Ace of Blood

Alice has found a new kind of wonderland.
Jamie Cunning is just an ordinary girl. Sort of. Bearing the scars of a thousand painful memories, old an new, she found a strange set of friends in the abandoned and untended headstones of a nearby cemetery. But this girl who prefers the company of the dead to that of the living finds a shocking new life thrust upon her when she is shoved into a world of danger and death. The worst of all: it lurks just around the corner. The paperboy. The school bully. The neighbor. They may all be a part of it. Watch out, because Ace is always watching, and you never know how the cards will fall.


35. Innocence Corrupted

 Jamie followed Dix, running to keep up with the older girl. She felt ridiculous in a skirt. Olivia would die. Screaming. Alone. In the dark. And now the effort and the humiliation were wasted, because no one would see her anyway. She wouldn’t have to distract anyone.
 Although, why they’d thought she would be a good distraction in the first place, Jamie would never understand. She was awkward, her body too thin, shaped like a boy, and with long stringy hair. And her eyes were much too large.
 The back door was unlocked and standing open before she even caught up, so Jamie didn’t stop, running though into the air-conditioned shadows beyond. It was some sort of utility exit, like a fire door but without an alarm. Lucky that. Jamie knew that Neuf had given Ace a whole description of the security throughout the building, so if they followed the plan it would all work out nicely.
 Neuf hadn’t been able to locate the exact room Zack was in, so they’d have to be careful before opening them. Although, Jamie thought, if they let a few other prisoners go it would be that much easier to escape. But their chances of escaping without being seen would be reduced to less than zero. So caution it was.
 She led the way, Dix following doggedly as they wove their way through the corridors. Eventually they met main hallway and stopped, waiting for some sign that Blake had created a sufficient distraction. Not long after that the fire alarm went off, blaring deafeningly overhead. The pounding of a dozen feet rushing by was almost drowned out by the piercing shrieks.
 “Let’s go,” Dix whispered, impatiently. Jamie heard the nervousness and anxiety in her voice, and wondered if this was the girl’s first assignment also. It made her feel a little better, knowing that she wasn’t the only one who felt like a fish out of water.
 Jamie nodded and they started off again. This time they went faster. Caution served them well in the shadows, but if someone happened to be walking down this hallway, there was nowhere to hide anyhow. It made her a little nervous, the way she was so exposed and vulnerable here. If Dix were the traitor, she could push Jamie down and then run. She was fast enough to escape, too.
 But she didn’t, and so Jamie continued down the hall, trusting the mental image of the map she’d been forced to memorize – they all had – before coming here. Third hallway on the left. First on the right. Second on the right. Sixth door on the right. It was locked, but Dix had it open in seconds. Jamie hoped Neuf was as good at hacking as he claimed, that he really was blinding the security cameras for them, because otherwise it didn’t matter that they escaped. They’d be identified and tracked down soon enough.
 Maybe Neuf was the traitor. If so, he’d simply let them be recorded. That dealt with two more, and he’d just have nine to deal with.
 But no alarm sounded, so Jamie continued. She peered into each door they passed. Empty. Empty. Empty. The second on the left held an old woman, her head resting on the pillow of her folded hands, her snores audible even from the hall. Empty.
 And then Jamie looked, and he was there.
 Third door on the left.
 It creaked open after a moment under Dix’s fingers, and Jamie stepped into the brightly lit room. Zack’s back was to her, his face hidden so that she could only see the slope of his shoulders, the thick black hair – usually so carelessly tousled – that now hung limp, greasy and dirty and sweaty.
 And then he turned around.
 And Jamie screamed.
 His face, which once she’d hated for its self-absorption, for the confidence that made the world his to do with as he chose, was completely different. Furrows scored his cheeks, bloody gashes made presumably by his own fingernails. Blood covered it like a mask, almost – but not quite – obscuring the black bruises that mottled his flesh.
 But it was his eyes, so dark and empty and cruel, that scared Jamie. They glared at her without recognition, ready to kill, ready to maim and murder and devour. Darker than she’d ever seen, they truly frightened her.
 She took another step into the room, slowly, as if approaching a wild animal.
 Zack – or the thing that was once Zack – blinked. One hand came up, the fingers bent into claws, covered in blood like gloves except where white bone shone through. And he – it? – took a step toward her.
 And she took another step, so that she stood almost within arm’s distance. And Jamie swallowed the bile and the fear that rose in her throat, ready to choke her.
 And she took another step, so close he could touch her, and threw her arms around him.
 That was the moment, Jamie realized, when she’d seen him there, bruised and bloody and alien, that she’d realized how much he meant. Zack was her friend, one of the first few she’d ever really had, and she wasn’t ready to lose that. He was a part of the family, killer or no.
 It was a strange feeling, holding him. His body was tense, his muscles hard as rocks. It was a little like hugging a pillar or a statue. He didn’t move, didn’t seem to breath, just stood there, one arm still raised.
 And then he blinked again, and the light returned. Zack stumbled back and Jamie let him go. It was then that she saw the body in the corner, but she ignored it. She ignored the once pristine suit, now covered in blood and muck, the hair that might once have been brown but was covered in too much blood and brain and broken skull for her to really know anymore. She didn’t see it.
 Because the thing that had beat that man’s head into the shatterproof glass, again and again and again, until the bones caved in and the brains splattered out, hadn’t been Zack. She needed desperately to believe that right now.
 “Jamie?” he whispered, voice raw and cracked and full of something she didn’t understand. It sounded very much like confusion. But why would he be confused?
 “Yeah, sorry. Blake’s outside setting shit on fire, if you want to go see him.”
 Zack snorted out a laugh and they headed for the door in wordless agreement. “Sounds like him.”
 “If you are done with your little love-fest, I’d like to not get arrested today. OK?” Dix broke in, her voice tight and controlled, but Jamie heard that waver. That fear. Why was she still afraid.
 And they made a break for it. There was no point in stealth, no point in hiding and sneaking down the hallways. What could they say? “We got lost on the say to the bathroom, happened to run into the kid covered in blood, and now we’re going out for a smoke?” Jamie laughed as she ran, the sound loud against the controlled breaths of her companions.
 “Wow, guess you can do that too.” When Jamie looked at Zack in confusion, he continued. “You’ve never made sound before, when you laughed. Just this weird shaking thing, like you were choking.” Jamie laughed again, and she realized that she liked the sound of it.
 And then they were out in the open, racing away toward the dumpster in back of the station. Leaping over the low wall and into the alley behind the grocery store on the other side.
 Zack screamed as he hoisted himself over and all of a sudden Jamie remembered the broken bones that had stabbed through the thin skin of his hands. But he didn’t stop, barely even paused, so she followed suit. After all, they’d have plenty of time to worry when they were back at home, safe.
 When, Jamie wondered, had she started equating that place with home? Having a home with safety?
 It was a nice feeling, one she wished would stay with her, even after this was finally over.
 But home wasn’t safe. Not for her, nor for the others. Not until she did her job, not until she found the traitor amongst them. She wouldn’t breathe easily until she’d found him.
 Not Zack, she thought, or Blake or Olivia. Ace had said she could trust them, and she believed him. She trusted him too. And the doctor, Bara. He’d been kind to her in the very beginning, when he’d looked at her and asked his difficult questions, when he’d waited patiently for her answers, even when they hadn’t come. Jamie liked Saith, too. He was wild and he was free and he was funny. Not him.
 Not Akera. She’d only seen the little boy briefly, but she already trusted him. After all, when she feared eleven-year-old boys, she wouldn’t be able to trust anyone anymore. Dix and Neuf seemed honest enough, and both had had opportunity to betray her. And, while she’d found Saith’s brother, Wyth, creepy during their one and only conversation, no traitor would behave so obviously.
 The more she thought about it, the more it stumped her. Jamie just couldn’t understand how someone could betray their friends, their family, like that. How someone would knowingly sacrifice anyone.
 Then again, she was no killer.
 And she had a feeling that quite a few of them were.
 Once she might have said she was no criminal.
 That was before she broke someone out of prison.
 So maybe someday she would kill. Jamie didn’t know, wouldn’t know until the day the choice sat before her.
 She liked to think she’d choose the high road, that she’d find another way.
 But that was probably a lie, and the closer she grew to her new family, the more it seemed that way.

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