I need to be able to think.
I need to figure out what to do.
Scratch that, we need to figure out what to do, because as I stare at the four concerned people looking back at me, I realize that just because it feels like I’m alone—more alone even than the day my parents died—I’m not.
Jaxon and Macy and Uncle Finn and even Amka aren’t going to let me do this alone, even if I wanted to. And the truth is, I really, really don’t want to. I wouldn’t even know where to start.
“So,” I manage to say after a few attempts at clearing my throat. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Anything,” Jaxon tells me, and he reaches a hand out, grabs on to mine. It’s only after our palms connect that I realize how cold all this has made me. Jaxon’s palm feels burning hot against my own.
“Can you say it?” I ask.
Jaxon’s grip tightens on my hand. “Say what?” he asks, but the look on his face tells me he already knows.
“I just need you to say it so I don’t feel like there’s something really wrong with me. Please.”
Jaxon is looking more haunted than I have ever seen him. Normally, I’d be the one to comfort him when he looks like this, but I can’t. I don’t have it in me. Not now. Not yet.
“Jaxon,” I whisper, because I don’t know what else to do. “Please.”
He nods jerkily, his eyes a burning-hot obsidian that sizzles along every inch of my skin as he looks at me.
“The reason we haven’t been able to figure out what happened to Hudson,” he says in a voice that tears like broken glass. “The reason we haven’t been able to find out where you left him, or where he went, is because he’s been here all along.”
I lock my knees in place so I don’t crumble, then wait for him to drop the bombshell that’s been living in my head the last several minutes, the bombshell that I don’t want to hear—don’t want to know—but that I all but begged him to let loose.
“The reason we haven’t been able to figure out where at Katmere Academy Hudson is hiding is because all along, he’s been hiding inside you.”
When the Evil Within
Really Needs to be
the Evil That’s
Out, Out, Out
His words—expected and yet a total shock—go off inside me like a bomb. Like a nuclear reactor at the most dangerous stage of meltdown. Because this can’t be happening. This just can’t be happening.
I can’t have Jaxon’s evil brother inside me.
I can’t have him taking control of me whenever he wants.
I can’t have him wiping my memories out of existence.
I just can’t.
And yet, apparently, I can. I do.
“It’s okay,” my uncle tells me. “As soon as I get back to my office, I’m going to make some calls. I’ll find someone who knows how to deal with this and get them to Katmere as soon as possible.”
“And I’ll start doing research,” Macy adds. “Like Amka said, there are some spells that might work, so she and I can contact several different covens and see what we can find out. Plus, we’ll keep researching. We’ll find a way to get Hudson out of your mind. I swear.”
Her words reverberate in my head, spinning around and around and around as I try to grapple with this new nightmare. As I try to figure out if I can actually feel Hudson inside me, his oily fingers on my heart and mind.
I try and try and try, but I can’t find anything. No thoughts that aren’t my own. No feelings that don’t belong to me. Nothing out of the ordinary except, of course, the whole body-snatching routine he’s doing.
As I’m trying to come to terms with this nightmare, this new and horrible violation, the conversation rages around me. Jaxon, Uncle Finn, Macy, Amka, all throwing their two cents in about how to fix this.
About how to fix me.
Everyone giving their opinion on what, to me, is the most personal problem of my life. The most personal problem anyone could ever have—someone else living inside your skin, taking you over whenever they want, making you do horrible things you would never willingly do.
“What about me?” I ask when I can’t stand the discussing/bickering for one second longer.
“I promise we’ll fix this,” Uncle Finn says. “We will get him out of you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” I tell him. “I meant, what do I do? While you four are all trying to figure out how to save me, what can I do to save myself?”
That gets their attention, has them eyeing one another as they try to figure out what I mean. Which is just proof that there’s a problem, right?
“Grace, honey, there’s nothing for you to do right now.” My uncle addresses me in the deliberately calm tone of someone who expects the person he’s using it on to go hysterical at any moment.
But the hysteria is gone. Not forever, as I’m sure it will be back before this nightmare is over, but for now. And in its place is a determination not to be placated, a determination to never be placed in a situation like this one ever again.
“Well, then I guess we’d better find something for me to do,” I tell him. “Because if we’re right, if Hudson is actually living inside me like some kind of parasite, there is no way I’m just going to sit back and wait to see what you guys come up with. Doing that is what’s gotten me into every terrible situation I’ve been in since I got to Alaska.”
The words are harsh and, in another situation, another reality, I would never have said them. But in this situation, in this reality, they needed to be said.
And the people I’m talking to need to listen to them…and to me. Because there is no way I’m taking a back seat for one more second. No way I’m just going to sit around and let them prevaricate and tell me half-truths and hide things from me in the name of protection. Not now. Not anymore.
“Yes, I want to know what I can do to get Hudson out of me,” I tell them. “But since that seems like it’s going to be a process, I need some stopgap measures to help me out. Like what I can do, right now, to ensure he can’t make me hurt anyone else. Not what you can do but what I can do.
“Because I am not going to just sit here and let him take control of me whenever he wants until all the experts can figure things out. He is never going to use me as a weapon again—not against Cole, not against Amka, and definitely, definitely not against Jaxon.”
“Hudson can’t use you against me—” Jaxon starts to interrupt, but I cut him off with a hand.
“He already has,” I tell him as my brain races through different scenarios and things start to fall into place. “Why do you think I’m so uncomfortable with you right now? Why do you think I back away every time you try to kiss me? Maybe you haven’t gotten around to putting that together yet, but it’s becoming crystal clear to me.”
I can see from the look in Jaxon’s eyes that I’m getting through to him, that he’s going back over every interaction we’ve had the last two days and trying to see what was me and what was Hudson. Not that I blame him—I’ve just done the very same thing…and I really, really don’t like what I’ve found.
“I’m done, Jaxon. I’m done, Uncle Finn. I’m not waking up covered in someone else’s blood ever again. Or in the middle of a casting circle, missing with ripped clothes. And I am not giving a murderer free range over my body or my head for one more second than I have to.”
My chest is tight and my hands are shaking, but my mind is clear, and I know—I know—that I’m doing the right thing.
“Either you talk to me and help me figure out what I can do, or I swear, I’m going to walk back to that stack of books over there. I’m going to read every single one of them until I figure out how to turn myself back into a gargoyle. And this time, I’m going to stay that way until Hudson can no longer hurt anyone.”
Jaxon opens his mouth to speak, but I shake my head. I’m not done yet.
“And if that means staying a gargoyle forever, then that is what I’ll do. It’s not what I want to do,” I tell them as they all start to protest. “But it’s what I will do, because no one—no one—is going to use me as a pawn ever again.”
It’s why I nearly died when I got here and why Jaxon and Flint nearly died, too. If they had just told me the truth when I first arrived, I wouldn’t have had to spend my first four days at Katmere bumbling around trying to figure things out as people tried to kill me. I wouldn’t have trusted the wrong people.
And maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t have ended up in those tunnels with Lia, and Jaxon wouldn’t have nearly died, and we wouldn’t be right here, right now, with Hudson taking some kind of psychotic vacation in my goddamn body.
Just the thought makes me sick, makes me want to cry. Makes me want to scream.
I want him gone, want him out of me right the hell now.
But if that’s not a possibility, I need to know how to keep myself and the people around me safe from him, no matter what.
I look from Jaxon to Macy to my uncle to Amka, only to find them all staring back at me with a grudging respect in their eyes. Which means it’s time to ask the question burning a hole in my chest. “Do I need to turn into a gargoyle again, or is there a way to block him out?”
Suddenly, I feel something flutter inside that feels an awful lot like a scream—of rage or agony or terror, I don’t know which. But it’s definitely a scream… And it’s definitely not coming from me.
I barely have time to figure out what that means, if it means anything, when Jaxon says, “I’m taking you to the Bloodletter.”
“The Bloodletter?” I repeat, because it’s not a name I’ve ever heard before. And also because it’s not one that sounds particularly…inviting. I mean, in a world full of paranormals who don’t bat an eye at blood loss or near-death encounters, what kind of monster do you have to be to be called the Bloodletter?