A shoulder slams into mine. By the time I've spun around to face my attacker, I've already called enough magic to knock someone unconscious with a single touch. When I realize the person who hit me is a girl not much older than me, I freeze in place. She mouths the word 'sorry' over the deafening music before bouncing off to rejoin her friends.
|The Magic of the Sword (The Box book 3) By Christina G. Gaudet|
Only once she's gone am I able to relax enough to release the spell. I have no idea how I managed to tense so quickly. Up until the moment she hit me, Iâ€™d been having fun. The music is decent and I haven't danced so much in way too long. Now I can't even shuffle my feet.
Sin picks her way through the crowd, pausing to wiggle her fingers at a few people before stopping in front of me and handing me the bottle of water she's carrying. In her other hand is a large mug of beer, which she takes a gulp of.
"Isn't this place the best?" She has to shout for me to hear her over the club's noise.
She's too consumed by the music to notice I donâ€™t answer. She spins in a circle as the song changes without so much as a pause, and throws one hand in the air, bouncing it up and down, matching the rhythm. Her chin length navy blue hair falls over her eyes, giving me a chance to take some deep breaths to calm down without her noticing.
It doesnâ€™t help.
The crowdâ€™s energy, fun only minutes ago, suddenly overwhelms me. I glance down at the bottle I hold. The water swishes inside the container as my hand shakes from the burst of adrenaline still racing through me. The room seems to be shrinking and all of the dancers move in way too close. The lack of space is suffocating. I need to get out.
My attempt to show Sin Iâ€™m too hot by fanning myself goes unnoticed. A group of school friends she introduced me to earlier have grabbed her attention and she is fully into whatever causes them all to laugh. They'd been friendly enough with me earlier, but now I've stopped dancing, they don't seem to remember I exist.
When the song shifts once more, the group gets really excited. They drag Sin in the direction of one of the speakers, leaving me to fend for myself. I watch them for a moment, debating whether or not I should follow. I wish I could shake whatever has gotten into me so I can go back to dancing. Instead, I turn around and head for the exit.
The room is packed with people. More shiny dresses and tight pants than I thought Iâ€™d see in my lifetime, all stuffed into the small space. And I know there are a ton more people in similar party wear outside, hoping to get in. I'm barely able to pick my way through the crowd. Iâ€™m concentrating so hard on where I want to go, I donâ€™t notice him at first. As I squeeze between a group of girls dancing in a tight circle and a bunch of guys working up the nerve to approach them, my eyes drift across the room to him.
He meets my gaze for a second and then disappears behind the crowd. It was only a glimpse and yet there's no doubt in my mind about who Iâ€™ve seen.
Suddenly the uneasy feeling I've been dealing with makes sense. It's been so long since I've felt the magic of a wizard, I hadnâ€™t recognized the sensation. Last time Iâ€™d felt it was when Al and I were fighting Stewart. The wizard followed Al and I to Granâ€™s house and was about to steal my magic when Al saved me. In doing so, he absorbed Stewartâ€™s magic and became the very thing heâ€™d been trying to save me from.
And then he disappeared from my life.
I shift directions in order to follow him, and this time I'm less polite as I shove my way through the crowd. By the time I make it to the other side of the room, he's nowhere to been found. There is, however, an â€˜employee's onlyâ€™ door. When I check the handle, I notice not only is it unlocked, it's also been tampered with by magic.
He's gone this way.
I take a glance back to where Sin still dances with her friends. She hasnâ€™t noticed Iâ€™m gone. And no one else sees me by the door. I slip out of the clubâ€™s main room and into an empty corridor. A glass emergency door leads out to a large black garbage bin. I can see the shadowy figures of a couple of people smoking, but they aren't paying any attention to me. The only other exit is a wooden door at the far end of the hall with a graffiti covered 'roof access' sign next to it.
Now I understand what I'm sensing, it's easy to tell Al's gone up the stairs. The trail of magic he left behind might as well have been arrows pointing the way.
Going after him is my only option. It's been almost two years since I last saw him and even now my entire body hums after only one glimpse. And yet, I have no idea what to expect when I find him. He's obviously running away from me for a reason. He could be trying to protect me by keeping a distance between us, or this could be his way of leading me into a trap.
I use my finger like a knife to cut the air next to my hip. A hole opens, allowing me access into a magic pocket I created a while ago. I find the hilt of my sword and draw it from the space.
I drew the sword to help ease my nerves, but now itâ€™s in my hand, I realize Iâ€™ve only made things worse. Practicing with a sword in protective gear is one thing. Using the weapon against a real person is something else entirely.
After everything with Stewart, I decided to cut back on dance and focus on my taekwondo as well as take some fencing classes. I knew one day Iâ€™d find Al, and knowing how to use a sword would be important when I did. I never thought heâ€™d find me first.
Every muscle in my body is tense, my walk up the stairs slow and mechanical. He's up there, I can feel him from this distance, or at least I think it's him I sense. The patchwork of magic isn't quite the same as what he stole from Stewart. It feels even more tainted, if possible. The magic is fractured in so many pieces; I don't understand how he's able to keep it all together.
For a minute I think perhaps he hasn't when I sense a chunk of the magic shift its position and move away from the door. But then I understand what's happening. Thereâ€™s more than one wizard on the roof.
I'm walking into an ambush.
Of course I am. If the person I'd seen was actually Al, which I'm starting to doubt, he was obviously luring me up here the entire time. And I'd fallen for it, like some love sick teenager. I'd gone over this situation hundreds of times in my head, and yet I still walked right into the trap.
Al doesn't care about me. He's a full wizard now and all he wants is more magic. Both Sin and Rose told me heâ€™d lose his humanity if he ever got one taste of magic. Iâ€™d seen it for myself after he killed Stewart and tried to attack me.
The problem is, though I now know the situation is a trap, itâ€™s too late for me to avoid it. By now they'll have sensed me the same way I've sensed them, and if I try to turn around and run back the way I came, they'll chase after me. Bringing a sword fight into a crowd of people is a good way to get some innocent person hurt.
I shift the weight of my blade in my hand and tell my nerves to shut up. If I have any chance of coming out of this situation alive, I need to react, not think. Thinking will only get me killed.
Though having a plan would be nice.
No second guessing. I take the last of the stairs two at a time and do a summersault as I burst through the door. A sword slices the air above me as I roll. As Iâ€™d expected, at least one wizard tried to catch me off guard when I came through the doorway.
The moment I push myself onto my feet, Iâ€™m forced to block an attack from a second swordsman. I push out with my free hand to smash him in the stomach with my own physical force as well as a touch of magic to knock him back a few feet. The second I'm sure the spell connects, I spin to meet the blade of a third attacker. We dance for a few minutes, our blades meeting in a clash of sound and magical sparks. When he takes a wrong step on the uneven ground, I bring him down with a blast of my magic and spin to face whoever is going to attack next.
I'm able to get my head around faster than my sword, which means I'm able to see a blade come down on me, but can't get my arm up and around in time to stop it.
As it's about to slice deep into my shoulder, another sword appears out of nowhere and stops the blade only inches from my skin. I don't take the time to worry about who saved me or why, I simply react. I lunge, a perfect hit. Except unlike all of the times Iâ€™ve done the move before in practice, the tip hasn't been dulled and there's no padding over my opponentâ€™s stomach to protect him. My sword slides too easily into his gut, and for a horrifying moment, I can feel him struggling to free himself from the end of my blade.
I pull back as quickly as possible, and stare into the furious eyes of the wizard I skewered. Even with the wound, he manages to find the energy to bring his sword up to attack again. I'm too dumbfounded over the blood on my blade and the matching blood dripping down his shirt onto the ground to be able to react fast enough. Luckily my savior has no such problems.
In one swoop, he slices through the wizard's neck to cut off the man's head.
The sight of the wizard falling in two different directions should throw me into shock and remove my ability to notice anything around me. But instead I find myself going numb. I watch with dull curiosity as the wizardâ€™s magic lifts from his body like a ghost, travels up the blade of the man who killed him, and slips into his body through the hand holding the sword.
I've seen the same thing happen once before. The only other time I'd watched a man die.
Al hardly reacts to his new power as he shoves me to the side in order to get an unobstructed view of the last standing wizard. They square off and then their swords begin to move, each trying to break through the otherâ€™s defense.
I can't take my eyes off Al. He pulses with magic in an unfamiliar way. With every wizard Iâ€™d seen before, though I admit there havenâ€™t been many, Iâ€™d noticed his magic was a patchwork of different power, much like a poorly made quilt, with each patch containing the magic stolen from a different sorceress.
Al's magic looks similar to a degree, but instead of large patches, there are slivers of thousands of different sorceressâ€™ magic forced together. The edges of many of the chunks are fraying or ripped entirely, and the entire source of his power is covered in darkness. Black as night around the edges, and pooling to a deep gray toward the center.
"Protect her as much as you want, traitor," the wizard shouts. "The Sword now knows where she is. We will have her one way or another."
I drag my eyes away from Al in time to see the wizard turn to run away. The rooftop weâ€™re on gives him an easy escape in any direction. I know if he gets away, Iâ€™ll be spending the rest of my life running from him and every other wizard he tells about me.
While I reach inside myself to gather the magic to stop him, Al reacts faster. He throws his sword, guiding it with magic to pierce through the wizard's back. When he walks over to take back his sword from the body, I see another waft of magic leave the dead wizard to enter Al.
He takes the time, using the dead manâ€™s clothes to clean the weapon while I stand like a lump staring at him. When he finally lifts his head to look up at me, I force myself to hold my sword as steady as possible toward him.
"Don't move," I say, "or I will kill you."
Al does not have the right attitude toward my sword being pointed at him. I expect him to be upset or angry. Instead, he barely glances at me before making his way over to the man I knocked out. He runs his blade through his chest before I realize what heâ€™s doing, and the wizard has only time to choke out one blood filled groan before succumbing to his wounds. I donâ€™t need to check his pulse to know heâ€™s dead; the magic flowing from him into Al is sign enough.
Al yanks his blade from the wizard, and I can feel my stomach turn in response. He kneels down and drags his fingers through the blood pooling around the body. When he lifts his bloody fingers toward his face as though he's either going to lick them or smear them over his skin, I find myself dropping my sword in order to race over and grab his wrist to stop him.
Consuming the other wizard's magic is bad enough. I'm not going to watch him taste blood as well.
I realize my mistake the second our skin touches. Energy explodes between us. With lightning speed he has both of my hands trapped behind my back. Every ounce of his focus is on me.
His eyes widen as though he's shocked to see me. "Lou?"
Although my gut reaction is to fight, I force myself to relax and I'm rewarded when his grip on my wrists loosens.
"It's me, Al." I try to smile, but I'm sure it comes out more as a grimace. Luckily, he doesn't seem to notice. "Can you let go?"
His attention slips and his eyes seem to focus on something past me. I'm gripped with fear as I realize he's losing what little of his old self heâ€™d managed to regain the moment weâ€™d touched. And he's still holding my arms down. If I don't act first heâ€™s going to treat me like an enemy, just as he had in Granâ€™s house after Stewartâ€™s death. As I'm about to use whatever power is necessary to blast him off me, he releases me entirely and takes several steps back.
"Not the time," he mutters to himself. "Not the time or the place. Many things to do. Places I need to check. I can't be wasting time on pleasantries."
He walks away and looks like he's going to keep going right off the side of the building.
"Wait." I reach forward with my magic to stop him if I need to, but as soon as it nears him, he stops on his own. For a moment, when he faces me, his eyes find mine and I once again feel like he's looking directly at me. I see in him the same caring gaze heâ€™d had before taking Stewart's magic.
"You can't leave." I gesture toward the bodies I'm trying very hard not to look at or think about. If I do... No. Worry about it later. "Who are these guys? What was this about? Why are you here?"
Confusion fills his eyes as though he's not sure where he is let alone how to answer my questions. And then something shifts inside him and his eyes go as dark as his magic and a creepy smile takes over his entire face.
"Sweet, innocent Lou," he says in a twisted version of his regular voice. "All alone with only the corpses to hear you scream."
I brace myself for an attack that doesn't come.
"I'm not screaming," I say when it's obvious he's not going to do anything.
"Not yet." He giggles and his head lolls as far back on his neck as it will go and his hands reach up, palms to the sky. It's like he's enjoying the feel of rain, but none is falling. "But you will."
A sensible part of me wants to dive for my dropped sword, but I don't move. I don't gather any magic to protect myself. I'm afraid if I do he'll sense it and be provoked to attack. Plus, there's something obviously wrong with him, and I'm sure it has to do with the disgusting magic within him.
I take a timid step forward and his head snaps up to stare at me.
"Al?" I force myself to move toward him again, though I'm sure getting closer is not a good idea. "Are you all right?"
Anger flashes behind his eyes and he appears thoroughly disgusted as he spits out the words, "The Sword."
I glance down at my dropped weapon and realize to him it probably looks like Iâ€™m moving toward it. "It's fine, see?" I move to the side, away from it and show him my hands to prove I don't have any magic gathered there either. "I'm not going to attack you. You don't have to worry about my sword."
When he laughs, it's not the friendly sound I remember. This laugh is harsh and mocking.
"The Sword," he says again. "They came for you. I stopped them."
It takes me a minute to figure out what, or rather who, he's talking about. "You mean these wizards?" Don't look at them. Whatever you do, Lou, don't look at the bodies. "They were coming after me? Why? How did they find me?"
He doesn't answer. His attention is locked on the doorway Iâ€™d burst through as though he's trying to see all of the way down the stairs to someone at the bottom. The grip on his sword grows tighter and for a second I'm sure he's going to rush forward at whatever he thinks he sees. I want to turn around to check and make sure there isnâ€™t someone coming, but Iâ€™d be giving him the perfect opportunity to kill me, too. Or worse, take my magic.
After a few seconds I can hear high heels on the steps leading to the roof. Al's grip relaxes just before the door swings open.
"...supposed to warn me," Sin finishes as she barges onto the open roof.
"I'm sorry, Iâ€”Oh." The second voice stops talking the moment she's clear of the door.
I can't help myself. I need to see whoâ€™s with my sister. I twist my head to get a look at Sin, who looks annoyed, and another girl, who tries to smooth down her curly red hair as she gawks at me.
When I turn back to get Al in my sight again, I'm relieved to see he hasn't moved. However, the feeling doesn't last as I notice the unnerving smile he's giving me.
No one says anything for a moment while I try to think of how I can explain any of this to Sin. She's not going to like that I've been lying to her about Al all this time. I probably should have told her heâ€™d taken Stewartâ€™s magic and become a full wizard long ago, but I never brought myself to do it. Saying it out loud would have made it more real somehow.
"What the hell, Al?" Sin says. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere else? As in, away from my sister? I'm pretty sure that was the deal."
Sin picks her way across the bodies as though they're nothing more than a bit of trash. Seeing my sister stroll around corpses and puddles of blood as though itâ€™s nothing new for her shatters the numbness holding me together. My stomach starts to rebel and I no longer have complete control over my muscles. I start to shake.
"It's pretty obvious why he's here." The redhead has as little problem navigating the dead people as Sin. She may be less disturbed by them, if possible. She makes it to Al's side and puts a hand on his arm. He doesn't react as he continues to stare at me. "It's not his fault you brought your sister to a place The Sword was staking out."
I canâ€™t stand the look Alâ€™s giving me. It makes my skin crawl the same way Stewartâ€™s gaze had. I have to look away. Unfortunately, the first place my eyes go is down to the closest of Alâ€™s victims.
Vomit spews from my mouth with no warning. I barely have time to turn my back on the others so they donâ€™t have to witness the entire affair.
â€œSeriously?â€ Sin says. â€œYou just had to leave your DNA here, didnâ€™t you? You couldnâ€™t hold it in until you were downstairs. A person throwing up in a bar is not a big deal. Being right next to a bunch of bodies on the other hand is a little suspicious.â€
â€œScrew you.â€ Sadly, since Iâ€™m using so much effort to stop myself from repeating the offense, my voice isnâ€™t nearly as cutting as Iâ€™d like. â€œAnd why arenâ€™t you getting sick too? Itâ€™s not like you see corpses all the time either. Unless you do. Who knows what you get up to now youâ€™re living alone? Maybe this is a nightly occurrence for you.â€
â€œOr Iâ€™m just not a pussy,â€ she says.
â€œWe should leave,â€ the red haired girl says. â€œDonâ€™t you think, Aldric?â€
Thereâ€™s something familiar about her voice. Especially the way she says Alâ€™s name.
I wipe my face off with my hand and look over at her. Iâ€™m filled with a shocking dose of hatred I have no right to feel when I take in her slim but sturdy figure and big green eyes. The look she gives Al is one of complete adoration and love. It makes me want to turn around and vomit again.
Thereâ€™s only one person I know who loves Al that much.
â€œRose?â€ Her glance at me when I say her name confirms my suspicion. Of course itâ€™s her. And I thought this day couldnâ€™t get any worse. â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
She stands a bit taller, with her back straight and her chest out. Yep. Sheâ€™s bustier than me. I officially hate her.
â€œIâ€™m here to help Aldric,â€ she says. â€œSomething much easier done when you arenâ€™t around tempting him with your magic.â€
â€œYou are not turning this on me. Youâ€™re in my world. This time youâ€™re the one intruding.â€
Even in the low lights from the neighboring buildings, I can tell her face has gone bright red. Obviously she hasnâ€™t forgotten about our conversation at Alâ€™s house. The one where she told me to leave and never come back.
â€œUh, Lou?â€ Sin shakes my arm. â€œI think she might be right about tempting Al.â€
I turn, ready to throw some not so kind words at her as well. After all, she knew Al and Rose were in our world. Worse, she has been in contact with them. And she never once thought it would be a good idea to tell me.
But the second I see what sheâ€™s looking at, I freeze. Alâ€™s expression has changed. Thereâ€™s nothing good or kind in the dark eyes staring at me across the roof. Magic is gathering around him at an alarming rate, and I barely have time to react.
I throw up a hand and an invisible shield surrounds me. The second itâ€™s up, his magic hits. Paralyzing spell. I can feel it trying to eat through my shield like some sort of magical acid. I canâ€™t keep the protection up. Itâ€™s too painful. I drop the shield and shake my hand to try to rid myself of the sharp pain as the muscles in my hand spasm.
â€œAldric, no.â€ Rose reaches up to try to force him to look at her. She doesnâ€™t see heâ€™s still oozing with the paralyzing spell, and Iâ€™m not quick enough to help her. She drops the second her skin touches his.
For half a second, his eyes are exactly the same as I remember. Soft, kind and full of life. He looks horrified at what heâ€™s done. However, as he reaches down to touch her, I can feel the darkness inside him swell. He might not want to, but Iâ€™m sure if he touches her, heâ€™ll only make things worse. I cocoon her in a thick blanket of my magic.
Try burning through that.
He doesnâ€™t. The second my magic surrounds her, he stops. His hand lingers mid reach for a moment before he takes a long breath and tilts his head in my direction.
â€œLook after her,â€ he says.
And he leaps off the roof.
I run over and drop to my knees beside Rose while Sin rushes past me to look over the edge of the roof.
Her voice is breathy as she says, â€œHeâ€™s not there.â€
Of course heâ€™s not. He used his magic to slow his fall, and then speed up his run the second he hit the ground. It used up only a tiny portion of the magic consuming him, but Iâ€™d felt it as strongly as if Iâ€™d been the one using the magic. What interests me much more than how he got away is why. There was no reason for him to run. I certainly wasnâ€™t about to out power him. Not with the fresh magic pumping through him from the wizards he just killed.
Once again, he chose not to go after me when he could have easily overpowered me and sucked up every last drop of my magic.
â€œHeâ€™s long gone.â€
I donâ€™t have the energy to tell her anything more. After all, I need to put all of my attention into the spell locking up Roseâ€™s body, making it impossible for her to move or breathe.
The spell is a wild, twisting combination of threads of magic, winding around every inch of her in a head pounding way. I try to find the pattern, and in it a weak spot, but the magic is constantly shifting and swaying.
I canâ€™t stand to look any longer. My tender stomach is going to rebel again.
I shut my eyes and press my hand to her stomach. The magic wriggles under my grasp and tries to work its way into my skin to taint the magic within me. I push back, forcing my magic to thread itself into his spell and become a part of it. Once Iâ€™ve infiltrated it, Iâ€™m able to force the oozing mess into a proper shape, burning away any dark magic that wonâ€™t properly mesh with my power. Once Iâ€™m in control of the spell, itâ€™s easy to find a small section a little bit weaker than the rest.
Nothing. There is no weakness. His magic is so tightly woven together I canâ€™t see a single weak point within the mass.
Which leaves only one choice.
I use the light of my magic like the sun and burn away the shadows of his power. A tiny bit at first, then larger chunks fizzle until finally there is nothing left to the spell.
Rose sputters as she sucks in too much air.
I rock back on my heels and force myself to breathe normally as well. I must have been holding my breath right along with her and not noticed because of how stressful the situation was.
â€œWell,â€ Sin says after Rose finishes a short coughing fit. â€œThat was fun. But I think itâ€™s time to go home.â€
â€œAldric.â€ Rose crawls to the side of the building and looks in every direction available. â€œDonâ€™tâ€¦ Not again.â€
â€œHeâ€™s gone,â€ Sin says. â€œNo use getting all worked up about it. Itâ€™s not like this is the first time heâ€™s done this, after all.â€
â€œWhat am I supposed to do?â€ Rose says. â€œI need to be with him. I need to keep him from doing anything stupid.â€
â€œHeâ€™ll be fine.â€ Sin pats Rose on the head like a kid. â€œHe always is. But I guess youâ€™ll have to stay at my place tonight. You definitely canâ€™t be caught hanging around here.â€
I allow my eyes to wander over the corpses, expecting my stomach to turn again, but apparently thereâ€™s nothing left inside me to come up.
A glint of metal reminds me of my dropped sword and I make my way over to grab it and slide it into my magic pocket. Itâ€™s wrong how emotionless I feel toward the dead people scattered around me. Wizards or not, they are still human. By not feeling anything, Iâ€™m becoming as bad or worse than them.
â€œShould we call the cops?â€ I say. â€œSomeone needs to do something about the bodies.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be an idiot.â€ Sin gives me a look to say she doubts I know how to be anything else. â€œWe donâ€™t want to get any more attached to this than we already are. In fact, walking out the front door at this point is more than we should do. Think you can magic us to the ground like Al?â€
The spell he used is unfamiliar and full of twists just like the one he used on Rose. But I understand the concept. Donâ€™t try to lift us, bring the ground closer. Not physically, thatâ€™s impossible, but if I can eliminate the space between us and the ground, I can safely move us down. Itâ€™s almost the complete opposite of the pocket of air where I keep my sword.
I reach down and wrap my magic around a bubble of space large enough for the three of us, and then pull. The space stretches up, though it seems to take three times as long as Al managed.
Practice. All there is to it. His magic isnâ€™t any stronger than mine, he just better understands how it works. Or at least I feel a bit more comfortable if I tell myself as much.
I stretch the space only as far as I absolutely have to. The effort of this and my previous uses of magic are starting to wear on me. Like using a muscle Iâ€™m not used to working with during an exhaustive workout. Thereâ€™s about a two foot gap between the edge of the roof and the stretched space Iâ€™ve created, but I think even in Roseâ€™s state, we should all be able to make it across, as long as we jump together.
â€œWrap your arms around mine.â€ Neither of them appears particularly keen to follow my instructions. â€œThis was your idea,â€ I remind Sin.
She roughly locks her arm around mine. â€œFine. But if youâ€™re wrong about this, Iâ€™m using you to break my fall.â€
Rose is much more delicate when she wraps her fingers around my arm, and for a second I worry sheâ€™ll lose her hold the second we jump. I shouldnâ€™t have been concerned. Her grip turns to steel the second sheâ€™s sure of her fingersâ€™ locations, and if anythingâ€™s going to come loose, itâ€™s my arm as she rips it from my body. I donâ€™t know how she developed such a strong grip, but Iâ€™m envious. Sheâ€™s obviously much stronger than I assumed.
We leap as one, easily falling into my stretched bubble of space. The second we touch it, I let the stretched air snap back into its original shape, bringing us firmly and safely to the ground.
Rose breaks away from me the second weâ€™re down and wraps her arms around herself like sheâ€™s trying to warm up from a nonexistent cool breeze. Sin on the other hand doesnâ€™t miss a beat. She starts walking the moment her feet hit the ground, leading us out of the back alley where we landed and toward the lights of the main street.
â€œCome on,â€ she says. â€œThe carâ€™s this way.â€
When sheâ€™s a couple of feet in front of us, I grab Roseâ€™s arm and force her to stay behind with me.
â€œOut with it,â€ I say. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with him?â€
She follows Sin with her eyes, but to her credit she doesnâ€™t call for help. â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€
â€œCome on.â€ I rub my face a little too hard. Only after do I remember the layers of makeup Iâ€™m ruining. I can only hope my mascara hasnâ€™t given me raccoon eyes. â€œAl. Thereâ€™s something more going on with him than his just being a full wizard. The magic is affecting his mind, isnâ€™t it?â€
For a second I think sheâ€™s going to refuse to answer as she looks everywhere but at me. And then she sighs. â€œSometimes heâ€™s almost completely normal. He looks at me and I know heâ€™s still in there. But other timesâ€¦â€
I nod my understanding. After all, Iâ€™d seen the other times for myself.
â€œHas he taken from any sorceress?â€ I donâ€™t want to know. But I have to ask.
â€œNo,â€ she says with more confidence than Iâ€™d been expecting. â€œOf course not. Only other wizards. And even then, itâ€™s not like heâ€™s seeking them for the purpose of taking their magic. Mostly. Heâ€™s trying to find Loraine, and they keep getting in his way.â€
â€œLoraine?â€ For a second Iâ€™m back in Alâ€™s house, looking through his eyes at the pretty blonde lying in a coma in front of him. â€œHis sister? Sheâ€™s missing?â€
Sin slams her hand against an old metal garbage can, and we both jump at the resulting rumble. â€œDo neither of you understand the idea of getting the hell out of here? This is a crime scene. Getting caught hanging around it would be bad. Now letâ€™s move.â€
No one says a word as we make our way to the car. As Sin pushes her key into the doorâ€™s lock, sirens blare and the three of us stare wide eyed into the lights of a police car.
It drives by us in a second, but itâ€™s enough time for me to learn what it must feel like to have a heart attack. When the sound of sirens doesnâ€™t fade into the distance, I know theyâ€™ve stopped at the bar.
Sinâ€™s eyes lock with mine and for a minute Iâ€™m sure weâ€™re actually on the same page. We need to get out of here. Now.
â€œRose up front,â€ Sin says when I jog to the passenger side door.
Rose slips past me with an apologetic shrug. I stand outside for a minute, confused at whatâ€™s going on. But I canâ€™t stand around forever. The police are way too close for comfort. I slide in back with a crushed box of tissues and enough chimera hair to make a second beast.
Before the car starts forward, Roseâ€™s window is already all of the way down, which would be nice if there was any sort of a breeze.
â€œWouldnâ€™t the air conditioning be better?â€ I ask.
â€œTrust me.â€ Sin pulls onto the mostly empty road. â€œNo, it wouldnâ€™t. Just remember, any mess in the car and you will be the one cleaning it up.â€
For once, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s me sheâ€™s lecturing.
Three times the length the trip should have taken and three pit stops later we pull into the driveway of Granâ€™s house. As quickly as I jump out of the car, Rose is faster. She stumbles away from the vehicle clutching her stomach. After a secondâ€™s hesitation, she runs for the long grass at the side of the house.
Sin walks over to unlock the front door without a glance in Roseâ€™s direction.
â€œShouldnâ€™t we help?â€ I ask.
â€œUnless you know a spell for motion sickness,â€ she says, â€œand if you do, you should have used it two stops ago, then thereâ€™s nothing we can do.â€
The second the door swings open, a beast almost as large as Sin leaps up and starts licking her face with two very large and slobbery tongues. She manages to muscle Farah back into the house while I glance around to make sure none of the neighbors happen to be looking our way. All of the windows on the block are dark.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky itâ€™s so late.â€ I follow her into the house and duck under Nyx as he does his usual dive for my head. I bat my hand at him, but miss. As usual. Though maybe thatâ€™s a good thing since Iâ€™m not sure how a phoenix would react to me hitting it. â€œWhat do you think the neighbors would say if they happened to see your pets?â€
â€œGo to bed,â€ she says. â€œYou get whiny when youâ€™ve been up too late.â€
Rose slinks into the house and starts crawling up the stairs.
â€œTake the back room,â€ Sin shouts while walking toward the kitchen. â€œItâ€™s still got the bucket next to the bed from last time.â€
Seeing Rose so sick makes me feel a bit better about my show on the roof. But still, Al isnâ€™t here to witness her sorry state while he got a front row seat to my weak stomach. I canâ€™t feel too bad for her. Plus, â€˜last time?â€™
I follow Sin into the kitchen and watch as she makes herself a ham sandwich. Neither of us says a word, but I glower at her with all of my might, hoping sheâ€™ll feel the weight of it. After she stuffs the mayo back into the fridge, she slams the door and turns to face me.
â€œWhat?â€ she says. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with you now?â€
Farahâ€™s lion head lifts from her spot on the floor next to Sinâ€™s feet and she does her whine-growl at me. I shoot her a glare, which doesnâ€™t faze the beast in the least. I canâ€™t believe Mom let Sin keep the thing. It should have been shoved through the portal first chance we got and left there to rot. Though I guess Sinâ€™s argument we couldnâ€™t let something so dangerous run free in any world was valid. Still. I would sleep a lot better if I knew it wasnâ€™t down the hall, plotting ways to rip me to shreds.
Sin clicks her tongue at the chimera until it stops growling and sets its heads back on its paws. The lion eyes never waver from me, however. And I swear she just licked her lips.
â€œGet it out.â€ Sin muffles a yawn. â€œYouâ€™re already ruining my snack. You might as well keep me up too.â€
She has no right to act as though Iâ€™m the one doing her wrong. After all, sheâ€™s the one who has been keeping incredibly important information from me.
â€œLast time?â€ I point upstairs in the general direction of where I think Rose is. â€œHow many times has she been here? How many times has Al been here?â€
She rolls her eyes and stuffs the sandwich into her mouth. Another excuse not to tell me anything.
â€œHe has been here.â€ I canâ€™t believe this is happening. It seems more like a bad dream than an actual conversation with my sister. â€œIn this house. And you couldnâ€™t be bothered to send me a text?â€
â€œIt was safer,â€ she says between bites.
My voice rises loud enough to make me glad the neighbors arenâ€™t as close as at Momâ€™s house. â€œFor who?â€
If she wanted to protect me, Iâ€™d think it would be much safer for her to tell me Al is around. After all, heâ€™s developed a taste for my magic. I should probably know he might show up in the house Iâ€™m currently living in and try to attack me at any moment.
I hoped coming here for the summer would be a way to learn more about wizards. After working on my fighting skills so I would no longer be outmatched the second I went up against a wizard, I wanted to read Granâ€™s journals. Maybe find out how to turn Al back to the guy heâ€™d been before he took Stewartâ€™s magic.
I didnâ€™t expect Al to show up practically the day I got here.
If sheâ€™d told me, I could have protected myself. I could haveâ€”
â€œBoth of you,â€ Sin says. â€œIt was safer for both of you.â€
Her words stun me. Protecting me I understand. It wasnâ€™t necessary since Iâ€™m more than capable of looking after myself, but I understand it is some big sister thing. But protecting him? How is keeping us apart protecting him?
â€œWhat did you expect to happen?â€ I ask. â€œFor me to stab him on sight?â€
She runs her hand through her hair. The gel sheâ€™d used earlier this evening causes bits to stand out in strange and interesting ways. â€œItâ€™s just safer for you two not to be near each other.â€
â€œFine.â€ If sheâ€™s not going to give a straight answer, then Iâ€™ll have to try a different tactic. â€œRose said his sisterâ€™s missing. But how is that possible? Did she wake up?â€
â€œWe donâ€™t know.â€ Sin pulls herself up to sit on the counter, the second half of her sandwich untouched. â€œYou saw Al earlier. You now know how he gets. Pulling information from him is hit or miss. Most of the time, we canâ€™t get him to say anything at all.â€
â€œItâ€™s the magic.â€ I remember the way his magic was overwhelmed by darkness and the sick feeling I had just from looking at him. Carrying such poison inside of you all day every day would drive anyone insane. â€œItâ€™s corrupting his mind.â€
Her eyes narrow as she watches me. â€œYou could see it?â€ I nod. â€œCan you fix him?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ I gnaw on my lip while going through all of the different types of magic Iâ€™ve tried before. Nothing helpful comes to mind. Still, thereâ€™s so much about magic I donâ€™t know still. And I had been able to break the spell he accidently put on Rose. â€œMaybe.â€
Although nothing significantly changes in her expression, I can sense sheâ€™s disappointed with my less than encouraging response. A part of her must have hoped Iâ€™d be able to come up with a solution the moment I saw him. I wish I had.
â€œWell, crazy or not,â€ she says, â€œhe thinks The Sword has his sister, and heâ€™s determined the only way to get to her is through them.â€
â€œHe said something about a sword on the roof.â€ I automatically reach for the space where I have my weapon safely tucked away. â€œWhat was he talking about?â€
â€œThe Sword are wizards,â€ she says with a bored wave of her hand. â€œItâ€™s just what they call themselves. Itâ€™s not important. What does matter is whether Alâ€™s right or not about them taking his sister. Heâ€™s definitely right about them being up to something. There are way too many gathering in this world for there not to be something up.â€
I have to take a second to make sure Iâ€™ve heard her right. â€œMore than the three tonight? Are you sure?â€
â€œAl has been tracking them in and around town for a while now,â€ she says. â€œThose werenâ€™t the first he caught up with. Rose tries to keep me informed on where he is and what wizards heâ€™s found, especially now youâ€™re here.â€ She picks up the last of her sandwich and examines it, but doesnâ€™t eat it. â€œOf course, she canâ€™t always predict where heâ€™ll run off to at any moment. He was supposed to be on the opposite side of town tonight.â€
Wizards are in this world. But how?
My head whips around to stare at the stairs and the hidden door at the top.
â€œHow are they getting here?â€ She doesnâ€™t answer. â€œHow many wizards have you been letting come and go from this house, anyway?â€
â€œI havenâ€™t been letting them in here,â€ she says.
But she isnâ€™t as mad about the accusation as I expect. I feel like sheâ€™s still hiding something from me.
â€œThere are other portals in the world, you know,â€ she says. â€œThey must have found one and started using it.
She tosses the sandwich to Farah and the creature gobbles it up with only a minimum amount of fighting between the heads.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter.â€ She leaps from the counter and heads toward the door. â€œAll that matters is they have something planned and Alâ€™s trying to figure out what it is and how to stop them. Until he does, thereâ€™s nothing we can do except keep out of his way.â€
â€œTonight is normal for him, isnâ€™t it?â€ The thought of Al surrounded by bloody bodies makes my stomach turn. â€œHow many has he killed? Do you know? Do you care?â€
She stops at the bottom of the stairs and sighs. â€œHe does what he has to,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s not like we can stop him. Heâ€™s more powerful than any of us. Even you. No, especially you. So donâ€™t do something stupid like go after him. All youâ€™d manage to do is get yourself killed.â€
* * *