over the bushes.

  They followed the walkway through one of the buildings and onto a cobbled street right out of the movies. Students and grouchy-looking old men wearing tweed vests rushed past them.

  Link glanced around. “How are we supposed to know if we’re in the right place? Maybe we should ask someone.” He stopped a scrawny guy with glasses in a Trinity College T-shirt. “Hey, dude, is this Oxford University? In the Unified Kingdom?”

  The guy backed away and gave him a strange look. “Yes, I suppose it is. More or less.” He started to turn aw
ay.

  “Where’s the library?” Link asked.

  “Which one?”

  Now it was Link’s turn to give him a strange look. “There’s more than one?”

  Why?

  The guy pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose and glanced at Floyd, which didn’t seem to make him feel any better. “Of course. Which one are you looking for?”

  Link frowned. There was only one logical place, considering it was Liv. “The biggest one.”

  Link stared at the enormous building, which looked about the size of a New York City block. It made Gatlin County Library back home look like an outhouse. He turned to Floyd.

  “You really think that whole place is fulla books? Like the paper kind?”

  She shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”

  They fell into line behind a group of girls who were probably students. They all had British accents, and Link wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Even if it did seem like a scene right out of a movie or a TV show.

  Link had spent enough time watching Batman to know the building was Gothic.

  Like, Gotham City gothic. This place could be Wayne Manor.

  With spires lining the roof that looked like serrated swords, it reminded him of a fancy church from the cover of one of those history textbooks he’d never bothered to open. But the building had the same intimidating and creepy presence as Ravenwood Manor, Ridley’s uncle’s plantation house in Gatlin.

  They followed the students through the courtyard and into the main building. One by one, the students swiped what looked like ID cards to open the electronic turnstile. Link stopped when he reached it. “Crap. You need some kind of card thingy to get in. Never saw that at Hogwarts.”

  “Just hop over,” Floyd said. “New York–style.”

  The turnstile was only waist-high, but there were lots of people around, and he and Floyd weren’t exactly inconspicuous.

  Someone cleared their throat behind them. “Excuse me,” a guy said with an English accent, holding an ID card in his hand.

  “Sorry,” Link said, backing up. “We were just tryin’ to get in.”

 
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