The icy fingers tightened and pulled. The light intensified, and the powerful whisper spoke again. These three are mine.

The thunderous voice blared again. You wanted the last ones, too, but they couldn't solve the puzzle. I won then. I'll win this time, too.

You're wrong! It was the whisper again, accompanied by even more laughter. The light pulsated. Brighter. Brighter, stronger than ever before.

They . . . will . . . not . . . fail! The whisper echoed through Courtney's ears. They . . . cannot . . . fail!

Fail what? Courtney wondered. What puzzle? Her head throbbed from the noise, from the rapid fire of voices all around her, from her frightening thoughts. But she was given no more time to think as she and Morgan and Collin were jerked up by the light and dragged down by the dark. They struggled but neither the dark nor the light would let them go.

Courtney's arms ached as she fought to get away. Her legs and joints convulsed with pain. They had to escape, but she felt as if they were caught in the midst of a tug-of-war between the dark and the light -- with no way out.

The iridescent fingers yanked them higher and higher.

The black, vile snakes slipped and slid over their legs, one by one losing their grip.

All around them the laughter grew louder, drowning out the booming thunder, and the light blazed like an explosion of fire.

Slowly the thunder retreated, moving farther and farther away until just a faint echo roared in the distance.
You win now. But when they fail, they're mine . . .
mine . . . all mine.

The darkness slithered out of sight.


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