Elodie just confirmed it when she said, "To The Eye. He told me to tell you he's sorry, but he had to." I blinked back tears that had nothing to do with the sun or the wind. "You saw him?"
"I've been hanging around since you got here. I just wasn't making myself visible. But he must've known I was here because he called me. He said I didn't owe him anything, but I did owe you something."
She was so faint that it was hard to tell, but I thought I saw regret cross her face. "He was right. I'm sorry about the thing with Cal. It wasn't fair hurting the two of you just to hurt Archer."
"Apology accepted," I told her. I was surprised to discover I meant it. "What else did he say?"
"Just that. He's going to The Eye, and he's sorry." She screwed up her face. "Oh, some weird thing about telling you that he still feels the same way about that tent, and he promises to say it to you in person next time he sees you." I gave a bark of laughter that was more of a sob. "That asshat," I blubbered.
Elodie nodded in sympathy. "Such an asshat."
When I'd left Thorne Abbey, I'd held Archer's sword and had a sense that somehow things would turn out all right. Please, I thought. The rest of my magic is back, so let me have that power, too.
But there was no reply except the whistling of the wind.
The next morning, we all gathered by the big rock that sheltered the Itineris. I was in my Hex Hall uniform, figuring that was the least conspicuous thing I could wear to sneak back into the school. Jenna was wearing the same, as were the younger Brannicks. Both of them were pretty unhappy about it, if the way they tugged at their skirts was any indication.
"You wear knee socks every day?" Izzy asked, scowling. "That's reason enough to take this place down." Even though I was scared and worried, I chuckled. "Just wait until we get there and you experience the torture that is wool in humid weather.
You'll wanna sink the whole island."
"It's not so bad," Call said, and Jenna hooted with laughter.
"Yeah, says the guy who wears flannel in August."
"Okay," Aislinn said, fastening a holster around her waist. Three blades of demonglass dangled from it. Izzy and Finley had something similar strapped under their blazers, as did Jenna and Cal. I wasn't carrying any, for the obvious reason. I glanced down at my still-pink fingertips. At least they matched my other demonglass scar, the wide, purplish gash that cut into my palm. Thoughts like that helped make me less terrified of what was about to happen.
"...and let Sophie get the ritual," Aislinn was saying. I had totally zoned out, and I shook my head. Now was not the time for daydreaming. Of course, we'd gone over this plan a dozen times already. We'd go to the school. Aislinn and Finley would draw the Casnoffs out. While they were doing that, Izzy, Jenna, Cal, and I would sneak back into the house and try to find the ritual. Aislinn and Finley would lead Lara and however many of her demons she released back toward the pit. I'd meet them there with the ritual, and then, using the spell in the grimoire, destroy the Casnoffs, the ritual, and the pit itself in one big destructo-blast.
It sounded totally simple. Easy even. But if I'd learned anything over the past year, it was that nothing was easy when it came to magic.
"So are we all clear?" Aislinn said.
"Crystal," I sighed.
"Okay, Finley and I will go first. Wait a few minutes, and then Sophie, Jenna, Cal, and Izzy follow."
"And we'll wait here," Dad added, nodding toward Mom. Last night, we'd all made the decision that it was too dangerous for Dad to come with us to Graymalkin. Without powers, he'd have no way of defending himself, and I'd be too distracted worrying about him.
I faced both my parents and wrapped my arms around their necks, pulling them into a group hug. "I'm going to be fine," I said, even though I think my shaking voice gave me away. "There will be Casnoff butt kicked and all sorts of names taken. And hey, maybe I'll get some cool new scars."
Both of them hugged me tighter. "We love you, Soph," Mom said.
"Quite right," Dad added, and I laughed, even as my stomach twisted itself into a ball oon animal.
I pulled away before I could embarrass myself with more tears, and took Jenna's hand. Aislinn and Finley were already gone. "Ready?" I asked.
"Ready," they all said softly. I looked over my shoulder at Mom and Dad. They still had their arms around each other's waists, and I smiled.
Then I stepped forward. The blackness pushed down, and I felt that awful still ness inside of me. And then, just like that, I was back in the grove of trees on Graymalkin Island. I wasn't sure if it was my magic being stronger, or just all the adrenaline coursing through me, but the "landing" didn't seem so bad this time. Jenna didn't have it quite so easy, but as soon as Call appeared, he laid a hand on her forehead. Her breathing immediately slowed down, and some of the color returned to her cheeks. "Thanks," she said with a grateful sigh.
From somewhere in the distance, I thought I heard a howl. "Okay, you guys ready to zap again?" I asked everyone. Izzy still looked a little shaky, but she readily put her hand in mine. Jenna took the other one, and Call stepped close behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist.
I closed my eyes and concentrated. A breath of cold air later, we were standing on the lawn of Hex Hall. And right in the middle of what appeared it be World War I I.
As soon as I opened my eyes, a bolt of magic raced toward me. I flung up my hand just in time to deflect it, but there was another right behind it. This one struck Izzy just about her left shoulder, and she cried out. Call was at her side in seconds, already pulling her toward the cover of the trees. I tried to absorb the nightmare that was unfolding around me. There were demons. Everywhere. Demon werewolves, with blood-red eyes and purplish sparks shooting off their claws. Demon faeries, their black wings stirring the air and blazing with unearthly light. They were fighting, and at first, my eyes searched for Finley and Aislinn, thinking they must be in the middle of this. But no, the demons were only fighting each other.
I shook my head, not wanting to believe what I was seeing. I had only seen fifteen or so demons in the cell ar. But there were dozens on the lawn, and Finley and Aislinn were nowhere in sight.
I tried to collect my scattered thoughts. I needed to get into the house and to find the ritual. But seeing as how a demonic faerie was currently hovering in the doorway, that was probably out of the question.
So I followed Call and Izzy into the trees, Jenna behind me. The four of us crouched there, taking in the hell ish scene in front of us. "What are they doing?" Call wondered.
I looked at the demons as they snarled and hissed and clawed at each other. "They're fighting," I murmured. "That's the thing about demons.
They're not exactly the most control able things in the universe. God, I bet Lara doesn't even realize what she's unleashed." I winced as one of the demon faeries flew at a familiar figure-Daisy. I thought the faerie might have been Nausicaa once, but it was hard to tell. Her formerly green wings were now a dark navy, and they appeared to have razor-sharp edges. As I watched, those wings cut into Daisy's raised arms.
Choking down my fear, I shook my head and said, "But it doesn't matter. What matters is finding that ritual and the Casnoffs, and-" I broke off with a cry as something attempted to shove against me. Not, not against. Inside.
This time, my magic shoved her right back, and her ghost fluttered a few feet from me, waving her hands. "Sorry, sorry," she mouthed. "I was in a hurry. The ritual isn't in the house. It's on Lara."
"She knew you were coming. I don't know how, but she did. Sophie, they're all demons. Every kid who was here. She's turned them." There had been over a hundred kids at the school.
"Where is Lara?"
"She's at the pit. There are still a few she's working on."
I shuddered at that term: working on. "Izzy, how are you?"
She was still leaning against Cal, but her face was grim as she reached under her jacket and pulled out her shard of demonglass. "I'm fine." I doubted that, but I reached for her hand. "We're going to use the transportation spell. It'll take us straight to the pit. But when we get there..." I glanced around at everyone. "It's going to be bad. Worse than bad, probably."
"We'll manage it," Call said.
"Yeah," Jenna said, smiling shakily. "We're kind of badass in our own right." I gripped her hand. "Damn straight."
We huddled together, and even though I was exhausted from all the magic I'd been doing, I felt the familiar rush of air.
I knew as soon we landed that we were in the right place. My teeth and skin ached from all the magic pulsing around us. I opened my eyes to see the yawning pit Archer and I had visited back in the summer. Then, it had been nothing more than a big hole in the ground. Now it was blazing with a bright green light. Lara stood on the lip of the hole, the wrinkled piece of parchment in her hands. My heart leaped at the sight of it. The ritual. I rose to my feet. From behind me, I could hear a distant baying. We probably only had a few minutes before at least a few of Lara's demons were on us.
Across the pit, Lara saw me. Her face was lit up in the creepy green glow, turning her smile sinister as she said, "Sophie. I had a feeling we'd see you again."
If she thought I was about to do the whole "have a conversation with the vill ain" thing, she was dead wrong. I raised one hand while the other reached into my waistband for the grimoire. One super magical destructo-blast coming up.
Power pooled around the soles of my feet, rising up through my ankles, filling my legs and torso until it raced down my arms and crackled at my fingertips.
"Ah, yes," Lara said, clutching the ritual tight to her chest. "Kill me. Destroy the spell. Close the pit. And then all of your little demon friends go back to normal."
I focused my powers. This had to be perfect. There wouldn't be any second chances.
"Pity about your family, of course."
I opened my eyes, confused. Then I followed Lara's gaze into the pit, and all of the magic-and blood-seemed to drain out of me.
There, unconscious at the bottom, were Finley and Aislinn.
Behind me, I could hear Izzy wail. I looked back as Jenna moved to her and hugged her, murmuring. But her eyes met mine over Izzy's head, and I knew what she was thinking. This was my one chance to end it. To kill Lara and destroy the ritual. To close this god-awful pit so that no one could ever be turned into a monster again. That's what Finley and Aislinn would've wanted.
The ends justify the means.
As she watched me falter, Lara laughed. "You see? This is why your family was never cut out to rule. Always putting others before the good of your own kind."
"That's what this is really about, isn't it?" I asked, and had the pleasure of watching some of the amusement drain out of her face. "You're pissed off because Daddy decided he liked his pet demons better than his own children. You keep talking about everything he sacrificed, everything you gave up for this 'cause.' What all does that include, Lara? Your mother? I've never heard anything about Mommy Casnoff."