"It just seems like overkil when you already have a dagger and I have superpowerful magic at my disposal."
"'Superpowerful?'"He stood up, a gold chain dangling from his fingers. "Let me remind you of two words, Mercer: Bad. Dog. "
I rol ed my eyes. "That was nearly a year ago. I'm way better now."
"Yeah, wel , I'm not taking any chances,"he said. For the first time, I noticed there was some sort of holster thing on his back. He slid the sword into it so the hilt rose over his shoulders. "Besides,"he added, "I thought you might not come. After what happened the other night..."he paused, studying my face. "Are you al right?"
"I wil be when people stop asking me that."
"You know I had nothing to do with that, right?"
"Yeah,"I replied. "And if you did have something to do with it, I wil vaporize you where you stand."
The corner of his mouth quirked. "Good to know."
He closed the distance between us, coming to stand entirely too close to me. "What are you doing?"I asked, hoping I didn't sound as breathless as I felt.
He lifted his hands, and with surprising gentleness, placed the chain around both our necks. Looking down at it, I saw that the links were actual y tiny figures holding hands. I'd seen it somewhere before.
"This is the necklace one of the angels is wearing in the window at Hex Hal ."
"It is indeed."
Reaching down to take my hands, he explained, "It's also a very powerful protection charm, which we're going to need."
I swal owed as we laced our fingers and stepped closer to the Itineris. "Why?"
"Because we're going a very long way."
I involuntarily squeezed his fingers with mine. The last time I'd traveled through the Itineris, I'd only gone a few hundred miles, and that had made my head nearly explode. "Where are we going?"I asked.
"Graymalkin Island,"he answered. And then he yanked me into the doorway.
Archer's necklace thing may have spared us the crushing headache and loss of breath, but it didn't make the landing any more graceful. We were tossed into a thick copse of trees as we came out of the blackness, and I immediately tripped over a huge exposed root, scraping my elbow on a branch as I went down.
Unfortunately, since the necklace was looped around both our necks, that meant Archer fel too. On top of me.
In another lifetime, that might have been kind of pleasant. And yeah, he stil smel ed nice, and as I grabbed his shoulders to push him away, I remembered that he was a lot stronger than his thin frame would suggest.
But none of that mattered. I didn't get to notice those things about him anymore.
The ground I was lying on was muddy, and I had a feeling I'd be pul ing leaves and twigs out of my hair for al eternity. "Get off of me!"I mumbled against his col arbone, shoving at him. He rol ed over onto his back, his sword clanging against a rock or exposed root, but thanks to the necklace, that just pul ed me half on top of him.
"And here I thought you were playing hard to get,"he whispered. Moonlight glinted in his eyes, and he sounded a little out of breath. I told myself it was just from the fal .
I thwacked his chest with the palm of my hand, then ducked my head underneath the necklace. Once I was free, I scooted away from him. "Let me guess,"I hissed, nodding at the chain. "Something else you stole from Hex Hal ."
He pushed himself to his feet. "Guilty."
"Where the heck was I while you were playing Grand Theft Cel ar?"
"I only took a few things, and most of those I grabbed during those last few weeks when you weren't talking to me."
I remembered that time now, right after the Al Hal ow's Eve Bal . Thanks to the weirdness of that night, Archer and I had spent a lot of cel ar duties avoiding each other. No wonder he'd been able to stuff al sorts of magical things into his pockets.
"Is that why you defended me in Vandy's class?
Were you hoping to get cel ar duty just so you could lift stuff?"
Dusting debris off his shirt, Archer shook his head. "Believe it or not, Mercer, I'm not quite that calculating. I stood up to Vandy because I felt like it.
Getting to snag stuff out of the cel ar ended up being a bonus."He turned his back on me and started walking away. "Now come on. It's a long walk."
"Why can't you just tel me what's going on?"I asked as we made our way out of the grove.
"Because I'm not sure you'd believe me. Easier to show you."
I'd never been on this part of Graymalkin before, and I was struck by how different it looked from the land surrounding Hecate. There was no thick, emerald grass underfoot, or majestic oak trees. The only plants were scrubby pine trees and unidentifiable bushes, and the ground was a mix of damp sand and rocks. From the smel , I knew we were close to the ocean, and sure enough, as we climbed a rise, the water suddenly spread out before us, lapping gently against the shore. The moon was nearly ful , making a wide band of silver light on the black water.
"Where are we? Like, in relation to the school."
"We're on the other side of the island,"Archer replied.
"It looks so different."
Archer glanced over his shoulder. "That's because there's a spel on the school grounds. Jessica Prentiss did it when she built the house.
Apparently she was homesick, because she made it look like her family's place in Louisiana, right down to the landscaping."He paused. "Seriously, Mercer, didn't you pay attention in any of our classes?"
"Sorry, I was a little distracted, what with al the people dying."
He stopped suddenly. "To be fair,"he said, his voice light, but his shoulders tense, "only one person died. Elodie."
We were both frozen now, standing several feet apart on the little hil overlooking the sea. "So you do know about that."
He nodded. "Yeah. We, uh, got a report about everything a few months ago."Rubbing the back of his neck, he turned so he was facing the sea. "I didn't...al of that was never real. Her and me. At least not on my part. And there were days when I thought if I had to spend one more second listening to her talk about beauty spel s or shoes, I was going to go insane. Stil , when I read the report..."He dropped his head and made a sound that would have been a laugh if it hadn't been so sad. "It was like being punched in the gut, you know?"
Even though he stil had his back to me, I nodded. "Yeah."
"It's just hard to believe that someone like her could be gone."
I remembered Elodie's ghostly eyes looking into mine, the nod of her head, and thought about tel ing him that Elodie was maybe a little less gone than we al thought.
Then he shook his head and headed farther down the path and onto the beach. I fol owed him, gritting my teeth as sand fil ed my shoes. "So why were you with her?"
"She was my assignment."
"From The Eye?"
"No, from the Boy Scouts. That Witch Dating badge just kept eluding me."
"Wel , you must have at least three Total Douchebag badges by now, so that has to count for something. What about Hol y? Was that fake, too?"I was panting slightly, thanks to trying to keep up with him. Stupid short legs.
He had his hands in his pockets, and his head was slightly down, like he was walking against the wind. "You know, these were al things I was wil ing to tel you several weeks ago. Too bad you decided to stand me up."
I had caught up to him by now, and I snagged his elbow, doing my best to ignore the little thril that went through me even at that innocent touch.
"How is that you can go from decent human being to complete jackass in zero-point-two seconds? Do they teach you that in The Eye?"
He stopped, and his eyes glided over my lips. "Actual y, I'm just trying to see if I can make you mad enough to kiss me again."
My heart, which only seconds ago had been racing, suddenly seemed to stumble in my chest. I immediately dropped his arm and moved ahead of him. "I don't want to talk about that,"I said as I walked quickly down the beach.
I had no idea where I was going, but at that point, walking straight into the sea didn't seem like such a bad idea. For months I'd been torturing myself, wondering if Archer kissing me had just been part of his act. But he was right, he hadn't kissed me. I had kissed him, and he'd just...
responded. God, I was a moron.
Archer caught up with me, but I kept looking straight ahead.
"Look, forget it,"I said. "Just show me whatever it was you dragged me out here to see."
"Fine,"he replied, his voice clipped.
We walked down the beach in total silence. In the moonlight, our shadows stretched out before us, almost touching.
Final y we reached a smal cove, and Archer turned right, back up the hil and into the forest again. Once more, the trees were so thick, I could barely see anything.
We were only a few feet into the woods when Archer said, "I just thought we should talk about it. Isn't that what you were getting at?"
I turned toward him, but al I could see was his silhouette. Maybe it was the darkness, the fact that I couldn't see his face, but suddenly, six months'worth of anger, confusion, and sadness spil ed out of me. "No, Cross, it wasn't. Okay, so we kissed for, like, three minutes. I knew you for months before that. We-we were friends. I asked you al that stuff about demons, and you knew what I was. Don't you get why that might be a little upsetting?"
He didn't reply, but then, I didn't real y give him a chance to. "Al that time we were down there in the cel ar, and I was tel ing you stuff- real stuff-about me, you were just, what? Lying? Casing the joint? Taking mental notes for your bosses? Is there any part of the Archer I knew that actual y exists?"
Breathing hard, I stared at his dark form, trying to read anything in his body language. He didn't move, but after a few moments, he blew out a long breath and said, "Okay. I've lived with The Eye for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was about two or three."
"What about your parents?"
He shouldered past me, walking deeper into the forest. "Kil ed, but no one knew by what. Whatever it was, it drew the attention of The Eye. They got word of a dead witch and warlock, and went to investigate. Found my parents'bodies, and then when they were searching the house, me. I guess no one felt comfortable about kil ing a toddler, so the team took me back to La Reina. That's what they cal the leader of L'Occhio di Dio. Wel , when it's a woman, at least. She saw the potential in raising a warlock as an Eye."
A branch brushed against my cheek, and I ducked around it. "Where did al this happen?"
I could practical y hear him shrug. "Don't know. They never told me."
"So you don't know where you're from?"
"I don't even know what my real name is, Mercer. La Reina was the one who cal ed me Archer, after an Eye who'd just been kil ed in battle. Anyway, she let me live, and gave me to a warlock she'd recruited, Simon Cross. He was the one who decided I should infiltrate Hecate, and-what are you doing?"
I had stopped as soon as he'd said "warlock she'd recruited."
"There are other Prodigium who work with The Eye?"