Then Mrs. Casnoff said, "You're sure it was the mark of The Eye."
It was the third time she'd asked me, but I just nodded and tried to bring my shaking teacup to my lips.
She gave a sigh that made her sound a hundred years old. "But how?"
she asked for the third time. "How could one of ours be ll'Occhio di Dio?"
I closed my eyes and finally drank. I was right: the tea was fortified with some kind of alcohol. It hit my stomach in a warm wave, but it did nothing to stop the shivering.
How? I thought. How?
I tried to answer the question for myself, wondering if he'd sought them out last year when he'd left Hecate for a while. But that was a logical question, and my brain felt totally incapable of dealing with logic right now.
Archer was an Eye. Archer had tried to kill me.
I kept repeating it in my head. Almost from a distance, I wondered if Archer had only befriended me, pretended to like me, so that he'd have a chance to get close to me. Was that the reason he'd started dating Elodie?
I rubbed my hand over my chest, just above my heart. Mrs. Casnoff watched with a look of concern. "Did he hurt you?"
"No," I told her. "He didn't."
Nowhere you could see, at least.
"Looks like you got a few good blows in, though," the Vandy piped up, nodding toward my right hand, which was turning purplish and swelling up from its runin with Archer's jaw.
I raised my eyes to her. "Yeah," I said flatly. "Thanks for your high-quality defense lessons. Much appreciated."
"I just don't understand," Mrs. Casnoff said, dazed. "We should have known. We should have been able to sense it. Or someone should have seen his mark."
I shook my head. "It was hidden. It only appeared because . . ."
Because of Alice's protection spell, I thought, but I didn't want to tell them about Alice. "I did a protection spell on myself," I lied. As usual I sucked at lying, but they were too shaken up to notice. "When I touched the mark, it appeared."
Mrs. Casnoff looked at me. "You touched it?"
I felt my face flame with embarrassment. Like it wasn't bad enough that the boy I loved had turned out to be an assassin, now I was going to get busted for making out in the cellar.
Luckily, Mr. Ferguson, the shapeshifter teacher, came in, shaking rain off his heavy leather coat. There was an enormous Irish wolfhound at his side, as well as a golden mountain lion. As I watched, the wolfhound stood and became Gregory Davidson, one of the older kids on campus. The mountain lion was Taylor. For the first time since Beth had told her who my father was, Taylor wasn't glaring at me. In fact, I was pretty sure I saw pity in her eyes.
"No sign of him, Mrs. C.," Mr. Ferguson said. "We searched the whole island."
Mrs. Casnoff sighed. "None of my tracking spells have turned up anything either. It's as though he vanished into thin air."
She massaged her temples and said, "The much more pressing issue now is informing the Council that we were infiltrated. Your father will definitely want to hear of this, and then of course, our security spells will have to be strengthened, and the other students will have to be told what happened."
Her voice wavered on the last word, and to my horror, she dropped her face into her hand with what sounded like a sob.
I shrugged off the afghan and draped it over her shoulders.
"It'll be okay."
She looked up at me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'm so very sorry, Sophie. I should have listened to you."
Just a few hours ago, those words from Mrs. Casnoff would have had me dancing in the streets. Now I just smiled sadly and said, "Don't worry about it." I was glad that this meant Jenna might be able to come back, but that one piece of happy was buried under a compost pile of hurt, sadness, and anger. I'd wanted to be proven right, but not like this.
I left Mrs. Casnoff, Ferguson, and the Vandy planning an assembly for the next morning, and headed for my room. Though I missed Jenna, tonight I was actually looking forward to being alone.
Call met me at the foot of the stairs.
"I'm okay," I said, holding up my hand. "It'll heal on its own."
"It's not that. Mrs. Casnoff doesn't want you going anywhere on your own for now. Not until we find Archer."
I sighed. "So . . . what? You're going to follow me to my room?"
"Fine." I laid a hand on the smooth wood of the banister and attempted to drag my weary self up the stairs. Now I finally understood the term heartsick. That's exactly how I felt. Like I had the flu, but in my soul instead of my body. I was so tired, and everything seemed to hurt. Just as I was thinking I might reconsider my pledge to never get into one of those spooky bathtubs, I heard Elodie say, "Sophie?"
I turned around to see her standing in the foyer. Her face was pale, and it was the first time I'd ever seen her look anything less than beautiful.
"What's going on?" she asked. "All these people are saying that Archer, like, attacked you in the cellar, or something, and I can't find him anywhere."
Just when I thought the pain in my chest couldn't get any worse, it seemed to bloom like a thorny plant.
"Wait here," I said to Cal.
I took Elodie's hand and led her into the nearest sitting room. Sitting next to her on the sofa, I explained what had happened, leaving out the whole me and Archer kissing part and mainly telling her about the fight and the mark over his heart.
Halfway through, she started shaking her head. Tears pooled in her eyes. I just kept talking and watched those tears spill down her cheeks and onto her lap, leaving dark spots on her blue skirt.
"That's impossible," she said when I was through. "Archer . . . couldn't hurt anyone. He . . ."
By then she was crying too hard to talk, and I reached out to hug her, only to have her slap my hands away. "Wait," she said, and a sliver of the old Elodie began to reemerge. "How did you see his mark?"
"I told you," I said, but I couldn't look her in the eyes. I looked at the lamp behind her instead, keeping my eyes on the blank face of the shepherdess at its base. "That protection spell Alice put on us."
"I know that," Elodie said, scooting back from me. "But why were you touching his chest?"
I lifted my eyes to hers and tried to think up a plausible lie. But I was tired and sad, and nothing would come. Guiltily, I looked down at my lap.
I waited for Elodie to yell or cry some more, or hit me, but she didn't do any of that. She just wiped her face with the back of her hands, stood up, and walked out.
I thought the news about Archer would really upset people, but the opposite ended up being true. Instead of freaking out that ll'Occhio di Dio had been inside our school, everybody seemed relieved that the mystery behind the attacks had been solved and that life could finally go back to normal. Well, normal for a school like Hecate, which meant the shifters could go outside at night again, and the faeries were allowed to roam the woods at sunrise and sunset.
A few days later, Mrs. Casnoff pulled me aside and told me that Jenna would be coming back, and my dad would be arriving a week or so after that.
I should probably have been excited to finally meet him, but all I felt was nervous. Was he coming to Hecate in his official capacity, or was it because I was his daughter and I'd nearly been attacked? What would we talk about?
I called Mom one night to talk to her about it. I hadn't told her about Archer. It would've only scared her. I just said there'd been some trouble, and Dad was coming to check it out.
"You'll like him," Mom said. "He's very charming and very smart. I know he'll be thrilled to see you."
"Then why hasn't he tried to see me before? I mean, I get when I was little you didn't want us hanging out. But what about after I came into my powers? You'd think he could've spared a visit somewhere in there."
Mom got quiet before finally saying, "Sophie, your dad had his reasons, but they're his to tell, not mine. But he loves you." After another pause she asked, "Is there something else going on?"
"I'm just really swamped with school," I lied.
I tried to be happy about seeing Dad, but it was hard to be enthusiastic about anything. I felt like I was moving underwater, and anything people said to me seemed muffled and distant.
On the other hand, I found myself suddenly popular. I guess nearly getting murdered in the cellar by an undercover demon hunter is all it takes to make people want to be your friend. Who knew?
I made that joke to Taylor one evening at dinner. Ever since that night in Casnoff's study, she'd been a lot friendlier to me, now that she finally realized I wasn't a spy for my dad. She laughed. "I didn't know you were so funny!"
Yeah, I was a regular laugh riot. Maybe because making jokes meant that I didn't burst into tears.
I watched people gather around Elodie and cluck over her sympathetically, murmuring how heartbroken she must be. She wasn't talking to me, and I missed her. It sounds weird, but I really wanted to talk to her about Archer. She was the only person who was feeling the same thing I was.
I'd stopped meeting Alice in the woods. Mrs. Casnoff had been true to her word and put about a dozen new protection spells over the house, so even Alice's super-powerful sleeping spell didn't work anymore. I could've just snuck out, but I had a feeling that was what Elodie was doing, so I left her to it. I mean, I'd stolen her boy-friend, even if it had been only temporarily. She could have my great-grandmother. Not exactly a fair trade, but as far as amends went, it was the best I could do.
Besides, I wasn't sure if I trusted myself with Alice anymore.
Looking back on it, a tiny part of me had been thrilled when that spell on Elodie's dress had started working. I hadn't wanted to hurt her--at least I don't think that I had--but there'd been a definite rush knowing I was capable of a spell like that.
Where would that thrill end?
My attraction to the dark side wasn't the only thing occupying my thoughts. I thought about that night in the cellar constantly. I kept coming back to Archer pulling out that knife. He'd had plenty of time to stab me and run. So why hadn't he? I kept turning that question over and over in my head, but I couldn't come up with a scenario that gave me the answer I really wanted; that Archer wasn't an Eye, that it had all been a horrible mistake.
A week after Archer left, I was perched on my window seat, flipping through my Magical Literature textbook. Even though he'd been cleared, Lord Byron wasn't coming back to Hecate. I got the impression he'd said something really rude to Mrs. Casnoff when she'd asked him back, because she pursed her lips a lot when she said we'd have a new teacher. It ended up being the Vandy. I'd thought she might be a little nicer to me after she'd rescued me from a killer, but other than canceling my cellar duty for the rest of the semester (all three weeks of it--really big of her), she showed no signs of softening. We already had three essays due by Friday, which was why I was attempting to find something in the stupid textbook that half interested me.
I'd just started to read a paragraph about Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" when movement out on the lawn caught my eye. It was Elodie walking purposefully toward the woods. I guess she and Alice had decided the brooms were a little too attention-grabbing.