Authors: Rachel Hawkins
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For Agent Extraordinaire Holly Root, for her support, her ability to talk Certain Authors off ledges, and for finding Sophie and me the perfect home!
“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think:
I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah,
the great puzzle!”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
here are times when magic really sucks.
Sure, it’s awesome when you’re using it to change your hair color, or fly, or turn day into night. But for the most part, magic tends to end in explosions, or tears, or with you flat on your back in the middle of nowhere, feeling like a tiny dwarf is mining for diamonds inside your head.
Okay, so maybe that last bit was just me.
One of the drawbacks of traveling by Itineris—a kind of magical portal that can take you from one place to another—is how rough it was on your body. Every trip I’d ever taken through one had left me feeling like I’d been turned inside out; but this time was particularly bad. I was actually shaking. Of course, that might have been from all the adrenaline. I felt like my heart was trying to throw itself out of my chest.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm my racing pulse. Okay. The Itineris had dropped me off…well, somewhere. I hadn’t quite worked out where yet, mostly because I still didn’t feel capable of opening my eyes. Wherever it was, it was quiet and hot. I ran my hands over the ground under me. Grass. A few rocks. Some sticks.
I took a ragged breath and thought about lifting my head. But the very idea of trying to move made every nerve ending I had scoff,
Yeah, don’t think so
Groaning, I clenched my teeth and decided now was as good a time as any to take stock.
Up until this morning, I’d been a demon and in possession of some pretty freaking-awesome magic. Thanks to a binding spell, that magic was gone. Well, not gone exactly; I could still feel it fluttering inside me like a butterfly under glass. But I couldn’t access any of my powers, so it might as well have been gone.
Also gone? My best friend, Jenna. And my dad. And Archer, the guy I was in love with. And Cal, my fiancé. (Yeah, my love life was complicated.)
For a second, the pain in my head was nothing compared to the pain in my chest as I thought about the four of them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure who to worry about more. Jenna was a vampire, which meant she could take care of herself, but I’d found her bloodstone crushed on the floor at Thorne Abbey. The bloodstone’s main job was to protect Jenna from all the side effects of vampiredom. If it had been taken from her in the daylight, the sun would kill her.
Then there was Dad. He’d been subjected to the Removal, which meant he was even more powerless than I was now. At least I still had my magic, useless as it was. Dad’s powers were gone forever. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been lying in a cell, pale and unconscious, covered in dark purple tattoos from the Removal. Archer had been with him, and as far as I knew, they had both
been locked in that cell when Thorne Abbey was attacked.
Still been trapped there when the Council used Daisy, another demon, to set Thorne Abbey on fire.
Cal had gone into the burning mansion to save them, but not before telling me to take the Itineris to find my mom, who was, for some reason, with Aislinn Brannick, leader of a group of monster hunters. And since the Brannicks saw
as one of those monsters, I couldn’t figure out why Mom would be with them.
That’s how I’d ended up lying flat on my back, Archer’s sword still clutched in my hand, my head aching. Maybe I could just lie here and wait for Mom to find
. That would be convenient.
I sighed as the wind rustled the leaves overhead. Yep, that was a solid plan. Lie here on the ground and wait for someone to come to me.
A bright light suddenly seared against my closed eyelids, and I winced, raising my hand to ward off whatever it was. When I opened my eyes, I honestly expected to see one of the Brannicks standing there, maybe with a torch or a flashlight.
What I wasn’t expecting was a ghost.
The ghost of Elodie Parris, to be exact, standing at my feet, glaring down at me, arms crossed. She was glowing so brightly that I squinted as I sat up. Elodie had been murdered by my great-grandmother nearly a year ago (long story), and thanks to a little shared magic between us before she died, her ghost was now tied to me.
“Oh, wow,” I croaked. “I was just lying here thinking this night could not get any worse, and then it totally did. Huh.”
Elodie rolled her eyes, and for just a second I thought her glow got a little brighter. She moved her mouth, but no sounds came out. One of the drawbacks of being a ghost—she couldn’t talk. From her expression and the little bit of lip-reading I could do, I thought that was probably a good thing.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Now is not the time for snarking.”
Using Archer’s sword as a crutch, I managed to get to my feet. There was no moon out, but thanks to Elodie’s luminescence, I could see…well, trees. Lots of them. And not much else.
“Any idea where we are?” I asked her.
She shrugged and mouthed, “Forest.”
“You think?” Okay, so the whole “no more snark” thing wasn’t off to a
start. I sighed and looked around. “It’s still night, so we must be in the same time zone. That means we couldn’t have gone too far. But it’s hot. Like, way hotter than it was at Thorne.”
Elodie’s mouth moved, and it took the two of us several tries before I could decipher what she was saying. Finally, I worked out that it was: “Where were you trying to go?”
“The Brannicks’,” I told her. At that, Elodie’s eyes went wide, and her lips started flying again, undoubtedly telling me what a freaking idiot I was.
“I know,” I said, holding up a hand to cut off her silent rant. “Scary Irish monster hunters, maybe not the best plan. But Cal said my mom was with them. And no,” I said, as her ghostly mouth opened up yet again, “I don’t know why. What I
know is that apparently the Itineris sucks, because the only scary redhead I see around here is you.” Sighing, I rubbed my free hand over my eyes. “So now we just—”
A howl split the air.
I gulped, and my fingers tightened on the sword’s hilt. “Now, we just hope that whatever that is, it doesn’t come this way,” I finished weakly.
Another howl, this one closer. In the distance, I could hear something crashing through the underbrush. For a second I thought about running, but my knees were so rubbery that just standing was a challenge. No way could I outrun a werewolf. Which meant staying and fighting.
Or, you know, staying and getting mauled.
“Awesome,” I muttered, lifting the sword, the muscles in my shoulders groaning. I felt my powers stir in the pit of my stomach, and a sudden terror shot through me. I was normal, I reminded myself. Just a regular seventeen-year-old girl, about to face against a werewolf with nothing more than…Okay, well, I did have a big-ass sword and a ghost. That had to count for something.
I glanced over at Elodie. She was staring into the woods, looking vaguely bored.
“Um, hi,” I said. “Werewolf headed this way. Are you even a little bit concerned about that?”
She smirked at me and gestured toward her glowing body. I read her lips: “Already dead.”
“Right. But if I get killed, too, you and I are
not becoming ghost BFFs.”