And then my vision started to go black. Shaking, I tried to grip the armrests of the chair, but the chair wasn't there anymore. I wasn't there anymore. Surrounded by darkness, I almost felt like I was back in the Itineris. That feeling of claustrophobia threatened to choke me.
A spark unfurled in the darkness, a shining speck that slowly unfurled itself into a picture. I was staring at a painting of a snowy village, and then, as I watched, the painting began to move. Men and women trudged down a white-covered lane, their heads bowed against the cold and the wind. No one told me what I was looking at, but the knowledge filled my head, like I'd always known it. This was Alexei Casnoff's hometown, and the small house in the dead center of the picture was his house.
Then I saw him, a dark-haired boy, his face pressed against a window. He was waiting on his father, and I could feel his impatience and worry like they were my own emotions. Behind him, a pretty woman with dark blond hair stroked his head and murmured to him in Russian. Even though I couldn't speak a word of that language, I could still understand what she was saying. "It's going to be all right, Alexei. Your father and the others will keep us safe, I promise."
I understood then that the entire village was made up of Prodigium, and something important was being decided today. Something about moving, safety. Hiding. But before I could work out just what it was, the painting shifted again.
There were no snow-covered streets now, no quaint little cottages. Now there was just chaos, fire, and smoke. The flames were so bright, I wanted to cover my eyes, but I didn't have hands. Or eyes for that matter. I saw Alexei, running down the street, pursued by villagers.
They know what we are, Alexei was thinking . They found us, they found us, they found us....
Behind him, figures lay very still in the street, and I knew that they were his parents. I could see his mother's blond hair fanning around her head, some of it still smoldering. And the tiny shape next to them was his baby sister, and he was so scared. His terror and grief flooded through me, almost unbearable. The flames faded, and the picture began to bleed into another scene. Alexei was older now, maybe in his early twenties. He was handsome, less severe than he'd looked in the few photographs I'd seen of him.
He was riding in the back of a car past rolling hills and bright green grass that seemed very familiar. He was excited, and his fingers kept drumming nervously on the book he held on his lap.
The car rattled over a stone bridge, and Thorne Abbey suddenly loomed into view.
Alexei could see the girls on the lawn, all students from a women's college in London. They were boarding at Thorne because it wasn't safe for them in the city anymore. Alexei watched them, and a tight smile crossed his face. At last, he was thinking. At last.
And then the scene abruptly went black, and the next thing I knew, I was back in Lara's office, panting in my chair.
"I think that gives you the gist of it," Lara said, calmly shuffling some papers.
I was still shaking, trying to remind myself that it wasn't my whole family who had just been murdered in the streets. When I felt like I could talk again, I said, "Humans murdered his family. And he was scared, and wanted a way to protect other Prodigium and maybe score a little revenge in the process. But that...that still doesn't make what he did right." I swallowed revulsion as I remembered the anticipation that had shot through Alexei as he'd watched a bunch of innocent girls run on Thorne Abbey's lawn. Alice, my great-grandmother, had been one of them. "Besides, I know this isn't about protection. Maybe that's how it started out, but what did your dad really want to use Alice for? Because you know what I think? I think a pet demon would be pretty handy if you wanted to keep every Prodigium on the planet under your control." Lara didn't even attempt to deny it. "Possibly. Of course, a whole squad of 'pet demons' would be even handier." She set the papers down and carefully opened a drawer. She pulled out the grimoire, and my heart plummeted to my toes.
"Oh, Miss Talbot was very quick to hand it over. If you wanted the book, all you had to do was ask," she continued, and I stared at her, confused.
"We were going to give it to you eventually, anyway. You're not much use to us without your powers intact." She flipped through the pages until she reached the spell that would restore my magic. Just seeing the words on the page made me feel like I was about to jump out of my skin.
Lara held the book out to me. "Go on. Touch it." Then she chuckled. "Oh yes, Sophie, I knew that your father had made you touch this spell. I knew all about the hours you two spent going over this book."
My magic was only inches away. Everything inside me screamed for that spell. But I met Lara's eyes and asked, "Why would you want me to restore my powers? Because the second I do, I'm blasting my way out of here." But Lara just smiled at me. "Sophie, when your father taught you about demons, did he tell you how they're controlled?"
"The witch or warlock who raised the demon can control it. But since no one technically raised me, no one controls me."
"That's what we thought, too," Lara acknowledged with a little nod. "But then we did some research. You know, your father's collection at Thorne was very useful. And imagine our surprise when we discovered that the ability to control a demon is passed down through blood." In the blood, Mrs. Casnoff had said. In the blood. Yours, and mine, and my father's, and Alice's...
And now I suddenly realized what she'd meant.
"Our father performed the ritual that turned your great-grandmother into a demon," Lara said. "Our bloodline created yours. That means that once you're re-powered, you'll be under our control."
I couldn't take my eyes off the spell, even as I started to shake. "That's impossible," I said, like saying it might make it true. "If you could've controlled me, you would've done it before."
"We didn't know we could, so we never tried," Mrs. Casnoff said, speaking for the first time.
"But why? Why would you want to control me when you can raise as many demons as you want?"
"New demons can be...unpredictable," Lara said. "But you? A fourth-generation demon? The chance of you...losing control, let's say, is very, very low. Which makes you better suited for a leadership role." Lara grinned at me then, and there was nothing sane in her eyes. "Every army needs a general, after all."
Stomach lurching, I shot to my feet, backing away from the desk. "No. No, I'll stay powerless forever before I'd put myself under your control." Lara tossed the open book onto her desk, and my magic howled.
"You say that," she said, leaning back in her chair. "But your powers want to be released. Being a demon is who you are, and now that you've seen that spell, the magic inside of you won't rest until it's been restored." All I wanted to do was press my hands against that page.
"Why don't you just make me?" I asked Lara. If all I had to do was touch the page, she could walk around the desk and grab me. Terrified, I realized that I wished she would do just that, and I backed away.
"Spells like this are delicate," she told me. "You can't force something this powerful on someone. So it has to be your choice. And the grimoire will sit here," Lara called after me as I bolted for the door, "open to that spell, every day, Sophie. Calling to you. You could save yourself a lot of pain if you gave in now."
I fumbled with the doorknob, my skin suddenly drenched in cold sweat. When the door finally swung open, I ran, my magic screaming so loudly that I wanted to cover my ears against it.
Jenna was waiting for me in our room, and when I opened the door, she leaped to her feet. "Oh my God, are you okay? When Lara came up here and asked for the grimoire, I nearly died, and-Soph?"
Up here, the longing for the grimoire wasn't as intense, but I was still trembling as I let Jenna lead me to my bed. She curled up next to me.
"What happened?" she asked softly.
By the time I was done telling Jenna about Lara's office, I had stopped shaking, but I had started crying. "I want my powers back so badly," I told Jenna as she stroked my hair, "but I can't risk being some...thing they can control. I was just so sure that if I could get my magic back, everything would be okay. But this? God, Jenna, this is so much worse."
"Shhh," she murmured. "We'll figure it out. We'll figure it out."
But her voice was wavering, and we fell asleep on her bed, clutching each other like little kids.
I thought it was thunder that woke me up. I sat up in bed, blinking, as a low rumble filled the house. The windows rattled, and I when I put my feet on the floor, I could feel a slight vibration.
"Wazzit?" Jenna murmured sleepily.
I walked over to the window, trying to make sense of what I saw. Lights were playing in the fog, flickering and dim at first, but then growing so brightly that I could see the dark shapes of the trees the mist usually concealed. I could hear doors opening out in the hall, the sound of bare feet on wooden floors.
More light blazed into our room, and there was another rumble, this one so strong that I felt my teeth rattle. Fully awake now, Jenna leaped out of the bed and opened our door. The other girls were all gathered on the landing, looking out the broken stained-glass window. I could still feel the grimoire, and I dug my fingernails into my palms, hoping the pain would keep me from rushing downstairs. Lights continued to flash, and the rumbling got louder and stronger. Several of the younger girls covered their ears.
Someone nudged my elbow, and I glanced back to see Nausicaa standing there, her wings beating softly in the thick air. "Lara came by our room to get Taylor tonight," she said. "Do you think..." She nodded at the lights. "Did they do something to her?" My magic was nearly choking me as the vibrations got stronger, shaking more shards of glass out of the window. I couldn't hear them crash to the floor. The light flared one last time, so bright that we all shut our eyes and twisted our heads away.
And then everything was still.
We all stood there shivering, as a sudden cold wind blew through the broken window.
Somewhere in the distance, I heard an inhuman howl.
"Yeah," I said to Nausicaa. "I think they did."
The second I woke up the next morning, I could feel the grimoire like an ache in my bones. It was well after noon before I felt like I could get out of bed. Going downstairs was agony, but I had to see what was happening.
It ended up being much worse than I thought, and trust me, I'd prepared for all kinds of awful. The stained-glass window was completely shattered now, just a few shards still clinging to the wooden frame. Sometime in the night, it had started raining, and now water poured through the jagged opening. Jenna and I stood in the main foyer and watched the rain run down the wall paper, soaking into the carpet.
"Do you think Taylor was the only student taken last night?" Jenna asked.
I was so busy trying not to shove her down and bolt for Lara's office and the grimoire that it took me a moment to answer her. "I don't know. I don't know if they can change more than one at a time. But it doesn't matter. Either way, they've started now." A shudder racked my body, and my powers pushed against my skin, begging to be released.