"Sophie!" Archer and Call called out at the same time.
"I'm okay," I said, cradling my hand against my chest. "It just...It burned me. The wall." I summoned another ball of light and looked at the pinkish welts raising up from my fingertips. Then I looked back to the wall. I'd thought it was just wet rock, but now I could tell that the shine I'd seen wasn't from water. "It's demonglass," I said. "The-the whole freaking place is made of demonglass."
I didn't hesitate. Lifting my uninjured hand, I said, "You guys get ready to grab as much of this stuff as you can, and then we are booking it.
"Understood," they all echoed back.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes. "Break."
Dozens of shards fell harmlessly to the ground. Jenna, Archer, and Call rushed forward to gather them up, and then we ran back in the direction we'd come. Light flared again, followed by noises too faint to make out.
As we ran, I could hear whatever the scene was playing behind me. There were screams, one of which sounded oddly familiar. In fact, it sounded like me.
I froze in my tracks. Call was already looking over his shoulder, but before I could see what he was watching, he was pushing me forward again.
"Keep moving," he grunted.
Up ahead, the opening had reappeared, and we dashed for it. As soon as my feet hit the muddy path, they slipped and slid, but I did my best to stay upright. The sooner I could get away from that place, the better. Only when we heard the grinding of stone on stone did we stop and look back.
The entrance into the rock had vanished, and I nearly sagged to the ground with relief.
Then I looked at the black blades the others were holding. "Holy crap," I said breathlessly. "We did it." I'd imagined that if we'd successfully collected the demonglass, we'd practically skip back to the shore. But the cost of getting these weapons had been awfully high, and as we trudged back down the ribbon of silt, I knew we were all thinking about what the Underworld had shown us.
Like she was reading my mind, Jenna said, "So that's what the Underworld does? Shows you the most terrible things that ever happened to you-or your family..." she added, glancing at me and Archer, "...like some kind of sick movie?"
"Seemed pretty hell ish to me," Archer said, still a little shell-shocked.
"I don't think it's just things that have happened," Call said. "Maybe it's stuff that will happen, too." I stopped, pushing my hair away from my face. "What did you see in there, Cal?" He shook his head. "Doesn't matter," he said. But just as he walked past me, his gaze lingered briefly on Archer. I remembered that scream.
The one that had sounded like me.
And as we made our way back to my parents and the Brannicks, I couldn't help but feel that as nightmarish as the cavern had been, the worst was still ahead of us.
Back at the hut, I used my magic to whip up some tomato soup and hot tea. I told Mom and Dad what had happened, downplaying the horror of it as much as I could. As I did, Mom walked around the table, draping blankets over our shoulders. "We're not in shock," I told her, even as I clutched the material tighter around my neck.
"Well, you all look awful," she said.
"Hell does wreak havoc on the skin," Archer quipped, but I could tell his heart wasn't in it. Under the table, I put my hand on his knee, and he covered my fingers with his own.
"You say the cavern showed you scenes," Dad said, poking at the fire even though it was already warm inside. "Jenna, it showed you the death of your sire."
Jenna blew on her soup and gave Dad a look. "I called her my girlfriend, or Amanda, but yeah." Dad inclined his head. "Of course. Forgive me. Sophie, you saw Alice's transformation." I nodded. "And the murder of my great-grandfather. Weird it showed me that when I've had so many other awful things happen directly to me," I said, beginning to tick them off on my fingers. "Elodie getting killed, having to kill Alice, escaping a burning building with the help of a ghost..." And then, because both my parents looked so deflated, I added, "Oh, and this really heinous pageboy haircut in sixth grade." A few wan smiles appeared, but I think it was just to humor me.
"Yes, but that was the act that was directly responsible for all of those other horrible events," Dad said. "Well, except for the haircut. I suspect that can be laid at your mother's door."
"James!" Mom protested, but I swear I heard affection behind it. I think Dad did, too, because his lips quirked upward briefly. His expression sobered, though, when he turned to Archer. "And you saw your parents murdered by demons." Archer clinked his spoon against the bottom of his bowl. "Just my dad. But when I-uh, baby-me came in, there was blood on my face that wasn't mine, so I'm guessing my mom was already dead."
Dad frowned, deep in thought.
"The lady demon was pregnant," I told him. "And the guy looked just like Nick. I'm thinking they were his parents."
"Of course," Dad said, his eyes going wide. "The Anderson brothers. They both disappeared, along with their wives, about fifteen years ago.
Everyone thought they'd just gone underground, so to speak. Lara was close to the youngest one's wife. Very close."
"Wait. So, the demon guy and Archer's dad were brothers?" I asked. "Which makes Archer and Nick-"
"Cousins," Archer filled in, still stirring his soup. "Nearly murdered by my own relative. That has to win some kind of medal for dysfunction." Then his expression darkened. "Or maybe it's just family tradition."
An uncomfortable silence stretched out. Archer's spoon clinked on his bowl as he swirled it around and around. Finally, he said, "Anderson?" Dad met his eyes. "Yes. If I'm right, your father was the eldest. Martin. Your mother's name was Elise." Archer's throat moved convulsively. "That's the name the guy-my dad-said. In the vision, or whatever it was." Dad smiled sadly. "I didn't know your parents personally, but from everything I've heard, they were good people. And they were very devoted to their only child. You."
Now the silence in the room felt like a heavy, tangible thing. Under the table, Archer's fingers were vise-tight on mine. "Do you know-"
"Daniel," Dad said, his voice soft. "Your name was Daniel Anderson."
Archer dropped his head, and I watched two tears drip soundlessly into his soup. And then he was shoving back his chair, and out the door. I stood up to follow him. But Dad touched my arm. "Give him a minute."
I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded. "Right."
Sniffing, I sat back down and curled my hands around my cup of tea. "So now what?"
"Well, now we at least have some way of defending ourselves against the demons the Casnoffs have," Aislinn said, speaking up for the first time. She, Finley, and Izzy had met us at the shore, and the three of them were currently wrapping the demonglass into cloths and putting the shards in a canvas bag. "Between the three of us," she said, gesturing to her daughters, "we could probably take them all out." I winced. "You mean, kill them."
"No, take them all out for ice cream," Finley scoffed, but her mother said in a low, dangerous voice, "Finley, Sophie walked into hell for us today. She's as much a Brannick as you are, and you'll talk to her with respect." Abashed, Finley looked at me under her lashes and muttered, "Sorry."
"No problem," I answered. "But I'm serious. Is...is killing them the only option?"
"It's the easiest one," Mom said, coming to sit in Archer's empty chair. "Sweetie, I know some of those kids were your friends, but there's no getting them back."
"Is that true?" I asked Dad. "Are they gone for good?"
Dad shifted in his seat, uneasy. "Not necessarily. But Sophie, the risk involved in bringing them back...It's almost too great to fathom."
"I can fathom all kinds of things," I told him. "Try me."
I think I might have seen pride in Dad's eyes. Or maybe it was just a gleam of Why is my offspring so insane? Still, he answered me. "If you destroy both the ritual and the witch or warlock who used it, the spell itself can be reversed." I shrugged. "That doesn't sound so hard."
"I wasn't finished. They must be destroyed simultaneously."
swallowing, I tried to sound cheerful. "Again, not so bad. Get Lara to hold the piece of paper, zap them both with, um, some fire or something, and bam! Instant demon reversal."
"And they must be destroyed in the pit where the demons were raised," Dad continued, as if I hadn't said anything. Seriously, he had to stop doing that. "Oh, and as the piece de resistance, you'll need to do a spell to close the pit itself, with both the ritual and the witch inside it. And that's such an intense ritual that it could actually pull whatever's around the pit into it as well."
"Like, the person doing the spell?"
"Like, the whole damn island the pit is on."
"Oh. Okay. Well, that is definitely...challenging. But not impossible. And we have the grimoire, that's one bonus, right? Even if the demon-raising ritual isn't in it."
"Sophia Alice Mercer," Mom said warningly, just as Dad said, "Atherton," and Aislinn said, "Brannick." I threw my hands up. "Look, it doesn't matter what you call me. I'll hyphenate, how about that? But listen to me. I have to try, all right? For Nick, and Daisy, and Chaston, and Anna, and all the other kids they've turned into weapons over the years. Please. "
"Sophie's right," Call said, leaning forward. "If we can stop the Casnoffs and turn those kids back...wouldn't that be better than having to kill them?"
"I'm all for that," Jenna said.
My parents looked at each other. A moment passed between them, and then Mom turned to her sister. "Can you buy her some time? Keep her safe until she can find the ritual and hopefully destroy it?"
"We can," Finley said quickly, and Izzy nodded. "We'll stay right by her. Even if she can't destroy the witch, and the spell, and the pit, she can at least do one of those things, right? That has to be worth something."
Dad blew out a long breath, rubbing his hands over his face. "Yes," he finally said. "It's worth something. It would be best if we arrive at night, don't you think? Thanks to the time difference, that's still a ways off at Graymalkin Island. So, dawn?" He gave a wry smile. "Again?" And one by one, everyone nodded. At dawn we'd take the Itineris back to Hex Hall, and we'd finish this.
"Let me go tell Archer," I said, shoving the blanket off me as I stood up. Outside, the wind had picked up, and it blew my hair in my face as I scanned the shore for him. When I didn't see him, I poked my head into his tent. He wasn't there, either. Moving around the back of the house, I shaded my eyes against the sun, looking for a familiar dark figure among all the green and rock.
I saw a movement in my peripheral vision, and turned toward it, relieved.
But it wasn't Archer. It was Elodie, wavering in the breeze. In the daylight, she was even more translucent than normal, and her red hair fluttered around her like she was underwater. "He's gone," she mouthed. "He took the Itineris." Stomach sinking, I asked, "Where?" but I already knew.