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The night was warm. Summer breezes lifted the hair on the back of his neck as he stepped outside the castle doors. He had slipped away, just for a moment, even though he knew that tonight of all nights was not a night he could have to himself. There was so little time at any time of day that he had to himself these days. He was constantly surrounded by an entourageâ€”warriors whoâ€™d sworn to protect his body, advisors who wished to guide his decisions, women who wished to marry himâ€”
But that last would stop after tonight. After all, this afternoon, heâ€™d married. He could hear the boisterous sounds of the wedding feast as they drifted through the air.
It was the right thing to do. Everyone had said so. He was king, and a king needed a queen, because a king needed an heir. It didnâ€™t matter how he felt about the woman. It was only important whether the marriage would secure the proper allies and whether the woman was healthy and strong enough to bear sons. Heâ€™d made the decision the best he could, taking advice from all he could. The girl was the daughter of one of the men whoâ€™d fought the hardest against his ruling. With this manâ€™s daughter as his queen, he was assured of his support. She was quite young and somewhat delicate, but there was a fire to her. He thought, he hoped, he could be happy with her.
He knew he should be inside, celebrating with his men and his court. There were glasses of ale yet to be drunk, toasts to be made, and music to be played. He would go back inside. Soon. For now, just for a few moments, he wanted to pretend he wasnâ€™t king anymore. For a few minutes, he could be nothing more than the son of Ector, not even a firstborn son, but one who stood to inherit nothing. He had prepared his whole life for a simple future. Now things were deeply complicated.
He took several deep breaths, enjoying the clean air, not muffled with smoke from torches and heat from bodies. It was sweet, early summer air, and outside, the world was still and dark. No matter he was a king. The air still felt the same.
There were other things to be nervous about, he supposed. Unlike most men going to their marriage beds, he was woefully inexperienced. There had only been that night, months ago, before his first battle. The night before heâ€™d found the sword. Before the men had crowded around him on their knees, their heads bent. Before everything had changed.
That night, everything had seemed so easy. It had been perfect and beautiful. Heâ€™d thoughtâ€¦
But that night had also been an abomination. A serious mistake, borne from a lie. He hadnâ€™t known who he was. He told himself that over and over. And it would be okay, he thought, it would be okay, if only he didnâ€™t still dream of her. Her smooth, soft skin against his. Her hands stroking his hair. Her voice in his ear. â€œMy bear.â€ Thatâ€™s what sheâ€™d called him, on account of his name meaning bear. At the time, heâ€™d thought it was clever. Heâ€™d been so enamored with her.
If only those feelings would go away. The feelings of adoration for her. Of love. Because of any woman on earth, she was the one he could never love. Notâ€¦like that.
Still, if only none of it had happened. If heâ€™d never found out who his real parents were, he could be marrying her tonight. Instead, he would be sharing a bed with his new queen, who had seemed terrified of his touch when he had kissed her during the ceremony. He could still see her wide, blue eyes flinching from his. She was a different sort of girl than the one heâ€™d been with. He knew that. And he didnâ€™t know if heâ€™d be able to please her. He didnâ€™t know if heâ€™d be able to keep from hurting her.
He reentered the castle and climbed the steps to his chamber. He wanted to make sure it had been prepared for his wedding night. He wanted it to be as comfortable as he could possibly make it. The torches burned bright on the walls, but there was no one in his chambers. Everyone was at the feast.
That was good. He still wanted to be alone.
He opened the door to his bedroom and closed it behind him. It didnâ€™t look much different. His bed had been piled high with furs, and the floor around it was covered in furs as well. The furs would help keep his new wife warm. By the bed, a spread of fruit and dried meat had been laid out on the table. As if theyâ€™d still be hungry after all the food at the wedding.
She would be brought to his room by her ladies-in-waiting, and then theyâ€™d be left alone. He shuddered. He hoped it wouldnâ€™t be disastrous.
There was movement on his bed. A blonde head appeared, and a set of mischievous green eyes.
â€œMorgan,â€ he whispered. He hadnâ€™t seen her since the morning heâ€™d found the sword. And while heâ€™d sworn never to look on her again, even for a moment, he had to admit that he was quite glad to see her. His heart began to race, and he went to her.
â€œMy bear,â€ she said as he sat down on the bed. She sat up. She was naked.
â€œYou canâ€™t be here,â€ he said. â€œWe canâ€™tâ€¦be together.â€
She reached over to stroke his cheek. â€œWe can,â€ she said. â€œWe will.â€
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œMorgan, do you not know that I am married?â€
â€œAnd have you not forgotten that what we did was a crime against heaven and against man? We can neverâ€”â€
â€œI know,â€ she repeated.
What else was there to say?
â€œLie next to me,â€ she said. â€œHold me.â€
â€œI cannot,â€ he said, but it was agony not to gather her into his arms. She was as beautiful as he remembered.
She sighed, rolling over onto her side. Her body was exposed to him. He reached down to pull up the furs, to cover her up. She stopped his hand. â€œWhat do you know of me?â€ she asked.
â€œI know who you are. Your parentage. I know that you followed the armies, and that I may not have been the first soldier to share your bed.â€
She laughed. â€œJealous, are you? When you are the one whoâ€™s getting married?â€
â€œNo,â€ he said, and he wasnâ€™t. He liked her the way she was. He wouldnâ€™t have changed her. He wished she could be his, but that was not to be.
â€œI am skilled with all manner of herbs and potions, like my mother before me,â€ said Morgan. â€œDid you know that?â€
He shook his head.
â€œI have the Sight. Since I was a little girl, Iâ€™ve known that I had power that others didnâ€™t.â€
Heâ€™d heard of people with gifts such as these. He didnâ€™t see why it mattered. He had to get her out of his bed.
â€œIâ€™ve used my powers,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve used them to fix it, you see. My mother always told me there were some spells that werenâ€™t safe. She called them dark. But you were too important to me. Havenâ€™t you wanted me close every second since the moment we touched?â€
Miserably, he nodded. â€œYes. I want you. Even now, I want you.â€
â€œI have wanted you too. It isnâ€™t fair, that some accident of birth should keep us apart. So I have worked a charm that will bind our souls together for eternity. We will be together, just you and I, and we will not have to hide our love. It will happen. I have seen it.â€ She beamed at him.
He stood up. â€œWhat you say cannot be, and you know it. We canâ€™t be together. It would be unnatural for us to be together again. We cannot touch.â€
â€œWe can. We will.â€
â€œYou have to leave,â€ he said, wrenching his eyes from hers. It killed him to say so. He wanted her to stay. He loved her.
â€œWe will be together,â€ she said, â€œand we will raise our child together.â€
â€œThere is a child. Our child, growing within me.â€ Her face twisted into a smile. â€œI will spend my life finding the power to keep us together. You and me and our baby. Always.â€ And then she clutched her belly and began to laugh. Her green eyes danced.
She sounded insane.
He backed out of the room, shaking all over. â€œYou need to leave,â€ he said. â€œYou need to get away from me. Now. Forever.â€
Gavin sat straight up in bed. The dream had seemed real, like a memory. He rubbed his face with his hand. His heart was beating like a brass band in his chest.
Where was he? This wasnâ€™t his bed. It was dark in the room. He could smell the scent of extinguished candles. The sheets over him glowed blue-white in the scant light. And he wasnâ€™t wearing any clothes.
There was some memory in his head, before the dream, of candles, of Madame Braith in a white gown.
He flung the covers aside and got out of bed. There was no one else in the room. Feeling along the wall next to the door, he found a light switch. Yeah, he was in Madame Braithâ€™s bedroom all right. And there were candles everywhere, burnt down to stubs. His clothes were strewn over the floor. He yanked them on. He wanted out of this room. As quickly as he possibly could.
He couldnâ€™t haveâ€¦
With Madame Braith?
For some reason, the thought of it gave him chills. Something about doing that made him feel sick to his stomach. He hadnâ€™t. He couldnâ€™t have.
Gavin tore out of the room. It was dark in the mansion. He collided with corners as he raced towards the steps in the foyer. As he entered the room, a gust of cool air hit his face. The door was open. Meaghan and Reese were standing there.
â€œGavin,â€ said Meaghan. It sounded like sheâ€™d been crying. â€œWhereâ€™s Madame Braith?â€
â€œHow would I know that?â€ Gavin demanded. â€œI havenâ€™t seen her.â€
â€œWe should find a phone,â€ said Reese. â€œWe should call someone. An ambulance. The police.â€
â€œOh, Jesus, Reese, sheâ€™s already dead!â€ said Meaghan, and she started to cry again.
Dead? â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Gavin asked.
Reese rushed past him. â€œWhereâ€™s the phone?â€
Madame Braith appeared at the top of the steps. She wasnâ€™t wearing a white nightgown. Instead, she wore black slacks and a shirt. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. She looked at Gavin, and he looked away, swallowing. â€œIs everything okay?â€ she asked, descending the stairs.
Wyn woke up from a dream. In it, sheâ€™d been imprisoned in a castle. There had been a dirty man, who sat at a huge table, eating meat with his fingers. Sheâ€™d been tied up. The man had told her all of the horrible things he was planning to do to her body. Sheâ€™d been afraid. In the dream, sheâ€™d been waiting for someone to come and rescue her. She had the strangest feeling that it was Reese.
She shuddered, standing up. Sheâ€™d been asleep in the woods. There were leaves in her hair. Her head was pounding. Geez, how much had she had to drink?
It was still dark, but the first rays of dawn were beginning to overtake the sky. Wyn groaned, surveying the scene around her. Beer bottles littered the ground. The cooler was open and empty, full of melted ice. Next to her, Luke, Amanda, and Lissa were stretched out on the forest floor as well. Wyn wondered if she should wake them up. They were going to have to clean all of this up, and all Wyn wanted right now was a huge glass of water and some greasy food. She sighed, raking her fingers through her hair to try to get rid of the leaves.
People were coming. She could hear the crunch of their feet on the undergrowth.
â€œIt happened over here,â€ said a voice. It was Meaghan.
Wyn started to walk in the direction of the sound. Soon, she could see them. Meaghan, Reese, Gavin, and Madame Braith were making their way through the woods. They were heading towards the stream that Lissa and Sophia had been playing in. Wyn crossed to them, waving.
They didnâ€™t wave back. Actually, they looked pretty serious. And Wyn thought that Meaghan had been crying.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Wyn asked, concerned.
They hardly acknowledged her, instead trooping over to the rock where Reese and Meaghan had been hanging out last night. They climbed up on it. Wyn did too. She peered over their shoulders down at the stream. What were they looking at?
â€œWhere is she?â€ asked Reese.
â€œWhere is who?â€ asked Wyn.
â€œShe was right there,â€ said Meaghan. â€œYou donâ€™t think the water could have dragged her body downstream?â€ She broke out into tears again.
Body? What the hell?
Madame Braith studied the stream thoughtfully. â€œYouâ€™re sure it was here?â€
â€œPositive,â€ said Meaghan.
Wyn grabbed Gavinâ€™s hand. He yanked it away.
â€œSorry,â€ Wyn said.
Gavin looked embarrassed. He took her hand.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Wyn asked.
â€œReese and Meaghan said that Sophia fell off the rock and got hurt,â€ said Gavin.
â€œAnd died,â€ said Reese. â€œHer neck broke. She was right there.â€ He pointed to a rock that stuck up out of the stream.
Sophia was dead? Wyn covered her mouth in shock. â€œSo where is she now?â€
Madame Braith shook her head. â€œHad you two been drinking when you saw this?â€
Meaghan and Reese exchanged a look.
â€œWell,â€ said Reese, â€œyes. But that doesnâ€™t mean we didnâ€™t really see it happen.â€
â€œIt was dark,â€ said Madame Braith. â€œPerhaps you were mistaken.â€
â€œYou think sheâ€™s okay?â€ asked Wyn hopefully.
â€œI do,â€ said Madame Braith. â€œI think sheâ€™s fine. Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™ll turn up soon.â€
â€œWhat if sheâ€™s not?â€ asked Reese. â€œShouldnâ€™t we call the police?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ said Madame Braith. â€œThere isnâ€™t a body. Technically, sheâ€™s just missing at this point. And only for about an hour. I donâ€™t think the police would do anything for us right now. Weâ€™ll gather later this evening, if she hasnâ€™t turned up, and weâ€™ll entreat the spirit realm to find her.â€
Meaghan shoved a beer bottle into a trash bag. â€œItâ€™s weird, okay?â€ she said. She and Wyn were cleaning up after the party the night before. Meaghan felt like after what had happened with Sophia, everything should stop. But it hadnâ€™t.
Wyn poured several bottles of half-empty beer out onto the ground. â€œItâ€™s weird,â€ she agreed, â€œbut I think Madame Braith is right.â€
Trust Wyn to always take Madame Braithâ€™s side. She practically worshipped the woman. â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ said Meaghan. â€œI canâ€™t believe sheâ€™s not more worried about Sophia. Donâ€™t you think we should be freaking out a little bit? I mean, the last time we saw her, she looked dead.â€
â€œI just canâ€™t believe I didnâ€™t hear anything,â€ Wyn said, walking the bottles over to Meaghan. â€œYou guys were screaming only a few feet from us. And we didnâ€™t hear a thing.â€
That was odd too. But the way Wyn was saying it, it almost sounded like she was calling Meaghan a liar. Meaghan decided to ignore the implication. â€œIâ€™m glad the guys and Lissa went looking for her, anyway,â€ Meaghan said. â€œI hope sheâ€™s not dead. I hope she got up and walked away. I hope she turns up. But, Wyn, I donâ€™t think she will.â€
Wyn bent down to pick up a few more bottles. â€œI donâ€™t get it, anyway. What happened?â€
â€œSophia heard Reese and me arguing, and she thought he was trying to take advantage of me or something.â€
â€œYou and Reese were arguing? About what?â€
â€œIâ€™m into him, and heâ€™s not into me,â€ said Meaghan. Heâ€™d come around, though. He had to. Once Reese saw just how much she cared about him, heâ€™d be crazy not to want to be with her.
â€œYouâ€™re into him? I thought you really didnâ€™t like him.â€
â€œYeah, I was just confused, I guess. Once I started talking to him, I realized how amazing he is.â€ Meaghan paused for a second, holding the garbage bag, and thought about Reeseâ€™s face. She smiled.
Wyn sighed, dropping more bottles into the trash bag. â€œHe does kind of grow on you, doesnâ€™t he? I thought he was really ugly when he showed up. And something about him kind of gave me the creeps. But nowâ€¦yeah, I think heâ€™s cool. And an attractive guy.â€
Meaghan was glad Wyn agreed with her. â€œI made an idiot out of myself last night. I was drunk, and I practically threw myself at him.â€
â€œOuch,â€ said Wyn. â€œSo, he said he wasnâ€™t interested?â€
â€œNot at all,â€ said Meaghan. That still kind of hurt. But if there was any justice in the universe, heâ€™d change his mind. He had to.
â€œSo then what happened?â€
â€œSophia showed up and started punching him. We tried to stop her, and she backed away from us. Then she lost her balance and fell.â€ Meaghan was quiet for a few minutes. â€œI swear, Wyn, if you could have seen her lying there, you wouldnâ€™t think she was alive somewhere. It was horrible.â€
â€œIf sheâ€™s dead, whereâ€™s her body?â€ asked Wyn.
Meaghan didnâ€™t know. Could someone have moved it? Could the stream have moved it? What could have happened? But she just said, â€œI hope sheâ€™s alive.â€
â€œSheâ€™ll turn up,â€ said Wyn. â€œMaybe she was disoriented because she hurt her head. But sheâ€™ll come home, or weâ€™ll find her, and everything will be okay.â€
Meaghan nodded. She picked up a few more beer bottles. They were almost done. Once they got the last of the trash, there would be no evidence that theyâ€™d been there the night before.
â€œDo you think Reese will change his mind?â€ Wyn asked.
Wyn shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know him very well,â€ she said, â€œbut he strikes me as someone whoâ€™s pretty stubborn.â€
Meaghan furrowed her brow. Why would Wyn say that? That wasnâ€™t what she was supposed to do. She was supposed to make Meaghan feel better. â€œHeâ€™ll change his mind,â€ she said. â€œI really like him. I canâ€™t believe how much I like him. If he doesnâ€™t change his mind, Iâ€™ll be lost.â€
â€œOh, come on, Meaghan. Heâ€™s just a guy. Donâ€™t get all caught up in some guy.â€
â€œLike youâ€™re caught up in Gavin?â€
Sure. Of course it was. Everything was different for Wyn.
â€œI just meant,â€ said Wyn, â€œthat Gavin and I are meant to be together. Weâ€™re soul mates.â€
â€œHow do you know Reese isnâ€™t my soul mate?â€
â€œBecause heâ€™s not into you. It would be mutual if you guys were meant to be.â€
Whatever. Meaghan rolled her eyes. â€œHand me the last bottle over there.â€ She pointed.
Wyn retrieved it. â€œIâ€™m not trying to rain on your parade, Meaghan.â€ She put the bottle in the trash bag. â€œI want you to be happy. But donâ€™t go pining over some guy who isnâ€™t going to be able to love you back. Let it go.â€
â€œHeâ€™ll love me back.â€
â€œAnd if he canâ€™t?â€
Meaghan pulled the drawstrings tight on the trash bag. â€œI canâ€™t let it go, Wyn. Itâ€™s not that easy.â€
Wyn knocked on Gavinâ€™s door. A few moments passed and then he opened it. â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s you.â€
Wyn tried to move in close to kiss him, but he ducked away. She folded her arms over her chest. â€œCan I come in?â€ she asked.
Gavin nodded, stepping away from the door.
They stood in silence for several minutes. Wyn studied the blue carpet, waiting for him to say something.
â€œDid you want something?â€ Gavin said.
Yeah. Sheâ€™d wanted to see him. Which usually wasnâ€™t a problem. But now everything was all off kilter and strange between them. What was going on? â€œI thought Iâ€™d come see you before we go downstairs to summon the spirits to look for Sophia.â€
The guys and Lissa hadnâ€™t found one sign of Sophia in any of the places theyâ€™d searched. But the property the academy sat on was huge. There was no way they could search it all. Everyone, especially Lissa, was hoping that Sophia would just show up at the mansion. So far, however, she was still MIA.
â€œOkay,â€ said Gavin.
They were quiet again. Wyn shifted uncomfortably. What was wrong? They were always able to talk to each other. It seemed like there was a wall or something keeping them from communicating. Maybe she should just pretend like everything was normal. Maybe things were weird because she was acting weird, not Gavin. She crossed to his bed and sat down. â€œSo,â€ she said, â€œwhat did you end up doing last night?â€
Gavin stiffened. â€œWhy?â€
â€œJust curious,â€ said Wyn. â€œI hung out with Luke and Amanda. Lukeâ€™s getting really good on the guitar.â€
Gavin went to his desk and sat down. He didnâ€™t look at Wyn. â€œI didnâ€™t do anything,â€ he said. â€œI just read some books and then I fell asleep.â€
He was lying. Wyn could tell. He had done something besides falling asleep last night, and he didnâ€™t want to tell her about it. Why would Gavin want to hide something from her? But she didnâ€™t say any of that out loud. She couldnâ€™t imagine accusing Gavin of lying to her. â€œOh,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s too bad you didnâ€™t come to the party. It was a lot of fun. Except for Sophia falling, of course.â€
Gavin shrugged. â€œYeah,â€ he said, â€œmaybe I should have gone.â€
â€œDid you find the book you were looking for? In the den?â€
Gavin shook his head. â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œI couldnâ€™t find anything.â€
He seemed so subdued and serious. He wasnâ€™t acting like himself. Wyn went to him. She stroked his hair and kissed his cheek. â€œWhatâ€™s up?â€ she said.
Gavin moved away from her hand. â€œNothingâ€™s up,â€ he said.
â€œYou wonâ€™t let me touch you.â€ Come to think of it, they hadnâ€™t kissed since before the exercise last night. â€œAre you mad at me? Did I do something? Is it because I went to the party without you?â€
â€œNo,â€ said Gavin as if sheâ€™d just said the stupidest thing ever. â€œYou didnâ€™t do anything. Nothingâ€™s wrong.â€
Wyn didnâ€™t know what to do. Finally, she said, â€œOkay.â€ There was definitely something wrong. But if Gavin didnâ€™t want to tell her what it was, she couldnâ€™t force him.
â€œI donâ€™t think Iâ€™m going to go down with you to summon the spirits,â€ said Gavin.
â€œYou arenâ€™t? Why not?â€
â€œI donâ€™t really want to be around Madame Braith right now,â€ said Gavin.
â€œReally?â€ Why was Gavin weird about Madame Braith all of the sudden?
â€œReally,â€ said Gavin. He sounded a little annoyed with her. Sheâ€™d never heard him use this tone of voice with her. â€œThereâ€™s something really odd going on with her, Wyn.â€
â€œWhy do you think that?â€
â€œWell, thereâ€™s the exercise from last night, for starters. And then thereâ€™s the fact that she didnâ€™t seem very concerned about Sophia. She didnâ€™t even help us look for her. Plus, last night, sheâ€”â€ He broke off, then, almost as if he realized he didnâ€™t want to talk about whatever he was planning to talk about.
â€œLast night she what?â€
â€œNothing. Itâ€™s nothing.â€
â€œEverythingâ€™s nothing, then, huh?â€ Wyn couldnâ€™t help but be a little sarcastic. Where was her perfect boyfriend? What had happened to him?
â€œI donâ€™tâ€¦â€ Gavin stood up, sighing. â€œI donâ€™t know, okay?â€
â€œOkay.â€ It wasnâ€™t okay. It was anything but okay.
â€œLook, if youâ€™re going to go to the summoning, go ahead.â€
Wyn sighed too. â€œI wish youâ€™d talk to me, Gavin.â€
â€œI canâ€™t. I justâ€¦somethingâ€™s going on, and I donâ€™t know what it is, but I know itâ€™s not good. I need time to work it through. I just need time, okay?â€
Time again. Heâ€™d said that last night. When guys said they needed time and space, didnâ€™t it mean that things were practically over? Was Gavin through with her? Was this how things were going to end? But heâ€™d said it wasnâ€™t her. â€œIf I give you time, do you promise to explain this to me?â€
â€œIf I can.â€
â€œIf you can?â€ He really wanted to cut her out completely, didnâ€™t he? Wyn went to the door of Gavinâ€™s room. â€œOkay, Iâ€™m leaving, since thatâ€™s what you want. You can have all the time you want.â€ She swung the door open.
â€œWait!â€ He was next to her. He took her hand. â€œWyn, please believe that I never ever want to do anything that hurts you. Do you believe that?â€
He was so sincere. She nodded.
â€œOkay,â€ he said. â€œI promise Iâ€™ll talk to you about all of this soon. I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on though, and until I do, I donâ€™t know what to tell you.â€
She was going to have to accept that, it seemed. There wasnâ€™t anything else she could do. She nodded again. â€œIâ€™ll see you later.â€
â€œYes,â€ he said and kissed her on the forehead.
Wyn left the room and went downstairs to the den to meet the rest of the group. Reese was waiting in the doorway for her. As she looked at him, she wondered why it was sheâ€™d thought he was unattractive. He really wasnâ€™t. He had an intriguing face. She felt like she could get lost in his eyes. He smiled at her. She smiled back.
â€œHi,â€ he said.
â€œHi,â€ she said.
â€œHow are you doing?â€ he asked.
God, why couldnâ€™t Gavin care about how she was doing? Here was Reese, who still wasnâ€™t sure if heâ€™d witnessed someone die the night before, and he was asking about her. â€œIâ€™m okay,â€ she said. â€œHow about you?â€
â€œThis has been a weird couple of days,â€ he admitted. â€œI didnâ€™t know what to expect when I came here, but I definitely didnâ€™t expect this.â€
â€œYeah,â€ she said. â€œWell, things are weird right now, even for here.â€ Things were especially weird for her and Gavin. Come to think of it, things had gotten weird right after Reese had shown upâ€¦ But that was silly. One look in his eyes and she knew he couldnâ€™t be causing any of this strangeness. She realized she liked Reese. She liked him a lot.
Reese was deep in the spirit realm, and he felt like he was floating. He could barely hear Madame Braithâ€™s voice as she instructed the others in how to look for Sophia. Instead, he felt himself floating away from the group, following something else.
The room seemed the same as always, except brighter. He looked down, and he could see all of the students and Madame Braith slumped in their seats in the den. He could also see their spirit selves, floating just above each of their heads. Reese was floating at the ceiling. There was a window up here, a skylight. Through it, he could see blue, blue sky, even though it was dusk outside. The window seemed to beckon him. He took one last look at the rest of them, even listened hard enough for Madame Braithâ€™s voice intoning, â€œSeek out Sophia for us,â€ and then he shot through the skylight and into the blue sky.
Once through the window, he looked down at his feet, expecting to be floating above the mansion. But instead, there was nothing below him except pages and pages of computer paper, fluttering in the breeze. There was typed writing on them, but Reese couldnâ€™t read it. Abruptly, a gust of wind caught the pieces of paper and they surged upward, engulfing Reese in a tornado of fluttering pages. They soared around each other, and he heard dry whispers as they collided against each other.
What the hell?
Reese reached out and pushed the pieces of paper away. They crumpled in his hands. He caught sight of a few words written on oneâ€”â€tripping over her velvet skirtsâ€â€”and then the wind ripped it from his hands. Was this some kind of strange spirit world? If so, where were the damned spirits?
â€œReese!â€ called a voice.
He whirled around in the air, trying to locate the source of the voice. He couldnâ€™t see anyone. â€œWho is that?â€ he called, but his voice didnâ€™t carry. It sounded strange, somewhat ethereal, like he was hoarse from a cold.
Unexpectedly, he found himself dragged down through the rustling pieces of paper. He tumbled onto a carpeted floor. He stood up, trying to right himself. But the fall hadnâ€™t hurt, and his clothes werenâ€™t mussed. Surveying his surroundings, he realized he was back in the den at the academy. But the room was different. There was an old computer in the corner, and there were fewer couches. Also, they were ugly floral printed things, not the classy leather heâ€™d been sitting on earlier.
It was Sophia. She didnâ€™t look like herself. She was shimmering, like air on a hot day. Her features seemed to try to congeal and stay together, but more often they just swam away from each other. She wasnâ€™t especially nice to look at.
â€œTake my hand,â€ said Reese. â€œIâ€™ll get you out of here.â€
â€œNo,â€ said Sophia.
Oh, right. If this was a spirit, then it wasnâ€™t really the real Sophia. It was just a psychic impression of her. Even if he brought her back, it wouldnâ€™t matter. â€œAre you okay?â€ he asked. â€œAre you dead?â€ Meaghan had said that spirits sometimes appeared for people who were actually alive.
â€œNot dead,â€ said Sophia, â€œnot exactly. Consumed.â€
â€œConsumed?â€ Reese asked. What was she talking about?
â€œThe power, Reese. Itâ€™s too much. You must feel it when you return, its inky blackness seeping up through the cracks in the floor. You give it form. You give it breath. You must stop it, or it will consume you all.â€
Sophiaâ€™s body completely broke apart, and it took several minutes for the pieces of her to come back together. â€œMay three deaths be taken from me! May my fame not perish! May old age not come to me! May death not come to me in the mortal realm!â€
That sounded familiar. Reese furrowed his brow, trying to place it.
â€œThree deaths,â€ breathed Sophia, â€œand then the charm is set.â€
Then, without warning, the whole world exploded. Little bits of paper and carpeting were thrown in all directions. And when it all settled, Reese was back in the den, floating just a few feet above his body, which was slumped over on a leather chair. In the center of the room stood a spirit that looked just like Sophia.
It was talking. â€œI have been called,â€ said the spirit, â€œon a journey. I could not stop to tell you all goodbye. Iâ€™m sorry, Lissa.â€
That spirit was not Sophia. There was something wrong about it. Maybe it was that it seemed etched in dark black lines, likeâ€”ink. What had Sophia said? The inky blackness seeping up to consume them?
â€œIâ€™ll return,â€ said the spirit Sophia. â€œSoon, I will see you all again.â€
No, she wouldnâ€™t. Sheâ€™d been consumed. Whatever this thing was talking to all of them, it was lying.
But everyone seemed satisfied, especially Madame Braith. After they had returned from the spirit realm, she went on and on about being called on a mission by the spirits, and how important it was. She hoped that everyone would be as lucky as Sophia to have such an important task laid upon them. Reese was less than impressed. This place was really freaky. He didnâ€™t know how much longer he wanted to stay.
If not, wait until next Tuesday or Thursday to find out what happens.
Or… buy the book!
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