Jasper ran ahead and opened the door. I swept inside, already bellowing, “Morgan!”
We burst into the kitchen. Omar and Miesha were at the long island, in the middle of preparing a super-sized bowl of salad for dinner. They gawked at our sudden appearance.
“Where’s Morgan?” I demanded.
Omar’s eyes widened. “She—she’s gone for the—”
“Where’s Terrance?” I cut in.
“He went to get some—”
“Is he nearby? Go get him!” I snarled. I set Nadine on the counter, then shoved everything out of the way. Miesha grabbed a cutting board before it fell, then swiftly cleared the island of the salad dishes. With my help, Nadine lay back, her eyes showing white all the way around and her breathing fast and shallow.
I didn’t think snake venom worked that fast—she was probably just terrified—but I also knew the only type of rattlesnake that lived in these parts was no laughing matter.
I swung toward Omar. “She needs a hospital.”
“But—but that’s—we can’t—”
“Is anyone here a healer?”
“No. There are alchemy treatments for snake bites but I don’t—” He broke off, his attention flitting to something behind me. Miesha, Jasper, Kayden, and Nadine went rigid as well.
I spun around.
The Ghost had appeared in the kitchen doorway, and I wouldn’t have recognized him if not for the unnatural shadows beneath his hood that concealed his face. Instead of his usual villain coat, he wore a black sweater and lounge pants, his hands and feet bare. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve assumed my shouting had woken him from a nap—but evil rogue mythics didn’t take naps.
He strode into the kitchen, and Jasper and Kayden scrambled out of his way. His hood moved as he scanned Nadine from head to toe, his attention stopping on the punctures in her jeans.
At that raspy, rumbly command, everyone shot for the kitchen door. Everyone except yours truly.
The Ghost’s hidden gaze appraised me. I planted my feet, hands clenched as I glared at him, silently daring him to blast me into Tori goo. That’s the only way I was budging.
He flicked his hand at Nadine. “Get her pants off.”
My hackles rose. Yes, it made sense that her pants needed to come off before her leg swelled, but hearing it from him made me want to throw myself over Nadine and shield her.
He didn’t wait for me to obey. Sweeping an arm over the counter, he sent a pile of vegetable peelings spilling onto the floor, then strode to the wall of alchemy bottles and pulled down items. With shaking hands, Nadine unbuttoned her fly. I jumped to her side and helped pull her jeans off. Her ankle was already fattening, the skin pink around the twin punctures in her pale skin. She self-consciously pulled her shirt down over her underwear.
The Ghost pulled more supplies from the cabinet under the shelves, and I watched as he turned to the spot he’d cleared on the counter and drew a circle on the wood in chalk. After filling the white ring with strange symbols, he opened a bottle, poured the yellow liquid into a large bowl, then placed the bowl in the circle’s center. Dried leaves went on top of a drawn symbol. A tiny bowl got a few drops of a green liquid thicker than syrup.
He worked swiftly, no hesitation in his movements. I glanced at Nadine’s leg, shocked to see how much the swelling had spread. A quiet whimper escaped her, and I caught her hand, squeezing it comfortingly. She gripped my fingers with painful force, panting for air.
“My face is going numb,” she whispered.
“You’ll be fine,” I told her, one eye on the Ghost as he added another ingredient to his concoction.
Pushing the bottles aside, he pulled a steak knife from the block behind him and nudged his sleeve up. Dark tattoos wrapped his forearm—on the top was a pattern like black feathers sweeping down from his upper arm, and on the underside were five elaborate circles, four containing complex runes and one empty.
He nicked the ink-free skin just above his wrist. Blood dripped onto a rune he’d drawn on the counter. The chalky lines hissed, faint steam rising from them.
Tossing the knife onto the back counter, he chanted softly, the archaic words rumbling from him in a mesmerizing cadence. The lines of the circular spell hissed louder and began to glow. His voice rose slightly on the final phrase of the incantation.
Light oozed from the circle. The ingredients he’d added around the center bowl glowed, and tendrils of colored smoke rose from them. The vibrant mist spiraled upward before sucking into the bowl. A puff of rainbow mist whooshed out, then all light and color faded. The ingredients from the outer circle were gone, replaced by piles of powdered ash.
The Ghost grabbed a white tea towel and ripped it in half, then dunked one piece into the bowl. Carrying it over to Nadine, he pulled the rag out, dripping with greenish liquid, and wrapped the soaked fabric around her swollen ankle.
She let out a soft breath. After a minute, the cloth began to turn brown. Warily, I watched the stain spread and darken, wondering what the hell was happening. The Ghost waited a bit longer, then pulled the cloth off her leg, opened the cupboard under the sink, and dropped it into the garbage.
Half an hour of intensive work, three minutes of treatment, then straight into the trash?
The back of my neck prickled and I looked over my shoulder. Terrance stood in the doorway, and crowded behind him were most of the mythics who lived here. They observed silently, craning to see what was happening.
The Ghost examined Nadine’s leg—or I assumed that’s what he was doing, but it was hard to tell with the stupid magic shadows in his hood—then pressed his wrist to her forehead, checking her temperature. She stiffened, her eyes wide and pink tinging her cheeks. As he pulled his hand away, I glimpsed the rune tattooed over his palm.
“Watch over her for the night,” he ordered, directing the command at me. “If the swelling doesn’t go down or if she develops a fever, get Terrance.”
Then he strode out of the kitchen, the mythics pressing against the walls as he brushed past them. A moment later, the upstairs door banged shut.
Silence pulsed through the house, then everyone poured into the kitchen, surrounding me and Nadine in a chaotic bustle.
“Did you see that?”
“He didn’t check a grimoire once.”
“He didn’t even measure anything!”
“Terrance, could you have transmuted a poultice potion that fast?”
Terrance shook his head. “It would have taken me over an hour on a good day.”
Jasper’s eyes glowed with admiration. “And that’s why he’s the best alchemist on the west coast. Damn. I can’t wait to start my apprenticeship.”
“You won’t be apprenticing with him,” another guy snapped.
I gulped. Yeah, I’d guessed the Ghost wasn’t merely a druid, but there was my confirmation. Kai was right. The Ghost was a di-mythic: a scary dark druid and a gifted alchemist. Oh joy.
A twinge of pain ran through my hand and I realized Nadine was still clutching my fingers as she stared at the counter. I followed her gaze. Drops of drying blood splattered the wood—the Ghost’s blood.
“Okay,” Terrance said, his quiet voice cutting through the chatter. “Let’s clean this up and finish dinner. Victoria, will you help Nadine to her room? We’ll bring you two some food.”
Nodding, I pulled Nadine’s arm around my shoulders and helped her limp out of the kitchen. As we left, the captive mythics cleaned up the mess on the floor while Terrance returned the alchemy ingredients to the shelves.
In the quiet bedroom, Nadine sat on her bunk and I sat across from her.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Better.” She stretched her bare leg out and wiggled her puffy toes. “My leg is throbbing but most of the pain is gone.”
I huffed in relief. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
She peeked at me through her eyelashes. “Thank you.”
“For what? I wasn’t the one who concocted magical antivenom out of nothing.”
“You saved me from the snake.”
“Oh.” I shrugged. “I wasn’t about to let it bite you a second time.”
“Well … thanks.”
As she laid back on her pillow, I pulled the blankets over her bare legs and perched on my mattress again, squinting at the ceiling.
I could explain the Ghost’s quick response as a slave master protecting his investment. But I was having trouble explaining his captives’ reaction. When they’d come into the kitchen, that hadn’t been fear or wariness. It had been respect and amazement.
Already I’d suspected this wasn’t your typical “captor and his prisoners” scenario, and their open admiration supported my vague theory. Whatever was going on, they didn’t see him as their captor. They saw him as their leader.
This wasn’t a secret abduction operation disguised as a hippy farm for mythics. It was a cult. And somehow the Ghost had convinced these people he was their savior. Their guardian. And they would protect him in turn.
Which meant I couldn’t count on anyone’s help in escaping this place. I was on my own in the worst way possible.