The elevator dropped like a rock, and once again I could only scowl at how Dex and Victor were somehow able to stand without holding the railing.
“We're going to the Corridor of Doors," Victor said to me. “From there, we are going to place you on a street not far from where Hendricks expects to meet you."
“I just came from the Corridor of Doors!" I protested. “Why'd you bring me all the way up to the board room?"
“Because Mr. Wrogan said to," Dex replied, hands still in his pockets.
“Focus, Amber," Victor snapped, and I turned back to him. “All you have to do is keep him occupied. Talk to him, haggle if you can, but do not let him leave."
“Don't fight him, though," Dex butted in.
Victor gave him a cold look, but then said, “No, don't fight him. Dexter will be doing a perimeter sweep to make sure none of his minions are lurking nearby. Edgar, Mr. Wrogan, and I will be watching a short distance away. When we get word from Dexter, we will attack."
“What if he tries to leave?" I asked. “How do I stop him?"
The two of them shared a look. “If he tries to leave," Dex said, “he's going to take you with him."
A chill ran down my spine. “And if that happens, you'll jump out and rescue me, right?"
“Just do your job," Victor said, “and let us do ours."
“Mr. Wrogan is doing this to honor your agreement," Dex spoke up. “He's not going to let you get taken if he can help it."
“Especially when that means we would lose Hendricks," Victor added. “Again."
When I looked at Victor, there was something different about him. It took me a minute to figure out what it was, but then it came to me: he actually cared about what we were doing tonight. For once in the time that I'd known him, he wasn't completely apathetic about what was going on around him. I'm pretty sure he was excited about catching Hendricks, though— not helping me.
The elevator stopped, and the doors opened.
“This way," Victor said, immediately setting off at a brisk pace. He led us down the Corridor, passing hundreds of doors without even glancing at them.
“Shouldn't I leave from the pack's house?" I asked. “If Hendricks sees me leaving from somewhere I don't live, he'll know something is up."
“Hendricks doesn't know where you live," Victor answered. “We have done more to your house than put food and furniture in it. There are a lot of wards and spells cast over it to make it invisible to evil creatures like demons. He wouldn't be able to see your house even if he looked directly at it."
“Did it never occur to you that he hasn't attacked you once since he destroyed your old house?" Dex added.
“Oh," I said, that fact clicking in my brain like a puzzle piece, “no, I never really thought about it."
“This is the one," Victor said, coming to a halt. “This will put you just outside an insurance company's building. Turn right, and you'll come to a supermarket parking lot. Hendricks will meet you there."
He inserted the key into the lock and swung the door open, letting a cold breeze blow into the corridor. I peeked out, and was greeted with the familiar sight of my hometown again. My stomach twisted painfully inside of me, but I fought to keep the fear from showing on my face. I had to be strong. For my mom…
“Okay," I said, taking a step outside, “you guys don't forget to—"
I didn't get to finish that sentence, because Victor slammed the door behind me, leaving me alone on the cold, dark street. I turned east, and saw a yellow line lighting up the horizon. It was almost sunrise. I shivered as the cold wind blew again, and set off in the direction of the supermarket.
Be strong, Amber, I said, zipping my jacket up against the early December weather. You're going to be fine.
The parking lot was empty when I arrived, but that wasn't so surprising, seeing how the store wouldn't open for another two hours. But where was Hendricks? I went to stand in the middle of the lot and turned a full circle, but couldn't find a trace of him.
He could be here, watching me, I thought. Could demons turn invisible? It wouldn't surprise me. In fact, I think I'd be even more surprised to find out they couldn't. I don't pretend to be able to understand how a demon's brain works, but I didn't see why he'd waste time watching me when he had a business deal to make. Was he the kind of monster that would enjoy popping out of nowhere and saying boo just to scare me? I resisted the urge to look behind me, partly because I was afraid he'd be there…
Then, I saw a pair of headlights turn into the parking lot. They were followed by an impressive black limousine. The engine didn't make a sound, and I couldn't hear the tires rolling on top of the pavement. There was just the whistle of the wind as it speared the air, gradually coming to a stop twenty feet away from me. It parked so that I was facing the passenger side door, and the headlights died.
Be strong, Amber. BE STRONG!
The door in the back of the car opened, and he stepped out. He was exactly the way I remembered him, not a single hair out of place from the last time we'd met. His long, coat swayed in a breeze that was too slow to actually move it, and his shark-black eyes gleamed with amusement when he saw me.
“Amber," he greeted me, grinning to show off his razor sharp teeth, “how good it is to see you again."
My blood turned to ice inside my veins, and I had to take a step backwards to steady myself so I wouldn't fall down. His pale skin reflected the fading moonlight, giving him an unnatural glow, like I was looking at a ghost.
But I Hendricks wasn't a ghost, he was a demon.
“No hello for me?" he asked, smiling patronizingly. He tapped his cane authoritatively on the ground. “Very well, let's get down to business. The word on the street is that you've finally decided to take me up on my offer."
I managed to give a weak nod. “You get me, you let my mom go."
“Spoken like any loving daughter would." He said, then frowned. “Except that it took you a whole month. Any self-respecting girl would have come crying to me within a day, at most!"
A little bit of fire rose up, chasing away the fear. Keep calm, I told myself. He's just trying to get a reaction out of you.
“W- well, you're not exactly an easy guy to get ahold of," I said, ashamed that I still couldn't keep myself from tripping over my words.
“Oh, I'm very easy to reach," he argued. “You just have to know how."
We stood there for a few seconds, both of us just staring the other down. I was tempted to try and outlast him, but I knew I never would, and I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of beating me. Where were Wrogan and the others? How long would it take Dex to check the area?
“Are we doing this or not?" I finally snapped.
Hendricks smiled again. “Indeed we are, young lady. I have to say, your mother was quite relieved to hear she was finally going to get away from the Octopus. He had… quite a good time with her."
My face turned red as I glared at him, holding back a hundred insults I really, really wanted to throw at him. Actually, what I wanted to do was change, pounce on him, and tear out his jugular. But Victor's warning not to fight him held me back. Even if I got to him, a little werewolf bite probably wouldn't even hurt him.
Hendricks laughed at my expression, and he pointed his cane towards the front window of his limo. The window rolled down, revealing the grinning, haggard face of the Octopus.
“Eight hands!" he cackled, showing off his yellow teeth. “Eight hands, girly! Eight hands for fun— for never ending fun!"
“You'd better keep me away from him," I said, hardly able to speak through my anger. “Because I'm going to kill him if I get the chance."
Hendricks shrugged indifferently. “We'll see. I might let you do it."
Dex, Victor, Edgar… Where are you?
“We've dawdled long enough," the demon said, and stepped backwards to the passenger side door. “Let's get this over with."
He opened the door, and someone fell out of the car. It was my mom, I realized, my heartbeat immediately going through the roof. Her hands and feet were tied, and her mouth was gagged, but I could still hear her muffled cry when she saw me.
“Mom!" I shouted, and ran to her. Hendricks didn't stop me as I knelt down in front of her, only two feet away from him. I grabbed the ropes and snapped them easily, and then tore the rag from her mouth.
“Amber!" she exclaimed, getting to her knees and throwing her arms around me. “You're all right! I thought I'd never see you again!"
“I'm fine, Mom, I'm fine," I assured her, returning the hug. My tears left a wet spot in her shirt when I leaned my head against her, and I could feel hers doing the same to mine. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?"
Mom pulled back from me, her eyes wide with horror. “Amber, they… he… I was…"
Her expression told me more than her words ever could, and I quickly put my hand over her mouth.
“It's okay now, Mom. You're never going to see them again. We're back together!"
“Not for long, I'm afraid," Hendricks said, gleefully interrupting our reunion. “Time to go, Amber."
My mom's eyes went wide again, and she looked from him to me. “Amber, what's he talking about?"
Hendricks' smile widened. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that part. Your daughter didn't pay a ransom for you, she's taking your place!"
To Mom's credit, she didn't miss a beat.
“No!" she declared, getting to her feet. “No, I forbid it!"
As impressed as I was that my mom was able to face down a demon, I still sprang up and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Mom, don't! It has to be this way. I'll be fine!"
Mom turned, grabbed me by the shirt and shook me. “No, you don't understand! They're going to… going to…"
“Don't talk about it, Mom," I said, silencing her. “Don't even think about it. I'll be fine, trust me!"
WHERE WERE THOSE IDIOTS?
I turned and looked around the parking lot, searching for any of the others. Hadn't it been long enough already? Even if Dex wasn't back yet, surely they wouldn't let me get carried off just to wait for him… right? They weren't anywhere I could see, though.
“Are you looking for the Majestic clowns?"
I froze, and turned to look at Hendricks. He was giving me a chilling, smug smile, and my breath caught in my throat.
“Yes, I know about their little plan," he said. “And no, I don't intend to be arrested today."
I wanted to run. I needed to run. I needed to grab my mom and run away as fast as we could, because if Hendricks knew about the plan, then what chance did we have?
He chuckled and reached for the car door again. “Majestic is the biggest magical corporation in all the worlds, and they didn't get that way by playing nice. Just like any company, success came at the expense of treating their workers poorly. Unfortunately, such tactics don't tend to breed loyal employees."
He opened the door and thrust his arm into the car. “Isn't that right, boy?"
Hendricks threw somebody out of the car, and he landed face first on the pavement. My eyes went wide when I realized who it was.
NEXT TIME: Well… this can't be good. Could Ed, young, innocent, geeky Ed, actually be a traitor? And now that Hendricks knows about the plan, how will Amber and her mom get away?