Page 16

Dad final y stopped in a section of the house that looked like it hadn't been used since Alice was here. The furniture was covered in heavy drop cloths, and a thick layer of dust and grime coated the portraits on the wal . In front of us was a heavy oak door, and when Dad pushed it open, I half expected someone's crazy locked-away wife to spring out at us.

But as I looked into the dim room, the only person I saw was me. Wel , lots of mes.

Nearly every square inch of wal was covered in mirrors of al kinds: huge mirrors in ornate frames that looked like they weighed three times more than me; tiny, round mirrors that only reflected little pieces of me; old mirrors, so warped and spotted that I could hardly see anything in them at al .

Dad crossed the room to open some gray velvet drapes, but when he tugged on them, the fabric fel away from the windows in a moldered heap.

"Oh, wel ,"he said, surveying the mess. "It's my house anyway."He raised his eyes to me. "I'm sure you're wondering why I've brought you here."

I moved to the center of the room, my strappy sandals clacking on the marble floor. "I'm assuming this is where the punishment part comes in,"I said. "So do I need to clean al these mirrors, or do I have to, like, stare at myself until I feel shamed or something?"

Surprisingly, Dad gave a tiny smile. "No, nothing quite that abstract. I want you to break one of the mirrors."

"Excuse me?"

Dad leaned back against the now-drapeless window and folded his arms over his chest. "Break a mirror, Sophie."

"With what, my head? Because I'm pretty sure that'd be corporal punishment, and Mom would not be cool with that."

"With your powers."

Ugh. I took in the dozens of mirrors and muttered, "I think I'd rather use my head."When Dad didn't say anything, I sighed and turned to face him.

"Okay, fine. Which one?"

He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Just pick one."

I studied the mirrors on the wal . One of the bigger ones might be easier to "target,"but when it inevitably exploded al over the place, there'd be a lot of flying glass to deal with. Best to pick one that might be harder to hit, but would cause less flaying and pain.

I settled on a mirror just to the left of Dad. It was about the size of my hand, and I focused al my concentration on it. Break.

The sound was nearly deafening as every single mirror in the room exploded outward in a sparkling spray. I screamed and threw my hands up, but the glass never touched me. It froze about three inches from my face, hovering there for a second, long enough for me to see my wide terrified eyes in thousands of bright shards. Then the pieces slowly began to slide backward toward the empty frames. There was a sound like a giant bubble popping, and suddenly the mirrors were whole again.

I whirled around. Dad was stil standing at the window, but he was holding both his hands out, and there was a fine sheen of sweat on his face.

When he dropped his arms, he sagged against the window seat and took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry!"I blurted out. "I told you, I suck at this. It's like any time I try to do a spel , it goes al big and scary and explodey, and-"

Dad rubbed his forehead. "No, Sophie, it's al right. That's what I'd hoped you would do."

"You hoped I'd commit mirrorcide?"

He laughed, but it sounded a little breathless. "No, I'd hoped to see just how powerful you real y are."His eyes were bright, and there was something that might have been pride in them. "You exceeded my expectations."

Chapter 10

"Wel , yay,"I said. "So glad my skil at blowing crap up impresses you, Dad."

"Your sarcasm is-"

"I know, I know, 'an unattractive quality in a young lady.'"

But Dad grinned and suddenly looked much younger and less like a guy who ironed his ties. "Actual y, I was going to say it's something you must've gotten from me. Grace always hated sarcastic comments."

"Oh, I know,"I replied without thinking. "I spent most of the seventh grade grounded because of it."

He snorted. "She once put me out by the side of the road in Scotland because I made a completely harmless joke about her map-reading skil s."

"Real y?"

"Mm-hmm. Had to walk nearly five bloody kilometers before she stopped to let me back in."

"Dude. Mom is hard-core."

For a moment we smiled at each other. Then Dad cleared his throat and looked away. "Anyway, your powers are definitely impressive, but what you lack is control."

"Yeah, I kind of picked up on that."

Dad pushed himself away from the window. "Alice taught you spel s."It wasn't a question.

"I sucked at those, too,"I said, not looking at him. "Elodie was able to catch on a lot faster than I did."

Dad watched me very closely for a second before saying, "Cal says that you used a transportation spel to get close enough to Alice to kil her."

"Cal has a big mouth,"I muttered.

"Did you?"he asked.

"Yes,"I said, "but I literal y moved like, five feet. It real y wasn't that impressive. Like I said, Elodie was able to do it a lot sooner than I could."

"But Elodie was a witch,"Dad said. "Focusing her powers would've been much easier for her."

"What do you mean?"

"Comparing your powers to Elodie's is like comparing a geyser to a water pistol. Your magic is much greater than hers was, but it's...unwieldy, let's say. Factor that in with the emotional distress you suffered at Hecate, and it's no surprise your spel s have a tendency to go-what was the word you used? Explodey?"

I shook my head. "My spel s were awful before I ever even went to Hex Hal , though. Remember the teacher who lost his memory? Or the whole prom disaster?"

"Same issue,"Dad replied. "Tremendous power, but no idea how to control it. And the more upset and afraid this makes you, the harder your powers are to handle."He walked across the room and took my hands. Just like with Daisy and Nick, I could sense his power rol ing through his veins. "I spent years feeling the same way, Sophie."

"Real y?"My voice was barely above a whisper.

He nodded. "I wasn't much older than you when my mother..."

He trailed off, and his fingers reflexively tightened on mine. "After my father's death,"he continued, "I would've ripped my powers out with my bare hands if I could have. Like you, I refused to use magic anymore because it scared me so much."

"I hadn't real y thought about that. What it must have been like for you."I tried to imagine how I would have felt if, instead of Alice kil ing Elodie, my dad had kil ed my mom, but the thought was too painful to even wrap my brain around. "So what changed your mind about your powers?"

Dad sighed and gave a smal sad smile. "It's a long story. Anyway, the point is that I eventual y learned how to control my powers to a very precise degree. For example-"

He lifted one long-fingered hand and pointed at the tiniest mirror in the room, a square of silver glass about three inches high that I hadn't even noticed. "Break,"he said in a low voice. I cringed, but only a hairline crack ran across the surface of the mirror.

"Okay,"I said slowly, "that was very unexplodey. So how did you do it?"

Dad dropped his hand and turned back to me. "A combination of things. Concentration, deep breaths..."

"Demon yoga?"I suggested, and he chuckled.

"Something like that. The best way I can explain it is to say that you and I-Daisy and Nick, Alice, my mother-we have powers of gods, but the bodies, souls, and minds of humans. Both parts of ourselves have to work together, or the magic is too much."

"And then we go crazy. Like Alice."

He nodded. "More or less. Now, try to break the mirror again, but this time, focus more on the human side of yourself than the demon part."

" exactly do I do that?"

Dad pul ed off his glasses and began cleaning them with a handkerchief from his front pocket. "There are several ways. You can think of a memory from before you came into your powers. Or focus on a time when you felt particularly strong human emotions: jealousy, fear, love..."

"What do you think about?"

Settling his glasses back on his nose, he replied, "Your mother."

"Oh."Wel , if it worked for him, maybe it would work for me. I picked out another mirror, this one medium-sized and in a frame made up of little gilt cherubs. I felt my power rushing up from my feet, but instead of flinging it out like I usual y do, I took a deep breath and pictured my mom's face. It was a memory from a year ago, just before everything went so wrong for us in Vermont. We were picking out my prom dress, and Mom was smiling, her green eyes bright.

Almost immediately, my heartbeat slowed, and I felt the magic move up more gradual y. When it final y reached my fingertips, I focused on the mirror, keeping Mom's face in my mind. "Break."

The mirror and the ones on either side of it shattered, little slivers of glass raining to the dusty floor. But stil , it was only three of them. And there had been a distinct lack of explosions. "Holy crap!"I breathed. A goofy smile spread across my face, and I realized it was the first time I'd felt magic drunk in months.

"Much better,"Dad said, waving his hand. In a few seconds, the mirrors were repaired. "Of course, the more you practice, the better you'l get. And the better you are at control ing your powers, the less probable it is you wil ever hurt anyone."

Now the euphoric feeling gave way to a nervous, fluttering feeling. "So you're saying that if I mastered this magical tai chi thing, I could keep from being Alice?"

"I'm saying it greatly reduces the chances, yes. I told you, Sophie. You have many more options than the Removal."

Because I couldn't think of anything to say, I just nodded and wiped my suddenly sweaty hands on my thighs. Practicing deep breaths and picturing people I loved seemed a lot better than having magical runes cut into my skin, but it was almost too much to believe that it could be this easy.

"Of course, the choice is yours, and you don't have to decide anything today,"Dad said. "But stil , me you'l consider it."

"Yeah,"I replied, but the word came out kind of squeaky. I cleared my throat. "Yeah,"I said again. "Of course I wil ."

I expected Dad to do his usual brisk thing and say something like, "Excel ent. I wil anxiously await your pronouncement on this significant matter."Instead, he just looked relieved and said, "Good."

Thinking we were done, I moved toward the door, but Dad stepped in front of it. "We're not quite finished yet."

I blinked at him, surprised. "I could try to break some more mirrors if you real y want me to, Dad, but I'm kind of wiped out. Between last night and today, there's been an awful lot of magic flyin'around for me, and-"

He shook his head. "No, not that. We have one more matter to discuss."

I didn't need my new psychic senses to tel me something bad was coming. "What?"

Dad took a deep breath and folded his arms. "I want you to tel me about Archer Cross."