“So, you want to explain what that was all about?”
Dex and I were back on the elevator. Once he’d found me, we’d made our way back there without any more trouble and were being swept back to the corridor of doors as we spoke.
I crossed my arms, careful not to touch the slimy bit Victor had left, and glared at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, just the part about you running off when I had specifically told you to stay put.” Strangely, Dex sounded more pissed off about this than I’d ever seen him. “And after half an hour of pulling my hair out with worry, I find you about to volunteer for the Silverblood Project!”
“Oh, that.” I shrugged. “None of your business.”
The truth was, if the door had been unlocked, and if Dex hadn’t been there to stop me, I would have broken the other Silverblood out and tried to escape with it. That almost definitely would have gotten me caught. I wasn’t even sure what I would have done with it if I had managed to get it out of the building.
Dex groaned and shook his head. “I guess what matters is that you’re okay. If you had gotten caught…”
His voice trailed off, and I looked at him with my eyebrow raised. “Is there something you’d like to share, Dexter?”
“It would lead to a lot of questions I don’t feel like answering,” he said with a shrug. “That’s all.”
I huffed and looked away, feeling strangely disappointed. A minute later, the door dinged and we stepped back out into the Corridor of Doors.
“So, you got what we came here for, right?” I asked as Dex led the way down the hall.
Dex patted his pocket, which let out a loud “QUACK!”
I stopped in my tracks. “What the hell was—”
“Later, Amber!” he grabbed my hand and pulled me behind him.
We came to a different door than the one we had come in through, and Dex ushered me through it. I immediately recognized the smell of Stewart’s blood further down the hallway.
“Yeah, figured I’d cut out the middleman,” Dex said, shutting the door and cutting off its connection with Majestic’s base. He reached into his pocket. “Now Amber, I’d like you to meet…Douglas.”
He pulled out his hand, and in it was a…I honestly have no idea. Bright purple, it was shaped like two balls stacked on top of each other. Like a tiny snowman. It stood on two little webbed feet, but didn’t have any arms. What it lacked in arms, though, it made up for in the lip department. Those things were freaking huge! Big, full, and luscious enough to make a lipstick model jealous. Do those exist? I’m pretty sure those exist.
It smiled when it saw me, revealing two rows of blindingly white, disturbingly human teeth. “Quack!”
It spoke in a deep, almost seductive voice. Also, it didn’t quack—it actually said the word quack.
Slowly, I nodded. “Oookay. What exactly is Douglas, and how is he going to help us?”
“To answer your first question,” Dex said, “I have no idea. As for your second question…” He held Douglas up in front of my face. “Give him a kiss and find out!”
I took a step back. “Yeah, very funny. Just answer me!”
Dex followed me, grinning. “No, I’m serious! You’ve got to kiss him!”
“It’s a surprise!”
“I can’t. That’s not how Douglas works. Come on, Amber. Trust me!”
I backed so far down the hallway that I ran into the wall. It creaked when I put my weight on it, and I shied forward again, afraid that I’d break straight through, and found myself face to face with Douglas.
“Quack?” he asked hopefully. If he’d had eyebrows, I swear he’d have been waggling them.
Frowning, I slid my eyes from him to Dex, then back again. “Dex, be honest: are you screwing with me?”
“Yes,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I dragged you to Majestic’s base of operations just to mess with you.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.”
“That usually means that I am. I’d hate for one of my jokes to go unnoticed.”
I sighed, but held out my hand anyway. Douglas stepped into my palm, like a weird penguin…rubber duck…thing. Seriously, I have no idea how to describe him.
“Quack!” he said encouragingly.
“Dex, if this doesn’t end up helping us,” I said, “I’m going to throw you out the window.”
Already feeling like I was going to throw up, I raised Douglas up and gave him a kiss. His lips puckered around mine, like he was trying to suck up my face like a piece of spaghetti, and an absurdly loud SMMMACK! echoed through the building.
“Gross!” I yelled, wasting no time in pulling him away. “Dex, that was the most disgusting—what the hell?”
Douglas began to grow. His round, purple body swelled like somebody had stuck an air compressor up his butt, and I dropped him in my surprise.
“Quack!” he complained, rolling around on his back, but that didn’t stop his transformation. He grew until he was as tall as a person, and his skin began to change from purple to pink. With a loud pop, two arms sprouted from underneath his head. He looked down at them, smiling, and wiggled his little baby fingers—not that they stayed baby sized for long. Excitedly, he began to yell, “Quack! Quack quack!”
“Dex,” I said, backing away again, “what…the hell…is happening?”
“A miracle of nature, Sugarsnout!”
I watched, trying not to be sick, as Douglas became less and less like a…Douglas…until I found myself looking at…
“That’s me,” I said, stunned.
Douglas picked himself off the floor and grinned at me, a perfect Amber Pace in every way. He…She? do knhad even managed to grow a set of clothes exactly like what I was wearing. The only flaw was the stupid grin and googly eyes that clearly told me nothing was going on upstairs.
“Quack!” he said, copying my voice to a T.
“Ugh! That is creepy! Make it stop!” I took another step back.
Laughing, Dex clapped a hand on Amber-Douglas’ shoulder. “Majestic has been studying Douglases for years now. We still don’t know what they are, but we do know that they can turn into clones of anyone who kisses them.”
“And how does this help us now?”
Dex looked at Amber-Douglas, then at me (Amber-Amber), and his face immediately became serious. “I told you. If we’re going to go after this thief, the first thing we have to do is kill you.”
Before I could say anything, he drew his scepter from his coat. I jumped out of the way with a yelp, adrenaline already coursing through my veins. Was he seriously betraying me? What had been the point of all this, then? Was I going to have to kill the only person who—
Dex blasted a hole in the wall.
I stopped. “What the hell is going on?”
“Hey, Douglas!” Dex called, going to stand next to the hole. The city stretched far and wide beneath us. “Come take a look at this view!”
“Quack?” Douglas-Amber asked curiously, coming to stand beside him.
A pit formed in my stomach when I realized what was about to happen.
Dex gave Douglas a nonchalant push, and with a terrified “QUAAAAAACK!” he went tumbling over the edge, cutting off abruptly when he hit the ground a few seconds later.
“Stay here,” Dex said, turning and running for the stairs. “Do not let anyone see you!”
I watched, stunned, as Dex disappeared, unsure of what to do. Dex had just freaking murdered me. Okay, not the real me, but it looked close enough to throw me for a serious loop. Hearing my voice screaming in fear—even if it was yelling “quack”—was something I knew was going to haunt me for a very, very long time.
Assuming I was still alive in a very, very long time.
Or even a few minutes…
I got down on my stomach and belly-crawled my way to the edge of the hole. I could see Amber-Douglas’ body lying on the sidewalk below, broken and very much dead. Dex was standing next to it, waving his arms dramatically as he explained what had happened to…my heart skipped a beat.
Even through the distance and howling winds, my supersensitive hearing let me make out what they were saying.
“…found that it was gone,” Dex said. “They teleported away, but we couldn’t follow.”
Hendricks was standing as still as a statue, his hands clenching his cane in a furious grip.
“She kept saying that you were going to skin her,” Dex went on, taking a nervous step back. “I tried to stop her, but she jumped out of the building. There was nothing I could do.”
Hendricks didn’t say anything, but he did begin to vibrate again like he had last night. Cracks appeared in the sidewalk beneath his feet, and smoke rose up from them. Then, with a snarl I could hear from the top floor, he raised his cane and an arc of black lightning blasted from the tip. He dragged it across the front of building, making the entire thing shake. Moldy plaster and decades old dust rained down on me, making me want to sneeze, but I held it in. Hendricks was angrier now than I’d ever seen him before. If he found out that I was alive and Dex was lying to him…I shuddered. Being skinned alive would be the least of our worries.
Just when I was afraid Hendricks would bring the whole building down, he turned his cane on Dex, who flinched and stumbled away.
“FIIIIIIND IIIIIIIT!” he roared.
“Y- Yes, sir!” Dex whimpered.
The limo’s door, which was still parked by the road, flew open, and Hendricks exploded into furious black tornado as he whirled inside. The door slammed shut, and with a cheeky wave the Octopus drove it away.
A minute went by, and Dex finally went back into the building, leaving the dead Douglas on the sidewalk. I stood up on shaky legs when he got back to our floor. My heart felt like it was trying to explode, and I couldn’t catch my breath even though I’d barely moved. We made eye contact, neither of us knowing what to say.
Finally, Dex gave me a weak smile. “I think he took that pretty well.”