Archer's blood splattered the grass. Call moved toward him, but Archer shook him off. "We don't have time. Come on." I reached Jenna, who was pale and shaky, but unhurt. "Th-thank you," she said to Archer, who just repeated, "We don't have time." And he was right. Something was moving toward us from the house. I could feel dark magic rolling off it, and I knew it was another demon. We plunged into the woods.
I stopped long enough to tell Archer, "Lead them to the Itineris." Archer had used the Itineris on Graymalkin to escape before. "I'll bring up the rear."
He didn't reply, just jerked his arm toward Jenna and Cal, who dashed after him. I jogged behind, my shoulder near my ears in anticipation of an attack spell. But even though I could hear shouts and cries from behind us, no magic came.
We emerged from the woods onto a stretch of beach.
And then I remembered something. Holy crap, I'd obviously been without magic for way too long to have forgotten one of the coolest spells I could do.
"Stop!" I yelled. Archer, Cal, and Jenna all skidded to a halt on the sand. I waved my hands at them to come closer. "Okay, everybody hold hands," I said.
Archer stared at me, one hand pressed to his bleeding chest. "Sophie, this really isn't the time for a friendship circle."
"It's not that," I said. "It's this."
I closed my eyes and channeled all my magic into a transportation spell. There was a rush of icy air, and then we were standing in the grove of trees that housed Hex Hall 's very own Itineris.
"Wow," Jenna breathed. "It is awesome to have you back."
Magic and satisfaction rushed through me. "You said it," I agreed. "Now come on." And with that, the four of us dove into the Itineris.
Thus slowly, one by one, Its quaint events were hammered out- And now the tale is done, And home we steer, a merry crew, Beneath the setting sun.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
You know what would be great? If I had one instance of magical travel that didn't leave me feeling like someone had just tried to rip my spine out through my nose. I lay on cool, stony ground, my inner organs trying to rearrange themselves. Next to me, I heard someone gasping and gagging, and a familiar voice saying, "It's okay. Just give yourself a few minutes."
I rolled my head to the side to see her kneeling over Jenna, who was curled on her side, shivering. Itineris travel was especially hard on vampires. I clambered to my hands and knees, looking around. It was evening, and we were by some large body of water. I could hear it lapping against the shore, and the air felt damp. Behind me was a big boulder, a shallow alcove carved in its center.
I was guessing that was the Itineris. Just past Jenna and Mom, Archer was sitting up, looking around him in confusion. Call was standing next to...I squinted, trying to get a better look. Finley. I recognized her long red braid.
Panicked, I suddenly remembered the grimoire, my hands flying to my lower back. To my shock and relief, it was still there, wedged securely against my skin.
I stood up, but my knees felt watery, and the ground suddenly wobbled in front of me.
A hand supported my elbow. "Easy," my dad said. He was smiling at me, the dark markings on his face black in the moonlight. With a little cry of relief, I threw my arms around his neck, burying my face in his jacket. When I finally felt like I could speak, I pulled back and croaked out, "How?
How did you get Torin to Hex Hall?"
Dad blinked rapidly, and at first, I thought he was surprised by my question. Then I realized that, no, he was fighting tears. Seeing my father, who practically had a PhD in Stiff Upper Lip, on the verge of crying because he was so happy to see me made my own eyes sting. Then he cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders, and said, "It was exceedingly difficult." I laughed through my tears. "I bet."
"It was Torin's idea," someone said behind me, and I turned to see Izzy standing there. Like my parents and her sister, she was dressed in jeans and a black jacket, although she also had a black cap pulled over her bright hair. "We had tons of old spell books, and after you and Call disappeared, he started looking through them. Found a spell that would let him travel to a different mirror."
"Of course, the problem was finding your mirror," Aislinn said, coming out of the darkness.
"Aren't you afraid that he'll permanently peace out from his mirror and start hanging out in girls' locker rooms or something?" Aislinn's eyes slid to Izzy. "Torin has his reasons for wanting to stay with us," she said, and even in the dim light, I saw red creep up Izzy's cheeks. Maybe one day, I'd get to the bottom of whatever was going on there. Preferably once I was done getting to the bottom of the thousand other things on my agenda.
Jenna had started breathing normally again, her fingers wrapped tight around her bloodstone. Satisfied, Mom patted her shoulder and said,
"Just stay down for a little bit. Rest."
Closing her eyes, Jenna nodded. Only then did Mom come over and wrap her arms around me. "I think we've met our quota for tearful reunions," she chuckled against the top of my head.
"When this is done, I promise I'm never going to leave the house ever again. We'll just stay in and order pizza and watch bad television." Mom pulled away and looked over my shoulder. "Oh, I think you might want to get out every now and then," she said.
I felt the warm weight of Archer's hand on my waist. "Hey, I like pizza and bad TV." I turned to him, surprised. "Your chest-"
"Cal," he said by way of explanation. "I owe that guy, like, a mountain of burgers. It's getting embarrassing." Mom flashed me a little smile before saying, "You know, this isn't how I imagined meeting Sophie's first real boyfriend."
Archer gave me a little squeeze. "You mean I'm the first guy your parents have rescued from an enchanted island via use of a magic mirror? I feel so special."
I rolled my eyes and turned to face the water. "So I'm guessing that's Lough Bealach."
"It is," Aislinn said. "We've been busy since you vanished." Finley and Izzy were right behind her. Mom stepped back slightly so that she was beside her sister.
"So have we," Call said, and I suddenly realized he was standing on the other side of me.
"Come on, honey," Mom said to me. "Let's go inside."
"Inside what?" I asked.
"Over here," Finley said, pointing to a small stone building covered in moss. I followed everyone into the hut. Maybe once upon a time, this had been a cozy little spot. And hey, maybe the lack of windows had been great at keeping the house warm from the cold wind off the lake. But with nine people crammed inside it, and a peat fire smoking in the tiny hearth, it was uncomfortably close and warm. It didn't help that I found myself jammed between Call and Archer, both of them pressed tightly against my side.
An ancient-looking card table sat in the middle of the room, covered in maps and books. Man, give the Brannicks any space, and they'll turn it into a War Room.
Aislinn took her customary position on one side of the table. "Okay," she said. "Tell us everything that's happened." Cal, Archer, Jenna, and I managed to achieve something truly impressive: the four-way glance. "It's really complicated," Jenna said at last.
"We used a sixteenth-century warlock trapped in a mirror to tell you where we were," Dad said dryly. "I think it's safe to say we're well-versed in
'complicated' by this point."
Archer gave a little laugh. "I like your dad," he whispered in my ear.
"You would," I muttered back.
"The Casnoffs are using the school as a breeding ground for demons," Call said, getting right to the point in his usual way. For the first time, I noticed the line around his mouth, the tight way he was holding his shoulders. Call kept so much inside of him, I sometimes forgot that what the Casnoffs were doing was as nightmarish for him as it was for me. I went to take his hand, but as soon as my fingers brushed his sleeve, I changed my mind. After what Elodie had done, touching Call was now out of the question.
Clearing my throat, I turned my attention back to Dad. "What Call said. But it's more than that." I reached out to Dad, and even though he was technically across the room, it was easy for him to grasp my fingers. Once he had, I sent a low pulse of magic to him, and his eyes widened.
"Your powers," he breathed.
I nodded. "Fully functional." I pulled out the grimoire and tossed it on the table. "Thanks to that." As briefly as I could, I explained about the Cansoffs and how their bloodline should've let them control me.
"Lara did a spell that showed me their family history," I continued. "It's dark stuff. Humans basically wiped out Alexei Casnoff's entire village.
Weird as it sounds, this all started with a little boy trying to feel safe. He was so sure demons would keep all Prodigium protected, and he passed that belief down to his kids." I glanced around the tiny, smoky room. "That's what you guys maybe don't get. We're not dealing with people who are all, 'Mwahaha-yay, evil!' The Casnoffs think they're in the right."
"Which is what makes them so terrifying," Dad said, nodding. "People are so rarely vill ains in their own minds." I thought of Mrs. Casnoff muttering, The ends justify the means, and would've shivered if the room hadn't been so darn hot.
"Okay, so that's their plans," Archer said with a sigh. "What are yours?"
"We're going to the Underworld," Izzy said. She bounced a little as she said it, her eyes bright and her tone implying that "the Underworld" was akin to "Candy Land."
"Slow down, Iz," Finley said, laying a hand on her sister's shoulder. "It's not quite that simple."
"Go figure," Jenna said weakly.
"First off, Sophie is the only one who will be going," Finley said; Aislinn breaking in to add, "She's the only one who can go."
"Okay, but you guys didn't know I had my powers back when you came here," I said, working my hand out from between Archer and me to wipe a drop of sweat from my forehead. "So how did you know I'd be able to go?"
"We didn't," Mom said, propping a hip on the card table. "We'd thought about sending your father, hoping maybe his DNA would be enough to get him through." She sighed and rubbed her eyes, looking older and more tired than I'd ever seen her. "We had to try something."
"But now that you have your powers, you should be able to access the Underworld with no problems," Dad said. "You'll venture down there-
alone-to collect as much demonglass as you can."
"Why does everyone keep talking like this is a walk in the park?" Archer asked. He tried to raise his hand, probably to push it through his hair, leaving me to dodge his elbow. "'Oh, Sophie will just go skip down to the Underworld to put some demonglass in a basket!'"
"No one takes Sophie's safety more seriously than her father and I do," Mom said. Her voice was low and even, but her eyes were steely. I wasn't sure if it was the Brannick in her, or just the mom.