I tell Amber I’m feeling fine.
“Are you sure?”
“I took the medicine, like Kacy said. Hey, is all her sleepwear as nice as this?” I pluck at the nightdress I’m currently wearing; it’s black, with a red rose on the chest. It’s not what I normally wear to sleep, but Kacy insisted I borrow it while I recover. She said it’s the least she could do, after what happened. I’m just surprised she’s got something in my size.
Amber laughs awkwardly. “I don’t know! I’ve never asked her. Larry’s going to be up with the next dose in an hour.”
“Can’t the bottle just stay up here with me? I’m not gonna overdose on it!” I won’t, even though the guy who concocted the antidote made it taste just like strawberries.
Amber shakes her head apologetically. “Sorry, Di. It would be easier that way, but rules are the medicines and antidotes have to go back to the cupboard after being used. Even those used to combat toxic venom.”
“Are you kidding me?” To say Varrone doesn’t sound happy is a bit of an understatement. “Larry’s in charge?”
Amber’s left the door open, which means I can hear everything Kacy and Varrone are saying. Their voices are echoing down the corridor and into my room – well, the room I’ve been told is mine.
“Someone has to stay with Di in case the venom mutates,” says Kacy. Mutate? Oh-kay, they didn’t mention that part. “Larry’s the only person we don’t need. I think we should cut him some slack. Anyway, shouldn’t he be the one that makes sure she’s all right?”
I don’t know about that. The dart was technically meant for Larry, only he moved out of the way and it hit me instead. Right in the stomach. It was like being hit with a baseball bat; the air just went out of my lungs and I couldn’t draw it in again. They said the poison isn’t life-threatening any more, but I need to keep taking the antidote just in case.
Amber comes back in, carrying a stack of books. She winces, puts the books on the bed and carefully closes the door. “Sorry. How are you feeling?”
“Fine. I haven’t puked up any yellow gunk, so that’s got to be a good thing, right?” When she nods, I ask: “Why is Varrone so edgy about Larry staying here with me?”
“Let’s just say the last custody job Larry had didn’t go well.”
I do feel sorry for Larry. He’s one of the Lions, but it’s like none of them actually like him. Even Amber isn’t keen on him; she works with the Lions, but she’s not officially one of them. I can kind of get why, though – he’s not exactly the easiest person to be around.
“I have no idea when we’re going to be back,” Amber says apologetically. “Think these books will last you until then? Sorry there isn’t a TV around here.”
“Come on, Amber, I read a lot slower than you do. Don’t worry about me.”
I open my eyes, immediately scrunching them up against the light. Ow. Must have fallen asleep while reading. The book’s fallen off the bed and is lying, spine up, on the carpet.
I feel a bit sick. It must be almost time for the next dose.
No, it isn’t. It’s gone three. I’ve missed two doses! Why didn’t Larry wake me up?
I pull back the duvet, rubbing my arms to warm them up a bit. It suddenly feels really cold, but that’s probably because the bed was so snuggly. Someone, probably Kacy, has left a fluffy dressing-gown by the door, so I slide into it. The stairs are nearby; I get out of the bedroom and lean over the banisters to try and yell for Larry.
He’s lying on the hallway floor.
Someone is kneeling beside him, checking his pulse.
There are three other strangers standing around. I can only see the tops of their heads and their shoulders. The guy beside Larry looks up at them and I duck, clutching the wooden bars of the banister.
“He’s fine.” He doesn’t sound happy about it. “Want me to put him somewhere?”
“On the sofa.”
What are they doing here? No, wait, there’s an even bigger question: how did they get in? Amber told me this place is protected by sigils only the Lions know and the only way you can get in here if you’re not a Lion is if someone lets you in.
But that would mean Larry let them in. He must have thought they were friendly – or he knows them personally.
I need to call Amber. Quietly, I get to my feet and creep back into the room, thanking God my feet are bare. My phone’s not on the bedside table. Come on, where did I have it last?
It’s downstairs. In fact, I think it’s in the same room that guy’s just put Larry in. There are intruders at the Lion HQ and I can’t call for help. Fan-effing-tastic.
Fear suddenly swamps me. What if they find the phone and figure out there’s someone else here? If they know Larry personally, they’ll know he’s not exactly the kind of guy who has Bugs Bunny on his phone cover.
Suddenly I gasp and double over. My stomach just bubbled like a cauldron. I kneel down and wait for the pain to go away. When it lessens slightly, I slowly get up.
OK. That means I can’t just hide in one place and wait for them to go away, or for Amber and the others to come back. The antidote’s downstairs as well; I need to get to it and take a dose.
But how am I gonna get past them? Larry’s unconscious and he’s the powerful one. I’m just…me.
I don’t know what scares me more: that, or the fact that judging from the view I had of the tops of their heads, all four intruders are male.
My stomach contents well up further with each step down. I have to pause and take deep breaths twice before going on down the stairs. My footsteps are silent on the soft carpet.
What are they saying?
I can’t hear them properly. But one voice is definitely speaking more firmly than the others, and that’s got to be the guy in charge.
Maybe it’s safer for me to be upstairs. I mean, if they come out and find me, I can’t exactly run away, can I? On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of horror films and I know what happens to the girl who goes up the stairs instead of out the door.
But what’s the point of going out the door when you can’t get back in? There’s nowhere to go. I know how to avoid the alerting sigils, Amber taught me that, but I’m not wearing any shoes. I don’t even have slippers on.
Really should have thought this one through, Diane.
There’s that voice again. “They wouldn’t leave him on his own in HQ unless they had a good reason. Sil, Jenner, go upstairs and check nobody’s there. Maybe they’ve put it somewhere upstairs.”
No, no, no, no, no. Not good.
Now I’m thankful my feet are bare, because they don’t make any sound on the carpet as I hurry towards the…the room with the sofa or whatever the Lions call it. The door’s open, thank God, so I slide inside and watch as Sil and Jenner head up the stairs, their shoes making loud clumping noises. They’re both in a brown sort of uniform, with a blue dragon emblazoned on their backs.
Now I’m really nervous. Amber hasn’t told me the details, but she’s said that the Lions and the Dragons don’t get on. I mean, they really don’t get on. Now there are Dragons are at the HQ while the Lions are out, and they’ve knocked out Larry.
Speaking of Larry, he’s sprawled out on the sofa. His mouth is open and he looks like he could be sleeping. I go to check on him and maybe shake him awake, but my stomach wrenches and I double over again.
“OK, but what if it’s not upstairs?”
That voice is too close. I need to hide.
They’ll never check behind the sofa.
I firmly wedge myself between the wall and the sofa, which would really be quite comfortable to lean against under different circumstances. I managed to snatch up my phone before hiding, so I quickly send a text to Amber. Calling’s too dangerous.
Ntrdz @ hq plz hlp. D
Carefully, I stand up, my guts twisting in the process. My phone’s safely in my pocket, so I creep around the sofa to check on Larry. The one who checked on in – I think it was Sil – said he was fine, and he seems to be. His pulse is steady and when I put my hand close to his mouth, his breath is warm on my fingers.
“Larry.” I shake his shoulder gently. “Larry!”
My pocket suddenly vibrates. I yank my phone out and look at the screen.
Oh no. No, no. This is not what I need. And I really don’t need to be feeling sick right now.
I think I have to sit down for a bit. I’m starting to feel dizzy now.
No. Find that antidote.
Note to self: next time you need to find a medicine, make sure you actually know where the medicine cupboard is. I thought it would be by the kitchen, but it isn’t.
My vision’s getting a bit funny. I can’t see objects in the distance; the trees outside the kitchen window look like one green blur. I blink hard and shake my head, but it doesn’t do any good.
I barely managed to sneak past the two Dragons that were still downstairs. They were still talking and I honestly don’t think they heard me. If I can stay out of sight for long enough, they might just leave.
I’m think I’m going to be sick soon. The wrenches are more frequent now; it’s like a hand is squeezing my stomach. Saliva wells up in my mouth and I swallow, forcing it down my throat.
Just get to the bathroom.
As soon as I reach it, I hear footsteps coming down the stairs. It’s Sil and Jenner. I duck into the bathroom and hide behind the door.
“Sorry, Rayan, but there’s no sign of it,” Sil announces.
Thank God. They’ll have to go now if they can’t find what they came for.
“Wait,” says the third voice sharply. “Hold on.” Through the crack between the door and the frame, I can see him holding up one hand. His brow is furrowed, like he’s listening for…
Oh no. I think I know what he’s doing. He’s detecting, like I’ve seen Kacy do. Detectors are telepathic; they can hone in on someone’s thought waves.
“There’s someone else here. It’s a girl.”
“Where is she?” demands the guy who has got to be Rayan.
Don’t let them find me. Don’t let them find me. Don’t let them find me.
His eyes flick towards the bathroom door and lock onto mine.
I slam the door shut and slam the bolt across. I make a dash for the window, but pain just shoots through my stomach and I collapse on the tiled floor, banging my elbow. I don’t even make it to the toilet before I start vomiting.
It’s not yellow. It’s green with bits of red.
I barely have time to register that blood in the vomit is not a good sign when the door is kicked open. It’s the detector.
“Hey, it’s OK, you don’t have to…” His eyes widen when he sees me lying on the floor. “Rayan! Rayan!”
Rayan rushes inside. Before I know what’s happening, he flips me over onto my back and places his hands on my stomach. I open my mouth to scream at him, but oh, it’s as if I’ve swallowed a bucket of light and it’s glowing, sending warmth throughout my body.
I close my eyes, relaxing against the floor and the soft warmth of the dressing-gown.
Something sweet trickles between my lips and onto my tongue.
It tastes of strawberries.