Finally, everyone reached home. There had been about an hour of ‘We’re so glad you’re safe’ and then another half an hour of ‘This is what happens when you talk to strange people on the Internet’, and then, finally, Valorie had told her parents that there was work to be done.
‘We need to check on Thoughts.com to see how many people are prepared to join us,’ Charley explained. ‘This is going to be a big battle, so, if it’s alright with you…’
Mr Morse shrugged, waving them upstairs. Eddie followed Charley, cradling a mug of hot chocolate.
‘Thanks for helping me, Dad,’ she said for the seventh time.
‘I wish I could have been there,’ Mrs Morse said. ‘Unfortunately I’d agreed – rather reluctantly, I might add – to stay in the car.’
‘I didn’t want you to get hurt, Meg,’ Mr Morse said as he sat beside her. ‘You would have been scared stiff. I was scared. I hated to think of some creepy guy hoarding our daughter away like that…’
‘Oh, don’t talk about it,’ Valorie’s mother said, recoiling.
The two embraced. Valorie, sensing her moment, chose to leave the room, and padded up the stairs to join Charley and Eddie.
When she got up there, Charley was at the computer, thinking hard. He was still very rusty with any form of technology. Valorie had had a big enough struggle teaching him how to use a mobile phone. She wasn’t about to show him around a computer. Eddie stood behind him, holding her hot chocolate. Evidently it was still too hot for her to drink.
‘How many people are there?’ she asked, trying to be helpful.
He finished counting. ‘One hundred and twenty four. More than we expected…’ he looked carefully at the screen. ‘But about seventeen people have written to say they can’t come.’
‘So that’s, er…’
‘Come on, come on, don’t they teach mental maths at school anymore?’
‘Let me think! It’s… one hundred and seven. That’s still really good… isn’t it?’
‘It’s more than we expected,’ Charley repeated. ‘I took the liberty, while you were being held hostage, to move the meeting to the 16th of November.’
‘Today? That was optimistic of you.’
‘Well, I was sort of expecting the rescue mission to be successful, but in case it wasn’t, I needed more people to help us.’
Valorie grinned. ‘But it was successful. So even better, I’ll be able to help you!’
Charley didn’t look at her. Eddie cleared her throat and took a sip of hot chocolate.
‘Argh! That is really really hot!’ She put the mug down.
‘I am allowed to come and fight with you, aren’t I?’
‘What?’ Valorie was outraged.
Charley sighed. ‘You’re just a child, Valorie, whether we like it or not. I owe it to your parents to make sure you’re kept safe until this whole ordeal is over.’
Eddie gave Valorie a sympathetic half-smile, but Valorie wasn’t paying any attention.
‘I just got kidnapped by that guy, and I can’t help you fight him? I could really help you, I’m getting really good at magic.’
Before Charley could contradict her, his mobile phone began to ring in his pocket. He dug it out and held it to his ear.
‘Charley Aether speaking.’ He listened. ‘Hello, O’Hanlon.’
‘What’s he saying?’ Eddie interrupted. Charley turned away from her.
‘Yes, we did, sir… Yes, she’s safe. Mhmmmmm. That’s right… What? What’s happened?… Oh my God.’
‘How many people?… I see.’ Charley looked grim as he listened to whatever was being said. ‘What can I do?… OK… I can have everyone assembled in a few hours… It’s fastest I can get everyone there… Well, I can’t guarantee anything. I’ll try… Thank you, sir.’
He hung up with a look on his face that was new to Valorie – one that suggested a deep sense of foreboding.
‘What is it?’ Eddie asked softly.
Charley turned towards her.
‘Adam Quinn has just killed forty-one people.’
Eddie covered her mouth, and Valorie stared at him in shock.
‘He collapsed his flat, killing all thirty inhabitants, and murdered eleven more, burning them to death. He’s been targeted by police in the area, but… well. They haven’t been able to stop him.’
‘What else did he say?’
Charley inhaled deeply. ‘He said that I have to defeat him as soon as possible, and I’m free to use any means necessary. This means we at least have his permission to band together. Coming from O’Hanlon, that’s quite a big step forward.’
Eddie sat down heavily on the chair, her eyes beady.
‘Oh my God… all those poor people. This is terrible.’
Everyone in the room was silent. Then Charley strode out and made his way downstairs. Eddie and Valorie exchanged a look, and quickly followed. Eddie’s steps down the stairs were quick and light; Valorie’s were heavy and clumping, and she took the steps two at a time. They reached the hallway at the same time to see Charley tugging on his coat.
‘Where are we going?’
‘You’re going to stay here,’ Charley said, motioning to Eddie, who hesitantly stepped forward to get her coat as well. ‘We have to go out and stop Adam Quinn.’
‘You can’t just leave me here! It’s not fair! I want to go with you!’
‘Valorie, no.’ She felt long-fingered hands on her shoulder, pull her backwards. ‘You need to stay here and relax, you’ve been through too much already.’
Valorie whipped round to face her mother.
‘No Mum,’ she said, livid. ‘I have to go. You don’t understand -’
‘I do understand, sweetheart,’ Mrs Morse replied. ‘I went through the same thing today. I hated waiting in the car while the others went to get you. But then I realised something. Waiting was the right thing to do. It is, sometimes. Sometimes things are too big for you to handle, and you have to step back.’
Charley was looking away again.
‘You need to calm down after what’s happened,’ Mr Morse agreed, standing beside his wife. ‘You also need to take some time off school to catch up with your work.’
Valorie stared desperately at them, trying hopelessly to make them see her point. She couldn’t wait while everyone else in the world defeated Adam. She wanted revenge. It was a shock to realise this. But it was too clear to ignore. Valorie’s insides churned when she thought of how many people Adam had made suffer – Sophie, Joe, all those dead people just tonight… it was dreadful. She couldn’t let him get away with it.
But her parents refused to see it.
Valorie wilted like a dying flower. ‘I need to go. I can’t…’
Eddie walked over to pat her shoulder. ‘I promise we’ll contact you to let you know what’s going on,’ she assured her.
Valorie nodded weakly.
Charley seemed to be finding all this too difficult to watch. He had already located the door handle and was standing half in, half out of the house. ‘Eddie,’ he said.
Valorie let them go.
The door slammed. There followed a long silence.
‘Let’s go to bed,’ Valorie’s mother said quietly.
Adam Quinn was having a great time. He hadn’t had so much fun in years. In fact, he thought casually as he dispatched another few frightened passers-by, this was probably the best night of his life.
Who needs friends, he thought. This was much better – this was indescribable – unbeatable. He had the power to morph reality – to kill as often as he wished, and nobody could stop him.
He gazed in satisfaction at what he had already created. In a few short hours, the fire had spread to the surrounding trees in the park. It had once been a pleasant place where couples had strolled or children walked their dogs. Now it blazed red, orange and yellow. The trees had become scorched and blackened.
The pathway, previously a nice cobbled trail winding through the grass, had developed into a winding river of lava. A deep shade of scarlet was bleeding into the grass.
Hell on Earth. This was Adam’s Distortia – the name he had chosen for his newly formed world. Here, he could be the King – people would look up to him, regard him with fear and respect.
And yet somehow all this still felt bad.
It was all rotten somehow because Sophie wasn’t here with him. And she should be here.
Valorie was very like Sophie. Maybe if he could get Valorie to stand by him to watch, he would feel better.
So where, he wondered, did he go next?
An old man walked by with his guide dog. Adam annihilated them with no more than a flick of his wrist.
Valorie lay in bed, unable to sleep. She couldn’t stop thinking about poor Sophie. Adam had never gone into that much detail, so she couldn’t be sure exactly how she had died. But it must have been horrible.
Valorie had seen enough drawings of Sophie to have a clear picture of her in her mind. They did bear a very strong resemblance, although Sophie didn’t share Valorie’s nose or wear her hair in quite the same way. Valorie couldn’t stand the way they looked so similar. It made her feel more connected to Sophie’s death, and in some strange way, partly responsible.
Adam had clearly loved Sophie. So why had he killed her in cold blood for the sake of a simple affair? Lots of people could be cheated on and forgive and forget and go on with their lives.
Adam couldn’t forgive and forget; that was his problem. Adam had too many problems. He was completely neurotic. Valorie hated him. She hated the way she felt when he stared at her, when he drew those dreadful pictures. Everything he did, Valorie hated.
What if Charley couldn’t stop him? What if all those people couldn’t stop him. Adam would get away; start to wreak havoc once again.
Valorie sat up. She slid her feet out from under the duvet, planted them on the ground, and straightened her knees. She stood up.
Without the duvet wrapped around her, the air was very cold. It was going to be a chilly night. She went through in her mind what she would need to take with her. She dug under the bed, scrabbling for the metal box she stored her sweets in.
Taking out a few Mars Bars, she looked around the dimly-lit room, scanning the room for her clothes.
There they were.
As quietly as she could, Valorie stepped into her jeans and pulled a shirt and jumper over her head. She zipped a fleece on over that and slipped on her trainers.
Then, she tiptoed over to the bedside table, where she’d left the Mars Bars, stuffing them in her pocket.
What else would she need? What had she taken with her on their mission to rescue Charley?
Torch. She’d need a torch.
She carefully burrowed around all the rubbish piled about the room. No sign of it. Cursing herself for not being a more tidy person, she gave up trying to find the torch, and stood still in the middle of the room.
She concentrated, clenching all her muscles.
She exploded outwards, rushed backwards, wobbled on the edge of one foot and fell over – but landed on soft grass.
She glanced up at her bedroom window. She had made it safely outside.
Valorie started walking, trying to ignore the burning in the pit of her stomach.