I turned away from the pictures to skim the text.
Formed in 1129, the society began in France as an offshoot of the Knights Templar. Originally a group of holy knights charged with ridding the world of demons,the group soon relocated to Italy, where they took on the official title, ll'Occhio di Dio--The Eye of God. The group soon became well known for their brutal acts against all manner of Prodigium, but they were also known to attack any human who aided Prodigium. Over time they morphed from holy warriors into something more akin to a terrorist organization. Highly secretive, ll'Occhio di Dio is an elite group of assassins with only one goal--the total destruction of all Prodigium.
"Well, that's nice," I murmured to myself.
I flipped through more pages. The rest of the book seemed to be a history of the group's leaders and their most notable Prodigium victims. I scanned the list of names, but I didn't see Alice Barrow on there. Maybe Mrs. Casnoff had been wrong and she wasn't that big a deal after all.
I was about to put the book back on the shelf when a black-and-white illustration caught my eye and sent chills through me. It showed a witch lying on a bed, her head lolling to the side, her eyes blank. There were two somber men in black standing behind her, looking down at the body. Their shirts were opened just enough so that I could see the tattoos over their hearts. One was holding a long thin stick with a pointed end, almost like an ice pick. The other man held a jar of suspicious-looking black liquid. I glanced down at the caption under the picture.
Although the removal of the heart is the most common means of execution employed by The Eye, the group has been known to drain the blood of Prodigium. Whether this is done to implicate vampires or some other reason is not known.
I shivered as I stared at that blank-eyed witch. There weren't any holes in her neck, like they'd found on Holly, but the men had clearly drained her blood somehow.
But that was impossible. We were on an island, and there were more protection spells around this place than I could count. Surely there was no way a member of The Eye could get in undetected.
I flipped back through the book, looking for any chapters about The Eye getting past protective spells, but everything I read said that The Eye didn't use magic, just brute force.
Later, after I'd snuck the book up to my room, I showed the picture to Jenna.
I thought she'd be interested, but instead she barely looked at it before turning away and climbing into her bed. "ll'Occhio di Dio doesn't kill like that," she said as she turned out the lights. "They're never secretive, or anything. They want people to know it was them."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
She just lay there, and I thought she wasn't going to answer me.
Then, out of the darkness, she said, "Because I've seen them."
Two days later I started cellar duty.
I should say upfront that I have never been in a cellar in my life. In fact, I can see no reason why anyone should ever go into a cellar unless there is wine involved.
This cellar seemed particularly unwelcoming. For one thing, the floor was just hard-packed dirt, which . . . ew. The air was cool despite the heat outside, and it smelled musty and damp. Add to that the high ceiling with its bare lightbulbs, the one tiny window that looked out on the compost pile behind the school, and the endless shelves of dusty junk, and I suddenly understood why a full semester of cellar duty sucked so bad. Not only that, but the Vandy had decided to be especially evil and give it to us three nights a week, right after dinner. So while everyone else was hanging out in their room, or working on one of Lord Byron's epic essays, Archer and I would be cataloguing a bunch of crap the Council thought was too important to throw away but not important enough to store at Council headquarters in London.
Jenna had tried to cheer me up that morning, saying, "At least you have it with a hot guy."
"Archer isn't hot anymore," I'd fired back. "He tried to kill me, and his girlfriend is Satan."
But I have to admit that as we stood beside each other on the cellar steps and listened to the Vandy ramble on about what we were supposed to do down there, I couldn't help but sneak sideways glances at him and notice that, homicidal tendencies and evil girlfriends aside, he was still hot. As usual, his tie was loose and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. He was watching the Vandy with this bored, vaguely amused look, arms crossed over his chest.
That pose did most excellent things for his chest and arms. How unfair was it that Elodie of all people got that as a boyfriend? I mean, where is the justice when--
"Miss Mercer!" the Vandy barked, and I jumped high enough to nearly lose my balance.
I clutched the banister next to me, and Archer caught my other elbow.
Then he winked, and I immediately turned my attention back to the Vandy like she was the most fascinating person I'd ever seen.
"Do you need me to repeat anything, Miss Mercer?" she sneered.
"N-no. I got it," I stammered.
She stared at me for a minute. I think she was trying to come up with a witty put-down. But the Vandy, like most mean people, was dumb, so in the end, she just sort of growled and pushed between me and Archer to stalk up the stairs.
"One hour!" she called over her shoulder.
The ancient door didn't so much creak as scream in pain as she pushed it closed.
To my horror, I heard a loud click.
"Did she just lock us in?" I asked Archer, my voice sounding way higher than I'd intended.
"Yep," he replied, jogging down the steps to pick up one of the clipboards the Vandy had left precariously perched on a row of jars.
"But that's . . . isn't that illegal?"
He smiled but didn't look up from his clipboard. "You've really gotta let go of charming human issues like legality, Mercer."
He looked up all of a sudden, his eyes wide. "Oh! Just remembered something."
He put the clipboard down and fished in his pocket for a second.
"Here," he said, walking over to me and pressing something light into my open hand.
I looked down.
It was a wad of Kleenex.
"You're a jackass." I tossed the tissues at his feet and stomped past him. My face was flaming.
"No wonder Elodie's your girlfriend," I muttered as I picked up the clipboard. I made a big show of flipping through the pages. There were twenty in all, with about fifty items listed on each. My eyes skimmed over some of them, noting things like "Noose: Rebecca Nurse" and "Severed Hand: A. Voldari."
I ripped off the top ten pages and handed them to Archer, along with a pen.
"You take this half," I said, not meeting his eyes. Then I walked over to the shelf farthest from him, the one right under the little window.
He didn't move for a moment, and I could tell there was something he wanted to say, but in the end he just sighed and walked over to the opposite side of the room.
For about fifteen minutes we worked in total silence. Even though the Vandy had spent forever explaining the job to us, it was actually pretty easy, if ridiculously tedious, work. We had to look at the items on the shelves and then find them on the sheets of paper and write down which shelf they were on and what slot on that shelf they were in. The only thing that made it difficult was that none of the items were labeled, so it was sometimes hard to figure out what they were. Like, on Shelf G, Slot 5, there was a scrap of red cloth that could've been "Piece of Cover, Grimoire: C. Catellan" or "Fragment of Ceremonial Robe: S. Cristakos."
Or it could have been neither of those things and something on Archer's list. It would've gone faster if we'd worked together, but I was still pissed off about the Kleenex thing.
I squatted down and picked up a tattered leather drum. My eyes scanned the list, but I wasn't really seeing anything. I knew I shouldn't have cried in front of him, but I couldn't believe he'd be enough of a jerk to make fun of me for it. Not like we were best buddies or anything, but that first night I felt like we'd bonded a little.
"It was a joke," he said suddenly. I whirled around to find him crouched behind me.
"Whatever." I turned back to the shelf.
"What did you mean about me and Elodie?" he asked.
I rolled my eyes as I stood up and walked to Shelf H. "Is it really that hard to figure out? I mean, she got quite a big laugh at my expense the other day, so it's only appropriate that you, as her boyfriend, would also enjoy mocking me. It's so sweet when couples can share hobbies."
"Hey," he snapped. "Elodie's little stunt got me in here too, remember? I tried to help you out."
"So did not ask you to," I replied, pretending to intently study what at first appeared to be a bunch of leaves floating in a jar of amber liquid.
Then I realized they weren't leaves but tiny faerie corpses.
Suppressing the urge to fling it away from me and make some sort of
"NEEEEUUUUUNGGGHH!" sound, I rifled through my pages, looking for something that read "Small Dead Faeries."
"Well, don't worry," Archer snapped, flipping through his own pages.
"It won't happen again."
We were quiet for a moment, both of us looking at our lists.
"Have you seen anything that could be part of an altar cloth?" he asked at last.
"Check Shelf G, Slot 5," I replied.
Then out of nowhere, he said, "She's not that bad, you know. Elodie.
You just have to get to know her."
"Is that what happened with the two of you?"
I swallowed, suddenly nervous. I really didn't want to hear Archer wax poetic about Elodie, but I was also genuinely curious.
"Jenna said that you used to be, like, a card-carrying member of the We Hate Elodie club. What gives?"
He looked away and started picking up random things without really seeing them. "She changed," he said quietly. "After Holly died--you know about Holly?"
I nodded. "Jenna's roommate. Elodie, Chaston, and Anna filled me in."
He ran a hand through his dark hair. "Yeah. They're still really hung up on blaming Jenna. Anyway, Elodie and Holly had been really close when they started here, and Holly and I had been betrothed--"
"Hold up," I said, raising a hand. "Betrothed?"
He looked confused. "Yeah. All witches are betrothed to an available warlock on their thirteenth birthday. A year after they come into their powers."
He frowned. "Are you okay?" he asked. I'm sure I was making a pretty strange face. At thirteen I was thinking about allowing a boy's tongue into my mouth. Getting engaged would've been pretty far beyond me.
"Fine," I mumbled. "That's just weird to think about. It's so . . . Jane Austen."
"It's not that bad."
"Right. Arranged marriages for teenagers are a good thing."
He shook his head. "We don't get married as teenagers, just betrothed.
And the witch always has the right to refuse or accept the betrothal and change her mind later. But the match is usually a good one, based on complementary powers, personalities. Stuff like that."
"Whatever. I can't even imagine having a fiance."
"You probably have one, you know."
I stared at him. "Excuse me?"