Authors: Randi Reisfeld,H.B. Gilmour
The Power of Two
© 2001, 2012 H.B. Gilmour and Randi Reisfeld.
All rights reserved.
First published by Scholastic in 2001.
THE AUTHORS WOULD LIKE TO THANK FLEDGLINGS BETHANY BUCK, CRAIG WALKER, PHYLLIS WENDER, FRAN LEBOWITZ, SUSIE COHEN, AND DOROTHY DUBRULE, FOR THEIR SUPPORT OF AND CONFIDENCE IN T*WITCHES.
The midnight forest bristled with witches. A dozen or so ran through the moonlit grove, holding torches, searching, following their leader, the powerful warlock Thantos.
Another witch, young, vain, and beautiful, hid in the shadow of an ancient tree. Her name was Ileana. In her arms, two babies slept, pressed against her blue silk robe.
Her partner, the aged warlock Karsh, dressed all in black, from his velvet trousers and fitted waistcoat to his velvet slippers, seemed to have disappeared.
"Karsh," Ileana whispered, her breath visible in he icy night. "Coward. Why did you leave us?"
"Quiet," a voice commanded. It seemed to have come from the tree itself.
"I should have known," Ileana hissed, kicking the tree trunk. "Karsh, you old trickster, this is no time to show off."
"Shut up," the tree urged, adding politely, "O great witch."
Ileana was tempted to kick the trunk again, to whisper something rude at its scaly bark. But one of the babies began to wriggle in her arms.
The infant girl was very alert. Clearly, she sensed what Karsh had heard. Now Ileana could hear it, too. The heavy, hobnailed boots of the warlock Thantos crunching through the snow. The mighty tracker was leading his searchers toward them.
Quickly, Ileana dipped a finger into the herb pouch she wore around her waist, then brushed the honey-and-thyme potion across the stirring child's lips.
Which baby was it, Apolla or Artemis? They looked so alike, it was impossible to tell. Already their nearly colorless birth eyes were turning gray, the same startling gray as her own, Ileana noted.
As Thantos's footsteps drew nearer, Ileana saw the glint of one of the gold charms that helped tell the infants apart. It was the delicate half-moon necklace that belonged to Artemis.
Ileana should have known. Artemis was always alert, aware, attentive. Her twin sister, Apolla, whose necklace carried a different but matching charm, was the calmer of the two.
Of course, Thantos wanted these babies. Already their sensitivity was obvious. Their hearing was becoming honed. Their recognition of danger sharp.
But the mighty tracker and his torch-bearing mob ran right past them. Their footsteps grew fainter as they moved out of the woods.
Thantos had not found them. Still, Ileana pressed the infants to her, willing them not to cry out, not to make a sound.
Time passed—minutes, hours. Ileana waited, listened to the whirling wind, the hooting of a lone owl. Finally, she stepped out of the shadows.
"Karsh," she grumbled. "You can materialize now. We're all very impressed with your cleverness."
"Yes, great witch," he said.
Great witch? She is a child herself, Karsh thought, picking splinters of ice from his nappy white hair. Ah, well. The young deserve respect, need it to grow strong. Brushing snow from his velvet coat, which only a moment ago had been twisted tree bark, Karsh smiled.
Karsh was very old, an aged warlock, so practiced at his craft that he—like the forceful Thantos—had attained the rank of tracker.
He'd had decades to perfect his skills and senses. While Ileana, for all her pouting vanity and temper, was but a guardian. She wasn't a bad witch, just young, willful, and terribly impatient.
Like all trackers, Karsh was a talented shape-shifter. It was not bragging to say he could turn himself into just about anything: a tree, a rock, flowing water, leaping fire, spiraling smoke, and animals and humans of every age and appearance.
Whereas Ileana had only been appointed the infants' guardian to humble her, to teach her to be reliable, responsible, trustworthy. To think of something besides her own youth and beauty.
"Take the babies, Karsh. Run fast and far. Find them protectors. Hide them," she commanded, throwing back the hood of her silk robe. "And don't call me witch." Ileana's gray eyes narrowed menacingly. "It sounds so common. I prefer goddess, or lady."
Now fully himself again, with only stray scraps of bark freckling his velvet waistcoat, Karsh stood before Ileana, as tall, thin, and agile as a willow branch. His wild white hair silver in the moonlight, he bowed slightly. "A thousand pardons, Lady Ileana."
"Make it goddess," Ileana decided, staring brazenly at his pale, bony face, which children often found frightening. "These babies must never know the truth of their power. Separate them, Karsh. Fling them far apart so that Thantos may never find them."
"Goddess, Lord Thantos—" Karsh spoke of the one who'd come closest to finding them.
"Lord of worms and beetles—" Ileana hissed.
"And wild ambition."
"That miserable tracker—"
"Excuse me?" Karsh straightened abruptly. "You're forgetting that I'm a tracker."
Ileana sighed impatiently. "How could I forget that? You don't stand still for a second. You're always showing off, shape-shifting and playing the brilliant trickster. But Thantos is a rebel, a renegade who calls up his magick for harm. I won't let him use these precious babies to feed his own ambition."
their uncle," Karsh pointed out.
their father!" Ileana shot back. "Here, help me remove their amulets." She gave Karsh the serene infant Apolla, who was wearing the golden half-sun charm.
"Think, great witch—"
"Goddess, Karsh." Unlatching the half-moon necklace from Artemis's tender throat, Ileana sighed.
"But the babies... without their amulets, how will they know that each is one-half of the other?"
"They must not know." Ileana handed Karsh the half-moon necklace. The pale tracker accepted it, slipping the delicate charm into his vest pocket. When the time came, restless, young Artemis would wear it again.
But when Ileana wasn't looking he only pretended to remove her peaceful twin Apolla's half-sun charm. Ileana was trying to calm Artemis. "They must never know," she declared, rocking the wriggling child.
"Think... goddess," Karsh tried once again. "Separately, they may one day be talented, accomplished, even remarkable practitioners of the craft, but only together can they attain their full powers."
"Exactly," Ileana said. "So long as they appear merely gifted, they'll be safe. But if they display their true wisdom and strength, Thantos will track them down and try to use their powers for evil."
"They'd never allow it," Karsh reasoned.
Ileana whirled suddenly, her midnight blue cape flaring. "Then he'd kill them," she said.
On the soccer field, Camryn Barnes, ace offensive player of the Marble Bay High School Meteors, heard the bloodcurdling cry from the stands.
Don't look, she told herself.
A shock of auburn hair had escaped Cam's ponytail and was sticking to her flushed cheek. Brushing it back fiercely, she forced herself to stay focused on the game.
It was too big to blow—the final match of the year, her freshman year of high school. And her crew, the Meteors, were so going to take the championship. Even if the Salem Wildcats, the toughest team in the league, were now leading by one point.
No way was some shrieking nutcase in the stands going to throw off Cam's game.
"Over here!" Dancing impatiently, she shouted to her best friend-slash-total confidante, Beth Fish. "I'm open."
"You've got it!" Beth hollered, her lanky legs shooting the ball sideways to her petite pal. At five feet four, Cam was three inches shorter than the rangy Beth.
"Do it, Cam. Kick it!" Kristin Hsu, one of the Meteors' guards, begged. "Now!"
Cam lunged for the ball, caught it on the run, spun, and sent it rocketing into the net. Scoring. Tying the game a second before the halftime whistle blew!
Then the whole team was racing toward her.
"You did it!" Beth, the first to reach her, threw her arms around Cam and started jumping up and down.
"We're just tied," Cam reminded her jubilant best bud, though she felt pumped and confident. "We've got another half to go."
"And then we are so out of here!" Beth squealed as they headed for the bench. "Vacations R Us. We're on for a monster week two thousand miles from Marble Bay!"
, Cam heard.
The voice was a rasping whisper that raised goose bumps. Cam looked around, rubbing her arms. Only Beth was near enough to have spoken so softly and been heard.
"Don't go where?" she asked Beth.
"Excuse me?" Beth blinked cluelessly at her.
"Didn't you just say we shouldn't go?" Cam asked, chilled suddenly.
." Beth shook her head, sending a frenzy of dark frizz bouncing. Between the tang of Marble Bay's sea air and the salty heat of the game, her naturally curly hair was brushing out like a Chia Pet on Miracle Grow. "No way. I'm totally up for this trip, remember? You, me, an awesome ranch—"
Cam heard it again.
This time she recognized the voice.
An icy breeze swirled around her, sending a shiver down her sweat-drenched back. Oh, no, she thought. Not now. Not in the middle of the most important game of my life.
How old had she been the first time? Seven or eight, she guessed, the first time she'd heard that scratchy voice, the first time she'd seen the bony man with the scary white face. She'd been afraid of him at first. The minute he disappeared, she'd run into the living room, almost tripping over her too-long pajamas. Her parents had company. Her dad was pouring coffee. "Yes, dear?" her mom had asked, scooping her up, smoothing back her hair.
The man, she said.
The skinny man all dressed in black.
A dream, her mom assured her.
No, no. I saw him. I heard him. He said my real name is Apolla.
She remembered it clearly, as clearly as she'd just heard the same voice say,
Brianna Waxman, who played left wing—if she hadn't broken a nail, or wasn't having a bad hair day—jogged over, yelling. "Meteors rule!"
"Excellent play." Kristin was ecstatic as she high-fived Cam.
"What?" Cam said. The buzzing in her ears had started. The dizzying hum she recalled from childhood.
"It was a dream, that's all," her mom had insisted. "Dave?" her mother implored him.
Her dad had taken her then, his big hands still warm from the coffeepot. He'd whisked her out of the living room, where she'd just announced, in front of company, that the necklace, the gold sun charm she'd worn since she was a baby, belonged to Apolla.
"Apple who?" one of her parents' friends had asked.
"A wise and beautiful witch," Cam had answered, according to her mom.
"Cam. Hello. Where are you?" It was Beth.
"Nowhere. Right here," she said, snapping back to the soccer field. "How amazing was that move? You couldn't have set it up better."
"Pure magic," Brianna cheered. "Cam's mojo is working overtime again."
Cam tried to laugh but only managed a weak smile. Ever since her fourteenth birthday, she'd been getting teased about her "mojo"—her sixth sense, the intuitions she had, the weird things she seemed to know before anyone else did.
She'd never told anyone about the pale old man, though. Except for Beth. Cam had told her when they were in fourth grade—even though her dad had said not to.
When he'd carried her back into her room that long-ago night, he'd promised Cam that he believed her. Others might not, he cautioned.
He was right. Beth, her best friend even back then, hadn't bought it. "Yeeew, stop, Camryn," she'd demanded, covering her ears. "You're making it up. You're just trying to freak me out."
"Are you okay?" Beth asked now.
"Just got a little dizzy," Cam assured her. "Adrenaline rush." Her hand hurt. She was toying with her necklace, she realized, gripping the sun charm too tightly.
"Did you hear psycho Gladstone screaming in the stands?" Pulling off her red scrunchie, Kristen unfurled her gleaming black mane.
"Gladstone, as in Tonya?" Brianna—Bree—asked as they made their way to the team bench. "How could I not?"
"Was she the one who screamed 'Kill them'?!" Beth asked.
"Who else?" Bree responded, rolling her eyes.
Tonya Gladstone, the girl they were talking about, was a misfit and a mystery. Two years ahead of them, she'd come into their school midsemester. It was now the end of June and although she
on their soccer team, she had remained a loner. The only thing anyone really knew about her was that her parents were mega-rich and always traveling.
Yet today, she was all spotlight-girl.
But then again, who wouldn't be, sitting right next to Marleigh Cooper, teen celebrity flavor-of-the-year? Bringing America's pop princess to the Marble Bay soccer finals, Tonya had just about managed to upstage the game.
How Tonya had ever gotten a singing superstar like Marleigh to come to their high school championship game was a total brain-boggler. The teen diva had the number-one song in the country right now. Her streaming blond hair and perfect white-toothed smile beamed from the covers of a dozen teen 'zines. Yet there she was, trendy wraparound shades protecting her baby blues, perched in the stands next to Tonya Gladstone.
"What happened to Tonya's leg?" Beth asked, motioning to the bleachers, where a crutch stood propped against the bench next to her. "I didn't know she got hurt."
"No clue." Cam shrugged. "Until she showed up with Marleigh, I just assumed her sprained ankle kept her out of the championship game." Cam lowered her voice to a whisper. "You sure you didn't hear anyone say, 'Don't go'?"
"Say you're kidding," Beth begged. "Don't do this to me, Camryn, I hate when you get weird on me."
"Psych!" Cam said, as if she were joking and had just asked the question to fake Beth out. Then she quickly hid her face in the towel, mopped her clammy cheeks and forehead.
Inside, she fought a familiar stab of dread. Was she crazy, losing it, imagining things? She wished the answer were yes. It would be easier than being a freak, easier than knowing she was the only one who went through this stuff.
"And we've got to get a picture with our team's star and my
close friend, Camryn Barnes."
Cam spun around. Limping toward them, a crutch under one arm and the other wrapped around Marleigh Cooper's cashmere-clad shoulder, was Tonya and a photographer.
"Cami, hey, girl!" Tonya was glowing. "Meet Marleigh. I told her all about you."
Flustered, Cam said, "You did? I mean, hi. It's great you could make it to the game."
"I wouldn't have missed it." The celebrated teen, whose sizzling new video owned the airwaves, had like a zillion friends online, whose twitter feed reached millions, extended her hand to Cam.
"Camryn and I are like this," Tonya gushed, crossing her fingers. "We're really tight, so we're definitely taking a picture with her. She's the most popular girl in the school."
Close friend? Really tight? What was she talking about? Cam blushed suddenly, embarrassed for Tonya.
Reality check: Tonya had no close friends. Maybe she should have been friendlier, Cam mused, but Tonya just sent out this weird vibe. Which was especially strong right now.
"Hi, Marleigh," Beth said, shyly stepping forward as Tonya hobbled over to the photographer to set up the shot. "I'm one of your biggest fans." Then she smacked herself on the forehead and went, "Yuck, how lame. I can't believe I just said that."
"This is Beth Fish," Cam did the awkward intro, "my... other best friend." She shot Beth a pleading look. "Beth should totally be in the picture, too."
"That last goal was awesome." Marleigh whipped off her wraparound shades and beamed at them. "I've never played soccer, but you guys make it look so fun."
"Really, you've never played?" Cam said.
"That, and a zillion other things I haven't done."
"I guess you've always been too busy—with your career, and uh, doing this kind of stuff." Cam motioned toward where Tonya was giving detailed instructions to the photographer. "You must get invited to lots of things like this. It's really nice of you to come."
Marleigh frowned. "It's actually unusual for me to do this..."She lowered her voice. "I mean, the circumstances have to be pretty intense."
Pretty intense? What was she talking about?
"Okay," Tonya shouted as members of both teams gathered to watch. "Cam, stand on Marleigh's left, Beth, hold my place between them—I want to be sure there are no shadows." Tonya nudged the photographer aside so she could look through the lens herself.
Marleigh smiled at Tonya, then turned back to Cam. "Anyway, even though it's really tragic about Tonya..."She glanced up, searched Cam's eyes apologetically, as if she'd said too much, and continued, "These are really the best moments for me, when I can truly give something back. Because after all, these are the people who put me where I am."
Tonya? Tragic? Cam tried to figure that one out, but came up blank.
"Your fans, you mean?" Beth ventured. "It must be amazing to know so many people are into you and look up to you as a role model."
Marleigh grimaced. "Yeah, it's really great. Most of the time, anyway. Some of my fans are kind of, well, over the top. You wouldn't believe some of the weird posts."
"People asking you to come to their birthday parties and stuff?" Cam laughed.
"That doesn't bother me, that's kind of sweet, actually." Marleigh shook her head, as if trying to shake off a vibe. "Lately, there's this one shady creep who calls himself 'Devoted.' Demented is really more like it..."
"More like what?" Tonya handed Beth her crutches to hold, then wedged herself between Cam and Marleigh and threw her arms around them.
"Nothing really. Marleigh was just saying how, uh,
, some of her fans are," Cam said.
"You mean like me?" A dark cloud scudded across Tonya's face. She glared at them, her eyes overcast with anger.
"Of course not," Marleigh assured her.