Authors: Matt Ryan
Copyright © 2015 by Matt Ryan
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
For information on new releases or if you want to chat with me, you can find me at:
Cover: Regina Wamba
Victoria Schmitz | Crimson Tide Editorial
Formatting: Inkstain Interior Book Designing
Other books by Matt Ryan:
The Preston Six series:
Rise of the six
Call of the Six
Fall of the Six
Break of the Six
Fury of the Six
End of the Six(Coming Soon)
Alchemist Academy Series:
Alchemist Academy: Book 1
Alchemist Academy: Book 2
Alchemist Academy: Book 3(coming soon)
Alchemist Academy Book 4: (Mid 2016)
The night air blew against my sweaty face as we ran along the city sidewalk. I glanced back, half expecting to see Verity chasing after us but the other half wanted my mom to appear. I hadn’t had time to think about what it meant to have her back in my life but once we found each other again, together, we’d find a way to get the rest of the students out of Verity’s Dark Academy.
Mark kept us running as if we were being chased. After a few blocks, Jackie waved her hand, trying to get Mark’s attention.
“I’m not a freaking Olympian, Mark,” Jackie huffed, panting hard. “Do you see any gold medals dangling from my neck?”
Her remark made me laugh, which used up what little air I had left in me. We’d been running for a mile, and Mark had set a pace difficult for me and Jackie to withstand. And while Jackie had a valid complaint, I couldn’t stop focusing on how healthy and vibrant Mark looked.
The life stone had worked, and it’d worked well. Ten minutes ago, he’d been nearly dead in my arms and now he was sprinting with ease—with no reflexive grabs at his midsection. He might be pissed at me for using the stone on him, but what was I supposed to do . . . watch him die? No.
I wasn’t going to apologize.
With Jackie and me lagging a few feet behind Mark, we made our way down the moonlit sidewalk. Cars lined the curbs, but since leaving the Academy, we’d only seen a few vehicles moving on the streets. We ran past a closed KFC but most of the buildings were apartments or offices and one motel with a blinking sign advertising hourly rates.
“We’d better keep making turns.” Mark passed a corner bail bonds office and made another right, finally slowing down to a light jog. It was our third right turn in a row. Soon we’d end up back at the Academy.
The slower pace let us catch our breath. Jackie nudged me and smiled. Outside the Academy, she looked different, full of wonder—like a kid in a toy store for the first time. The awe in her eyes made me smile.
She glanced at Mark. “You know where you’re going?”
He glanced back over his shoulder. “We need to find a phone. I think my mom can help us.”
I reached for my front pocket by instinct, forgetting I didn’t have a phone. I had left it, long dead, on the nightstand next to my bed. I wanted to tell Mark we needed to find my mom, but I didn’t know her number or even if she was alright after the attack on the Academy. Just knowing she was alive and out there sent chills down my back. And now I had a new memory of her face. I wouldn’t let it slip away this time.
Mark stopped and I nearly bumped into his back. His hand instinctively went to his stomach, but instead of his normal wince, the action drew his attention to the lack of pain. Each time he did this, he shot me a look.
His residual anger hurt me, but still not enough for me to be sorry. I looked to the ground, letting him know how he was making me feel.
He sighed, and some of the edge left his face. “Allie, I do appreciate you saving my life. It’s just that the cost was greater than I would have paid.”
I resisted the urge to wrap him up in a big hug. “I couldn’t let you die.”
“It should have been my choice. And I’m not convinced I was actually dying.”
I bit my lip. He hadn’t seen himself lying on the floor, the life leaving his body.
“Hey, Allie?” Jackie jumped in. “If
dying, I will personally kill you if you don’t use a life stone on me.”
We found a street with a few fast food places, one with a huge neon sign flashing
The Waffle Palace
. The sweet smells of syrup and fried goods poured from the building. I took a deep breath in and my stomach growled in anticipation of the high-calorie goodness inside.
Jackie groaned and stared at the partially open front door. A Help Wanted sign teetered in the mild breeze, with one piece of tape holding it to the glass.
A few people in dark clothes were loitering around outside. They kept their backs turned as we approached. I glanced down each of the dark streets, but there wasn’t another soul around.
Mark approached a guy using his cell phone, while Jackie and I straggled behind. “Hey, you mind if we borrow your phone?” he asked.
The man, who was wearing a dark hoodie, turned around to face us. His bloodshot eyes narrowed and took us in like we were in the wrong part of town. Maybe we were.
“I’m expecting a call,
.” He kept one hand stuffed into his hoodie pocket.
His friends laughed and the hooded man took a half step closer, squinting at Mark before moving to me. I didn’t like his eyes on me and I looked away.
Mark wasn’t put off. He continued, “We just need to make one call. We’d really appreciate—”
“What do you think this is, freaking AT&T?” He kept his hand in his front pocket. “Did your Prius break down? Did your car’s battery die? I didn’t think people like you would even leave the house without a cell phone.”
“Come on, Mark. Let’s just find someone else,” I said.
Jackie and Mark both got closer to the hooded guy. I took a deep breath and felt the situation escalating out of control.
,” Hoodie Man said. “You better get on back to the hills.”
“Are we in L.A.?” Mark asked.
“Who the hell is this tool?” a short guy commented, coming up behind Hoodie Man.
“Yeah, fine. I know it’s L.A., but what part?” Mark’s question was urgent and I wondered why he was so interested in what part of Los Angeles we were in.
The man in the hoodie shook his head. “I ain’t your wiki. Better find a genius bar, bro . They can troubleshoot the problem for ya.” He turned and his friends laughed.
Mark tapped the guy on the shoulder and he turned around. Hoodie Man pulled his hand out of his pocket and pointed a gun at Mark.
I yelped and felt frozen by the sight. I wanted to jump in between and protect Mark from getting shot. Surely they wouldn’t shoot a woman for asking to use a phone. His two friends covered their mouths and laughed, jumping up and down.
The front door to the waffle place swung open and two guys stumbled out, guffawing. I stayed still but dared a glance their way, hoping they weren’t the drunk idiots my peripheral vision led me to believe they were. They stopped laughing as soon as they saw the gun and scrambled in the opposite direction. So much for good citizens.
“We don’t have time for this.” Mark glanced at Jackie. In one quick motion, he chucked a stone at Hoodie Man, striking him in the face.
In the darkness, I couldn’t see what he’d thrown. When the guy fell to the ground and screamed, frantically grabbing for the air around him, I knew it was the falling stone Jackie showed me how to make.
“What’s happening?” his friend asked. “What’d you do to him?”
Mark picked up the gun and pointed it at the guy.
“Don’t shoot him, Mark,” I said over the screams of the hooded man.
“Get out of here,” Mark warned the two friends.
Without hesitation, they took off down the sidewalk, looking back every few seconds. One of the guys’ pants fell to his knees, sending him face-planting onto the concrete. He jumped back up and kept running, holding his pants up with one hand.
“L.A.?” Jackie looked at the few cars in the parking lot. “What a dump.”
“There’s plenty of nice parts.” Mark stepped over the flailing man and grabbed the phone off the ground, then quickly dialed a number. He leaned against the building and stared at me with the phone against his ear, glancing down at the shrieking mess of a man.
“Mom, it’s Mark . . . I know . . . Listen—
—listen, I can tell you all about what happened, but we’re in L.A.—”
I heard her scream through the speaker.
Mark gripped the phone tighter. “Right now, and I don’t think it’ll take long for them to seek us out.” He sighed and held the phone out, mouthing unheard words to the sky. “I used a stone. The guy pulled a gun on us.”
He glanced at me and turned sideways. “I
, Mom. I’ll keep her safe.” He rolled his eyes at whatever she said next. “Yes, I can get there unless we run into trouble . . . Okay, I will. Love you too. It’s a falling stone . . . The guy who pulled a gun on us . . . Uh-huh . . . okay.”
Mark hung up and tossed the phone onto the man’s chest. He then took a closer look at the gun.
“Gun’s fake. What an idiot.” Mark threw the gun onto the roof of the waffle palace.
The guy had stopped thrashing and was trying to catch his breath. I moved around him and touched Mark’s back.
He turned to me and glanced at Jackie. “We need to get out of the city. My mom and I have a meeting place just outside the city limits.”
“Great. Let’s hitch a ride or get a cab,” Jackie said, and looked down the dark street.
I followed her gaze and strained to see any movement, thinking maybe the guy’s friends might come back for us with more friends—friends with actual guns. Leaving the city began to sound like a great idea, but then what he’d said struck me.
“What’s wrong with L.A.?” I asked. “Is there something I’m missing?”
“Dark alchemists rule this city. It won’t be long until they flush us out.”
“We’d better make some freaking stones, then,” Jackie said, taking a step toward the Waffle Palace.
“I agree, but not here. We need to find a place to stay tonight and then we’ll leave at sunrise.” Mark glanced down the road.
This was the Mark I knew. I wasn’t sure if it was finally being cured of his ailments, or if it was getting out of that hellhole, but he was focused and determined once again. He could finally take charge and I could go back to following. Being the popular kid at the Academy had felt like a drug at first, but after a while they’d all looked to me for answers and help. In the end, we’d left Carly and Bridget behind. They were still stuck in the Academy. This was better; when I took charge, people got hurt.
I sucked in a deep breath.
The thought of what Bridget had done flashed before me and I promised myself that I’d get them out soon. They were the whole reason we’d even gotten out.
Making our way down the dark street, we walked by a line of closed businesses. Half had boarded windows and all were covered in graffiti. I imagined at one time it might’ve been a desirable street, filled with the dreams of mom-and-pop shops. Now, a homeless man was huddled against an old entryway, using his duffle bag as a pillow.
“This place is a bit sketchy,” I said. “Maybe we can go a few streets over.”
“I shouldn’t have used that stone,” Mark whispered. “This area is dark alchemist central, and if they had their detector stones . . .”
“You think they know we’re here?” Jackie asked.
“With any luck, they don’t. Just remember, they can be anywhere. They don’t look any different than anyone else.”
With no idea of where we were going, I followed Mark a few more blocks. We jogged across the street to a well-lit gas station. An old El Camino was parked at pump eight with a man leaning against it. He watched us cross the lot while I kept my attention on his hands, expecting a stone to appear.
“We could take his car,” Jackie suggested.
“No, we aren’t criminals,” Mark replied.
She huffed. “We need to make a few stones. We’re freaking unarmed out here.” She looked around as we left the gas station and advanced down the sidewalk.
The buildings grew in height as we continued. A few windows were glowing, but most of the buildings were dark. I wondered what time it was. It must have been well into the early morning hours.
“There.” Mark pointed across the street to a construction site with a chain-link fence wrapped around it.
was spray-painted on some fabric attached to the fence, with two large eyeballs for the Os. Mark pulled the bottom of the fence up and motioned for us to go under.
I didn’t like the eyeballs looking at me. Dropping to the concrete sidewalk, Jackie and I got on our stomachs and slid under the fence. Once on the other side, we held the fence up for Mark.
I looked up at the multi-story building, trying to see if any of the lights were on, but scaffolding covered most of the façade.