United as One (Lorien Legacies #7)(3) by Pittacus Lore

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

The boy whips around at the sound of the voice—melodic and calming, totally out of place in this burned-out setting. A man walks across the football field towards him. He’s dressed unassumingly, a brown blazer over a sweater, some khaki pants and loafers. He could be a math teacher, except there’s something regal about his posture.

“Who are you?” the boy asks, alarmed.

The man stops a few yards away. He holds up his hands like he doesn’t want any trouble. “That’s my ship back there,” the man says calmly.

The boy clenches his fist. The man doesn’t look like the monster he caught a glimpse of in Mexico, but here, in the dream, he knows that it’s true.

So he charges forward. How many times has he run down this field, an opposing player in his sights? The thrill of sprinting across the dead grass lifts the boy’s spirits. He punches the man, hard, right in the jaw, and rams him with a shoulder tackle on the follow-through.

The man falls to the ground and lies there on his back. The boy looms over him, one fist still balled, the other clutching her picture.

He doesn’t know what to do now. He expected more of a fight.

“I deserved that,” the man says, staring up at the boy with watery eyes. “I know what happened to your friend, and I . . . I am so sorry.”

The boy takes a step back. “You . . . you killed her,” he says. “And you’re sorry?”

“That was never my intention!” the man says pleadingly. “It wasn’t me who put her in harm’s way. But all the same, I’m sorry she was hurt.”

“Killed,” the boy whispers. “Not hurt. Killed.”

“What you consider dead and what I consider dead . . . those are two very different things.”

Now the boy is listening. “What does that mean?”

“All this ugliness and pain, that’s only if we keep fighting. It’s not my way. It’s not what I want.” The man continues. “Did you ever stop to consider what I might want? That it might not be that bad?”

The man hasn’t tried to get up. The boy feels in control. He likes that. And that’s when he notices how the grass is changing. It’s coming back to life, emerald green spreading out from the man. In fact, it seems to the boy that even the sun is starting to shine a little brighter.

“I want our lives—all our lives—to get better. I want us to grow beyond these petty misunderstandings,” the man says. “I’m a scholar, first and foremost. I’ve spent my life studying the miracles of the universe. Surely, they’ve told you about me. Lies, mostly, but it is true that I have lived for centuries. What is death to a man like me? Merely a temporary inconvenience.”

Without realizing it, the boy has begun to nervously rub the scrap of paper he’s holding between his fingers. His thumb brushes across the girl’s jawline. The man smiles and nods at the torn piece of yearbook.

“Why . . . why would I trust you?” the grieving boy manages to ask.

“If we just stop fighting, if you listen for a while, you’ll see.” He sounds so sincere. “We’ll have peace. And you’ll have her back.”

“Have her back?” the boy asks, stunned, a surge of hope rising in his chest.

“I can restore her,” the man says. “The same power that brought your friend Ella back to life, it is now mine. I don’t want to fight anymore, my young friend. Let me bring her back. Let me show them all how I’ve changed.”

The boy glances down at the picture in his hand and finds that it has changed. It’s moving. The blond girl pounds her fists against the inside of the photograph like it’s a glass wall and she’s trapped behind it. The boy can read her lips. She’s pleading for his help.

The man holds out his hand. He wants the boy to help him up.

“What do you say? Shall we end this together?”

CHAPTER ONE

THIS ROOM REMINDS ME OF THE KIND OF PLACES that Henri and I used to stay in during the early days. Old roadside motels that the owners hadn’t updated since the seventies. The walls are wood paneled, and the carpet is an olive-green shag, the bed underneath me stiff and musty. A bureau rests against one wall, the drawers filled with a mixture of clothing, different sizes and different genders, all of it generic and dated. The room doesn’t have a TV, but it does have a radio with a clock that uses those old-school paper numbers that flip around, every minute punctuated by a dry slap.

4:33 A.M.

4:34 A.M.