Page 17

I stopped myself just before I reached into my pocket, but it stil felt like the coin was burning a hole in there. My mind flew in a mil ion different directions. How could Dad know that Archer was there last night? Did he know I'd taken the coin? Archer had said he'd use it to find me. Maybe Dad wanted to use it to lure him here.

But before I could have a mental breakdown, Dad said, "I know it's uncomfortable to talk about, but it's very important that I have a clearer understanding of what happened last semester."

"Oh,"I breathed, hoping it didn't sound too much like a sigh of relief. "I told you. Mrs. Casnoff made me write a statement to the Council a few weeks after it happened. Everything's in there."

"I read that. And neither I, nor the rest of the Council, believe it contains the entire truth."

I made a sound that I'd like to say was a cry of indignant outrage, but it was actual y closer to a bleat. Probably because Dad was right: that stupid statement didn't even begin to touch the whole truth.

"Your entanglement with Archer Cross-"

"We were never entangled,"I spluttered.

"Listen to me!"Dad snapped, and I shut my mouth with an audible click. He lowered his voice as he continued. "Did you see Archer at Shel ey's last night?"

For just a second, I thought about lying. But there was something in the way Dad was watching me that indicated he already knew the answer. Lie, and this whole thing would just get that much worse.

"Only for a minute."I said the words in a rush, like the faster I got them out there, the easier it would be. "But Dad, he protected me from the other Eyes. He could've given me to them, or kil ed me himself, but he didn't. And I think there's something weird with him being in The Eye, because he's stil using magic-"

Dad grabbed my shoulders. His grip wasn't al that tight, and it's not like he shook me or anything, but something in his gaze made the words dry up in my throat.

"You can never see him again. I'm saying this both as your father and as head of the Council. It is imperative that you have no further contact with Archer Cross."

I knew al of that. But there was something about having it actual y said out loud that physical y hurt. "I get it,"I said, looking down. "I'm a demon, he's an Eye. If we got together, think of how awkward family holidays would be. Magic and daggers flying around, knocking over the Christmas tree..."

Dad didn't crack a smile at my joke, but I couldn't blame him. I think the fact that I practical y choked out the words kil ed some of the humor.

"It's more than just that,"Dad said, releasing me and stepping back. He sighed. "Sophie, Archer Cross is perhaps the greatest threat Prodigium have ever faced."

I stared at him. "Okay, I know that The Eye freaks everyone out, but I saw them in action last night, Dad. They're not that scary, and Archer's one of the youngest ones."

"Yes, but he's also a warlock. In the past, The Eye has used the element of surprise and sheer numbers to hunt us down, much like what you saw last night. But if they were also capable of using magic? We'd lose the only advantage we have. The idea that L'Occhio di Dio could recruit one of our own is terrifying to Prodigium. It's why Archer Cross has to be found, and dealt with."

"You mean kil ed,"I said flatly.

"If that's the Council's ruling."

I walked over to the nearest window. It was warped with age, distorting my view of yet another garden. This one wasn't nearly as pretty as the others. The fountain was covered in moss, and one of the stone benches had cracked in half.

Dad came up behind me. In the glass, I watched his hands hover over my shoulders before coming to rest at his sides. "Sophie, I know this is difficult to understand, but these are very dangerous times for us. When we arrived, you asked why the Council was here at Thorne Abbey instead of in London."

"Lara said there had been some 'unforeseen events,'"I said without turning around.

His eyes met mine in the window, our faces wavy. "Yes. Namely, that L'Occhio di Dio burned Council Headquarters to the ground two months ago."

Now I did turn around. "What?"

"That's why there are only five Council members here at Thorne. The other seven died in the attack."

Even though I hadn't know any of the Council members, I felt his words like a punch in my gut. I couldn't think of anything to say but, "Why didn't we hear about that at Hecate?"

Dad turned away from me and walked over to one of the tiny gilt-and-velvet chairs that lined the wal s.

He sighed as he sank into it. "Because we're working very hard to keep that knowledge secret. If it got out, it would cause panic, and we simply can't afford that right now."

He looked back at me. "Can I be brutal y honest with you, Sophie?"

It would make a nice change, I considered saying. But I looked at his sagging shoulders, the naked fear on his face. Taking a deep breath, I nodded. "Please."

"Do you remember the war we talked about, between The Eye and Prodigium? It seems we are on the verge of another, but one that has the potential to be far, far worse. The Eye did not attack Council Headquarters on their own. They had help from the Brannicks."He paused, his eyes searching my face. "Do you know anything about the Brannicks?"

"Irish girls, red hair,"I replied, remembering a picture of them from Mrs. Casnoff's "People Who Want to Kil Us Al "lecture at Hex Hal last year. I also remembered Mrs. Casnoff saying that if the Brannicks and The Eye ever teamed up, we were screwed. "They're like white witches, aren't they?"I asked.

"Descended from one, yes. They don't have any powers anymore, not real y. They heal more quickly than regular humans, and there's stil the odd bit of magic that surfaces in some of them. Mild telekinesis, precognition, that kind of thing. Their numbers have diminished over the years, but they have a new leader, Aislinn Brannick. Apparently, she's a great deal more ambitious than her predecessors. And now it seems she's reached out to The Eye."

My magic buzz was completely gone now, and I leaned against the windowsil . "Why? I mean, what changed to make them team up and get so serious about kil ing us?"

"Nick and Daisy,"he said flatly. "The knowledge that someone has started raising demons for the first time in sixty years has put them on edge. But of course, most Prodigium are equal y distressed that one of our kind is part of their ranks. The entire situation is...wel , I'm afraid tense doesn't begin to cover it. Combustible, let's say."He got up, coming to stand in front of me again. "Sophie, do you understand now why I wil do anything to convince you not to go through with the Removal?"

Great. More about my duty, and great responsibility coming with great power and al that. "Sure,"I said, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice.

"It's like you said the other night about Alice: demons make pretty awesome weapons, and if there's a big war coming, you guys wil need me, right?"

Dad stared at me, frowning, and I tore my eyes away from his, biting the inside of my cheek.

"No,"he said at last. "That's not it at al ."He touched my shoulder until I looked at him again. "Sophie, I would never use you as a weapon. I want you to have your powers so that you'l be safe. The thought of you completely defenseless against The Eye and the Brannicks?"His voice shook on the last word. He cleared his throat. "It terrifies me."

I blinked against the sudden stinging in my eyes. "But if I went through the Removal, they wouldn't be after me anymore, right?"I hadn't meant for it to sound so much like a plea.

Dad shook his head. "It wouldn't matter if you had your powers or not. You're stil my daughter. At least with your powers, you can defend yourself."

My hands were trembling, so I shoved them into my pockets. My fingers brushed the gold coin, and I jerked as though it had burned me. Dad glanced down, and I quickly said, "Why didn't you just tel me that in the first place?"

His eyes met mine. "Why haven't you told me the truth about you and Archer?"

"We were just friends,"I said. "How many times do I have to say it?"

When he didn't say anything, I rol ed my eyes. "Okay, so I liked him. I had a crush on him, and-"I wasn't sure if the heat in my face was from embarrassment or anger. "And yes, one time we kissed. But it was just the once, and about ten seconds afterward, I found out he was an Eye."

Dad nodded. "And that's it. That's the whole story."

Why oh why wasn't there a giant hole in the floor that I could plummet through, preferably to my death? "Yeah, that's it."

"Wel , that's something,"Dad said, running a hand through his hair. "At some point, I want you to add that to your original statement."

We were quiet for a long time before I wiped my sweaty palms on my dress and said, "Is there anything else horrible happening that I need to know about?"

Dad gave a humorless laugh as he ushered me toward the door. "I believe that covers al the current horror."

Another question suddenly occurred to me. "What about Nick and Daisy, Dad? I know you said you didn't want to use me as a weapon, but-"

"Never."His voice was quiet but steely. "What was done to them was a crime, and whoever did it is responsible for the dire situation in which we now find ourselves. Which is why finding out who changed them is so important."

We paused on the landing. "What do you mean?"

"There is one other way to rid a demon of his or her powers besides the Removal. That's for the person who original y performed the ritual to reverse it. Obviously, it's too late for the two of us, since we're third- and fourth-generation demons, and our maker is long dead. But it's stil possible for Nick and Daisy."

I thought of them last night, so forlorn, talking about magic "pounding"inside their heads. "They'd like that."

"I know,"Dad replied. "And I'm also hoping that doing so wil ...wel , if not appease The Eye, at least remove some of their drive."

I looked at Dad. I mean, real y looked at him. His suit was probably a size too big, and there were deep creases, like parentheses, on either side of his mouth. He was a handsome guy, sure, but he seemed more exhausted than I'd known a person could be.

"Look,"I said. "Don't get super-psyched or anything, but maybe...maybe we could do this again tomorrow. You know, the demon yoga thing."

Somewhere in the house, several clocks began chiming. They rang out three times before Dad said, "I would like that."

We walked down the stairs in silence, and after making plans to see me at dinner, Dad headed back to his office while I went to my room to check my e-mail.

There was a reply from Mrs. Casnoff, but al it said was, "Thank you for informing me."

I leaned back in my chair and rested my crossed forearms on top of my head. She didn't seem al that concerned. That had to be good, though.

Especial y since the last thing I needed was Elodie's ghost hanging around. I already had enough on my plate.

The gold coin was heavy in my palm as I pul ed it out of my pocket. I studied it for a long time before getting up and slipping it in my bedside drawer.