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Authors: C.J. Daugherty

Night School - Endgame

BOOK: Night School - Endgame
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Night School - Endgame
C.J. Daugherty

For Jack
 

Always
 

1

T
he black Land Rovers
roared down dark London streets. Stopping for nothing and nobody, they hurtled across the crowded metropolis, thundering through red lights, tearing over intersections.

Alone in the back seat of one of them, Allie Sheridan stared out the window without seeing anything. Her eyes were red and sore from crying.

She couldn’t stop remembering Carter alone in the dark street, fists raised. Nathaniel’s guards swarming.

He got away,
 
she assured herself for the thousandth time.
 
Somehow. He got away.

But in her heart she knew it wasn’t true.

It all made sense now. Jerry Cole told her to take someone she trusted to the parley. And now she knew why.

Take someone you trust so Nathaniel can take him away from you. 

Take someone you trust so Nathaniel can kill him. Like he killed Jo. 

Tugging hopelessly at the unyielding door handle, she stifled a sob. She couldn’t get out. Couldn’t go back to him. The doors were locked through a central system.

This car was a prison.

She’d tried fighting, begging, weeping… the men in the front seats were unmoved. They were under orders to bring her back to Cimmeria. And that’s what they were going to do.

Frustration raged inside her. She struck the door hard with her fist.

The vehicle careened around a corner with a screech of tyres, throwing her to one side.

As she scrabbled for the safety handle, the guard in the front passenger seat turned to look at her.

‘Put your seatbelt on, miss. This is dangerous.’

She glared at him balefully.

I watched my own grandmother die five hours ago,
 
she thought of saying.
 
And you’re telling me this is dangerous?

At the thought of Lucinda, everything that had happened that night seemed to hit her at once. The sour taste of bile filled her mouth. She lunged instinctively for the window, but that was locked, too.

‘I’m going to be sick,’ she muttered.

The guard said something to the driver. The window rolled down with a smooth, mechanical whirr.

Cool air flowed in.

Allie stuck her head out of the car, inhaling deeply. Her hair flew around her face in a tangled cloud.

Now that it was OK to vomit, though, she couldn’t seem to. Still, she stayed where she was, resting her clammy forehead on the cool metal of the window frame and taking deep, steadying breaths.

The air had that city smell of exhaust and concrete. Vaguely, she considered climbing out and jumping to freedom, but they were moving too fast for her to be certain she’d survive.

She was so tired. Her whole body ached. Her scalp burned where one of Nathaniel’s goons had pulled out a clump of hair. Blood had coagulated on her face and neck, tightening her skin unpleasantly.

In her mind she went through the evening’s catastrophic events step by step.

The plan had been simple. Meet Nathaniel for a peaceful parley on the neutral ground of Hampstead Heath. Hand over his spy, Jerry Cole. In exchange, Nathaniel would back off long enough for the Cimmeria leaders to regroup.

But then Jerry had a gun. And the night had spun out into an awful chaotic maelstrom of violence. In the midst of it, Lucinda collapsed, blood pouring from a gunshot wound.

And Nathaniel. 

Allie shook her head, still puzzled by what she’d seen.

Nathaniel had been in tears. Trying desperately to save her grandmother.

Until that moment she’d thought he hated Lucinda. But she’d never seen anyone more heartbroken.

She could still hear his tormented voice in her head, pleading with her grandmother. ‘Don’t leave me, Lucinda…’

Almost like he loved her.

But she had left him. She’d left all of them.

Now, all Allie knew was that she didn’t understand Nathaniel at all.

If he didn’t hate Lucinda, why was he fighting her in the first place?

What does he really want? 

Letting go of the door, Allie leaned back against the tan leather seat. The guard in the front passenger seat turned to look at her.

‘Better now?’

She levelled a silent glare at him.

After a second, he shrugged and turned back around.

Next to her, the window closed.

They gained speed as they pulled on to a motorway, desolate at this hour. They were nearing the city limits. Behind them London was a canopy of light. Ahead, the English countryside lay shrouded in darkness.

Allie’s chest tightened around her heart. She was so far from Carter now. God knew what was happening to him.

A tear traced a line down her cheek; she reached up to brush it away. Her hand never reached her face.

A bone-jarring jolt threw her off balance. Before she could react, the vehicle swerved wildly, hurling her across the back seat. She slammed into the window with such force she saw stars.

She never had put that seatbelt on.

‘What’s going on?’ Her voice sounded far away; her head rang from the blow.

No one replied.

Pulling herself up, Allie saw the driver wrestling with the steering wheel. The guard was talking into a microphone, his voice low but tense.

She looked around to try and see what had happened but all she could see was darkness and headlights.

The driver swore and spun the wheel. ‘Goddammit. Where are they coming from?’

Allie was clinging to the door handle, but the sheer force of the turn threw her against the door so hard her breath hissed through her teeth from the pain.

‘What is going on?’ she demanded again, louder this time.

Without waiting for an answer, she reached over her shoulder for the seatbelt and strapped herself in, latching it with a metallic click.

Then she turned to look out the back window. What she saw made her breath catch in her throat. There weren’t four vehicles anymore.

There were ten.

‘Are those ours?’ she asked, her voice faint.

No one replied to that question, either. But they didn’t have to. She knew the answer already.

A large, tank-like vehicle swung up next to them, revving its engine. Suddenly the Land Rover seemed small.

Allie stared at the monstrous thing, her heart contracting. Its windows were tinted – she couldn’t see who was inside.

Without warning it gunned the engine and swerved sharply towards them.

‘Look out!’ she cried, ducking low.

The driver yanked the wheel. The Land Rover swung right, so sharply Allie’s stomach dropped.

They dodged the collision but the car wobbled wildly and the driver struggled to keep control. He clung to the wheel, muscles bulging from the effort as the tyres squealed and they swung across two lanes.

‘Six to seven vehicles, affirmative,’ the guard in the passenger seat said into his microphone. He was clutching the safety handle above his door to try and hold himself steady as another massive machine swung towards them with an angry roar.

‘Convoy disrupted and separated. Other vehicles using diversionary tactics… Look to your left!’

He shouted the last words at the driver, who saw the car heading straight towards them at the last minute and wrenched the wheel hard. Too hard.

The Land Rover spun sickeningly. Allie couldn’t feel the road beneath their tyres anymore. They seemed to be flying.

The scene took on a dream-like feel. The world outside blurred. They swirled in a deadly dance towards the flimsy guardrail.

Allie closed her eyes.

Nathaniel had found them.

2

I
nside the Land Rover
, the noise was deafening. The driver and guard shouted orders at each other. The engine roared. Tyres shrieked.

It sounded like war.

Clinging to the door handle, Allie bit her lip to stifle a scream. Ahead of her, the driver fought the steering wheel, sweat beading his forehead from the effort, tendons in his neck cording as he struggled to regain control of the wildly spinning vehicle.

‘Pull out!’ The guard kept saying. ‘Pull out!’

‘It’s not…’ the driver replied through gritted teeth ‘… responding.’

The acrid scent of burning rubber filled the air as they neared the edge.

‘We’re going to hit!’ the guard shouted.

The Land Rover struck the guardrail with an awful, crunching thud.

Allie gave a frightened cry as she was thrown forward against the seatbelt.

The guardrail bent but didn’t give way. The force of the impact broke their spin. The vehicle swerved left, then right, and then the driver had control at last.

‘We’re good,’ he announced, relief evident in his voice.

With her heart still thudding in her ears, Allie sagged back in her seat. But Nathaniel’s cars were still all around them.

The guard pointed to the left. ‘There! Take that exit.’

Looking where he indicated, Allie saw an exit ramp looming.

‘Roger that,’ the driver muttered.

He waited until the last second, then turned the wheel and accelerated hard. They hurtled off the motorway at incredible speed.

Craning her neck, Allie looked through the rear window. Nathaniel’s cars had overshot the exit. It would cost them valuable seconds to backtrack and follow.

The driver must have thought the same thing, because he sped through a red light and tore around a roundabout before turning on to a dark country road. Allie kept her eyes on the road behind them – no headlights followed. With an audible exhale, she turned to the front.

The lane was so narrow and winding, it was impossible to get up much speed but the driver did the best he could.

From the passenger seat, the guard relayed the directions coming through his earpiece. ‘Left. Right at the next exit. Here. NO! Here. Down that lane…’

Clearly, someone was tracking their progress by satellite and providing a safe route. Allie found this oddly comforting. They weren’t entirely alone out here in the dark.

Soon they’d lost themselves in a tangle of winding country lines, roaring over hills and taking hairpin turns so fast she started to feel queasy again.

‘Right at the crossroads,’ the guard said as they approached a junction.

The hedgerows on either side of the road were very high. The driver approached at speed, gearing up to turn. At the last minute, though, he slammed on his brakes so hard they were all thrown forward.

At first, all Allie could see was blinding headlights to their left. She had to squint to see the vehicle. When she did, her heart plummeted.

It was the tank-like car from the motorway. And it was headed right at them.

Swearing under his breath, the driver shoved the gearshift. They reversed with such force the engine gave a shrill warning whine, like a siren.

‘There.’ The guard, who had momentarily fallen silent, pointed at a dirt track behind a metal gate, barely visible in the darkness.

Apprehension rose inside Allie as she stared at the road the guard indicated. It was little more than a tractor path across a corn field. The gate in front of it was locked and chained.

How are we going to get through that? 

The guard handed the driver a pair of glasses with a kind of gold tint, which he put on without question. Then the driver switched off the headlights.

Allie stopped breathing. The darkness was claustrophobic. Complete.

‘Wait…’ she started to say, but before she could get the word out the driver gunned the engine and they shot towards the closed, locked gate.

She couldn’t seem to move. Or to scream. She just stared straight ahead into the black.

They hit the gate with a screech of metal on metal. The impact rocked the Land Rover with such force, Allie’s chin banged into her shoulder. Something scraped across the roof before falling behind them with a clatter.

Then they were tearing across the field. The ground was so rough that even with her seatbelt on she had to grind her teeth together to avoid biting her tongue.

Long leaves and cornstalks slapped the windows like hands trying to reach in.

The driver and the guard had stopped talking; the only sounds were the scream of the engine and the crunch and creak of the tyres.

Suddenly, headlights swung in behind them, illuminating the field with a ghostly white glow.

‘You guys…’ Her voice trailed off as the driver accelerated, turning sharply and leaving the rough track behind.

Everything went dark again.

They weren’t on any road now. They were just jostling across the uneven field, tyres spinning in the soft dirt. Things Allie couldn’t see thudded under their wheels.

She heard herself whimper.

For what felt like a lifetime she was thrown around the smooth, leather seat and then…

‘There.’

The guard pointed at something in the night. Without a word, the driver turned the wheel.

The Land Rover hit something big and metal.

Another farm gate, Allie guessed.

A piece of metal sailed onto the Land Rover’s hood and crunched into the windscreen. Allie ducked.

‘Great,’ the guard muttered as a cobweb of cracks spread across the glass.

Like a gate nearly killing him was a minor annoyance.

Then they were thumping out of the fields and fishtailing on to a tiny, paved country road.

The driver kept the headlights off as they roared into the dark night.

From the back seat, Allie could still see nothing ahead. She turned to look over her shoulder.

No headlights.

The guard began murmuring instructions again. They took a complicated route up steep hills, and down deep, isolated ravines.

Finally, the driver took off his night vision glasses and switched the headlights on.

The guard turned back to look at Allie, who still clung in mute terror to the door. He looked grimly pleased.

‘Lost them.’

 

Two hours later, the Land Rover turned onto a rugged, forested dirt track. The sky was aglow with vivid pink and gold. Dawn had broken.

Allie leaned her forehead against the cool window as Cimmeria’s long black fence loomed ahead of them. It was meant to be forbidding – each metal bar culminated in a sharp point ten feet above the ground.

Beyond it was the only safe place she knew.

She was home. But what about everyone else? They’d sent at least twenty guards and Night School students to fight Nathaniel in London. She’d seen none of the others in hours.

The gate opened with a shudder, and they followed the long drive through the forest. It was strangely peaceful – the only sound the rumble of the engine and the crunch of tyres on the gravel drive. But Allie was tense in the back seat, her gaze missing nothing.

After a mile, the trees lining the lane gave way to smooth grass, and the drive coiled into a question mark in front of the massive, Gothic school building, its jagged roof and chimneys thrusting up into the pale sky.

The driver cut the engine. The silence that followed was deafening.

Allie looked at the empty front steps, her chest tight around her heart.

Where is everyone? 

The driver and guard climbed out first. Allie followed stiffly. Every muscle ached.

She was limping towards the steps when the front door flew open and a small crowd rushed out to surround her.

‘Allie, thank God.’

Allie caught only a glimpse of Rachel’s familiar heart-shaped face before she was pulled into her arms.

She clung to her, wanting to cry but unable to summon any more tears. The night had used them all.

‘You’re OK,’ Allie kept saying. ‘You’re OK.’

Nicole was right behind Rachel, a small wound neatly sutured on her chin.

‘Allie! Dieu merci.’ Her huge brown eyes flooded with relief. ‘We were so worried.’

As the two clustered around her, Allie stepped into the light. Rachel’s breath caught.

‘You’re hurt!’ Turning, she called up the steps, ‘Allie’s bleeding.’

‘It’s nothing,’ she said but no one was listening.

‘Stand back.’ Pushing the girls aside, Isabelle le Fanult made her way to Allie’s side. Without ceremony the headmistress took Allie’s chin in her hand, tilting her face towards the light from the open door.

Allie had a sudden memory of seeing her, a whirling dervish of power and speed, fighting Nathaniel’s guards in Hampstead Heath.

She’d been almost happy to see her then. Now she stared at her, unblinking, as a tidal wave of blame and anger swelled inside her.

Isabelle’s light, wavy hair was pulled back tightly. A purpling bruise covered one cheekbone. She still wore her black Night School gear.

‘You should see the nurse.’ Isabelle pressed her fingertip lightly against Allie’s head wound.

It stung but Allie didn’t flinch. She had a question for the headmistress and she intended to ask it.

‘Where is Carter?’

The others fell silent.

At first, Isabelle didn’t react. But then, releasing her hold on Allie, she let out a long exhalation. She looked exhausted; Allie thought she saw new lines etched in the delicate planes of her face.

‘I don’t know.’

The softly spoken words hit Allie like a punch in the stomach.

And she didn’t hesitate to punch back.

‘They made me leave him there,’ she said, her voice low and accusing. ‘On the street. Surrounded.’

The headmistress looked away, her lips trembling.

Allie wasn’t sorry. She wanted Isabelle to suffer. This was her
 
fault. Leaving Carter had been her call.

A rush of rage and pain swept into her veins like fire. She walked up to the headmistress and shoved her, hard.

Caught off-guard, Isabelle stumbled back, almost falling. Allie heard someone gasp.

‘You did that, Isabelle.’ Her voice rose. ‘The guards were following your orders. You left him there.’

Isabelle held up her hands in a weak, calming gesture but Allie shoved her again. And again.

‘Why, Isabelle? Why did you make me leave him? How could you do that to him?’

Each time Allie pushed her, the headmistress took another step back. Allie followed her.

‘Where is Carter, Isabelle? Is he dead? Did Nathaniel kill him, too?’

‘I don’t know.’ Isabelle repeated, her voice a whisper now. Her golden brown eyes were bright with unshed tears but Allie hardly noticed as she pushed her one last time.

She thought of Carter, lifting her into the black SUV, slamming the door and pounding his fist against the metal, shouting, ‘Go!’ at the driver. The fervent gleam in his eyes – like he thought he was going to die, and he was willing, even eager, to do it – was burned into her memory like a brand.

‘He’s just a kid. If he dies it’s your fault, Isabelle. Your fault.’

Her voice broke. She crumpled to her knees.

For a split second, no one moved. Then Rachel was next to her, an arm draped across her shoulders.

She lifted her to her feet.

Nicole put her arms around both of them, holding them together.

Allie had never felt more helpless. She didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore.

She just wanted Carter to be alive.

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