The white faced, sharp toothed, black eyed demon stood in the corner of our hotel room, half cloaked in shadow, with a grin that sent shivers down my spine.
I gasped and scrambled backwards until I ran into the headboard. “Y- Y- You…”
His grin spready even wider, reaching past his beady, predatory eyes. “Yes, Amber, I know you’re alive. I’ve known since the start.”
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to think. Things had, for a couple of short hours, been going so well. I guess it was only natural that the universe would give me the finger now to balance itself out. I cowered with my back to the wall, somehow remembering to pull the bedsheets up to cover myself. Seeing me in such obvious distress made Hendricks laugh, a sound that made nightmares dance in my head and my heartbeat slow to a death-like crawl.
He glanced toward the bathroom door. “I’m glad to see that you and Dexter are getting along so well. A good relationship between coworkers eliminates so much workplace drama. Although,” he turned his gleaming eyes on me again, “this may violate some workplace ethics rules.”
This was it. After everything I’d done, all of Dex’s hard work, I was just going to die. His cane was in his hand, ready to shoot his wicked black lightning. I looked at the bathroom door, hoping for a second that Dex would come out and rescue me, but I quickly changed my mind. His scepter was in his jacket, which was on the other side of the room. He’d never get to it before Hendricks melted his face off. And even if he did, I was smart enough to know that even the two of us together were no match for him.
It was over.
At least, I thought, closing my eyes, I got to spend one night with him.
I waited, eyes closed, for the final blow…but it never came. Instead, Hendricks cackled again. I opened my eyes to see him shaking his head, still grinning.
“Oh, Amber, Amber, Amber,” he crooned. “I’m not going to kill you. In fact, I must say that I’m impressed!”
A compliment from Hendricks did nothing to make me feel any less terrified. I didn’t move, still staring at him wide eyed from my bed.
He began to pace across the room, cheerfully twirling his cane. “You may have lost my gauntlet, but you’ve done an admirable job tracking it down. I’m not without forgiveness, Amber. Not entirely, anyway. If you bring me the gauntlet, I’ll pretend that none of this ever happened.”
“I- I’m trying,” I stammered, barely able to speak from my trembling. “I know where it is. I j- just have to get it!”
Have you ever imagined how a mouse feels being confronted by a cat? Well, that’s nothing like what this felt like. Dealing with Hendricks was like facing off against the dark side of the universe itself. You were less than an ant, less than a solitary speck of dust, even. It could swallow you up without even knowing it. But, by some unfortunate twist of fate, the universe had taken notice of you, and now you were powerless to do anything but play along with its sadistic games or be obliterated on an atomic level.
“Good, good,” he said with the smugness that only complete control could give someone. “When you do, have Dexter bring you back with the key I gave him.”
A spike of panic rammed its way into my heart, and I sat up. “Dex isn’t here! I’m alone—”
I froze when he pointed his cane at me.
“Don’t lie to me, Amber,” he said in a dramatically weary voice. “I’ve already offered forgiveness for lying to me and running away. I don’t know how much more forgiveness is left in the little black hole in my chest.”
I fell silent.
He chuckled and lowered his cane again. “I told you, I’ve always known what was going on. And I’ve been following your progress very closely. Though, to be fair, I suppose I should give Dexter most of the credit. You were ready to give up and die after finding the gauntlet missing, weren’t you?”
I didn’t respond. What was there to say? It didn’t look like he was going to kill me, but one wrong word could change that.
“Without him, you wouldn’t have found out who stole the gauntlet, or where they took it. You would have just sat there in that old hotel, waiting for me to come and skin you. And even when he delivered the thief right to you, you lost in a most spectacular fashion. I’m almost embarrassed for you, Amber.”
“We’ll get it back,” I said. “I swear it. Just…Just go!”
He stopped his pacing and turned to me, his eyes somehow blacker than the darkness around him. “I know you will. Because if you don’t…”
His voice trailed off.
“You’ll…” I swallowed hard. “You’ll kill me, I know.”
He gave a single bark of cold laughter. “Kill you? Never! You’re still the most valuable thing I own, Amber. I’ll never kill you.”
Somehow, that didn’t reassure me much.
“No, no, no. If you don’t bring back my gauntlet…” His grin widened, and his head swiveled to look at the bathroom door. “I’ll kill Dexter.”
A horrible pit formed in my stomach even as my heart leaped into my throat. That was worse. Much worse. I knew that by feeling that way I was only playing into Hendricks’ hands, but I couldn’t help it. Not only did Dex not deserve to die like I did, but if Hendricks killed him then I would be really, truly alone.
And right after I’d found out I loved him…
“I’m growing impatient, Amber,” Hendricks said, slamming his cane on the floor. “You’ve been away for over a month, after all. I believe my patience will last another two days. And if my gauntlet is not back in my hands by then, Dexter dies!”
With that, the knob to the bathroom door turned, and I turned to look at it with a gasp.
Hendricks grinned and held out his hand. “You’re going to need these.”
Almost unconsciously, I held my hand out too, and he dropped a pair of little bronze pins into my palm. I stared at them, uncomprehending, for a few seconds before my brain kicked into gear and I finally recognized them.
The shift pins Stark had given me.
Chuckling cruelly, Hendricks stepped backwards, vanishing into the shadows and leaving me alone just as the bathroom door opened. His words echoed in my head like the ringing of a haunted bell.
Two days. Dexter dies. Two days! Dexter dies! TWO DAYS! DEXTER DIES!
“Make some room, Sugarsnout. I…” Dex’s voice trailed off when he saw me sitting there, clutching the shift pins in a white knuckled grip. “Amber! What the hell happened?”
Slowly, I turned to look at him. “He knows.”
Dex’s face paled at least as much as mine. He didn’t need me to explain what I meant.
“What did he say?”
I looked at the corner where Hendricks had disappeared, wondering if he was still watching. “That we have two days to get the glove back, or…or he’ll kill you.”
Dex was still for a second, but then he launched into motion. Grabbing his clothes, he began to get dressed. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even feel disappointed.
“We don’t have any time, then,” he said. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”