"Well, that's good to know."
We stayed there, dangling our feet over the creek, talking, until the sun was high overhead. By the time we made our way back to the compound, I was feeling a little better. Sure, my life was still intensely screwed up, but at least I had some answers.
When we got back to the compound, Izzy and Finley were out doing chores. Or what the Brannicks called chores, anyway. Izzy was rearranging the targets on the training field. (I still called it the Ninja Backyard. Izzy laughed when I told her that.) Finley was set up in the converted barn just off the training field, sharpening knives. "You can help her," Aislinn told me, once I found her. She was down in the basement, changing the sheets on the cots. I wondered why she bothered, but decided not to ask.
"If it's all the same to you, I'm not really great with the knives," I told her. "Is there anything else I can do? Anything less...deadly?" Shaking a pillow into its case, Aislinn shrugged and said, "You can go up to the War Room and check our files on Hecate Hall and the Casnoffs. See if there's any information we have wrong, or details you can add." Ah, yes. Files. Books. Nothing with sharp edges. Perfect.
"Will do. Thanks."
I jogged back up the steps, stopping near the top. "Oh, and, um, thanks for letting me stay here. I mean, after everything my whole existence put you through."
When she just looked at me, I hurried on to say, "Finley told me what happened to the other Brannicks. She said it wouldn't have happened if you'd been their leader."
I stood there awkwardly while Aislinn studied me. She had Mom's eyes, so it was doubly weird to feel myself under such intense scrutiny. In the end, she just said, "You're family."
There was nothing really to say to that. I just nodded and hurried back upstairs.
The War Room was every bit as depressing and messy as it had been yesterday, and after ten minutes of pawing through the papers on the table, and the big, heavy boxes on the floor, I hadn't found the files about Hecate Hall. Frustrated, I let out a long sigh.
"Problem?" a silky voice murmured.
I ignored Torin and turned my attention to the stack of notebooks near the couch.
"I am sorry for what I said about your father this morning," he said. "It was beneath me." I still didn't say anything.
"Being trapped thus is incredibly frustrating for me, and occasionally I take it out on others. Again, I apologize. Now, if you'd like, I can help you with what you're seeking."
Knowing I'd probably regret it, I crossed the room and yanked the canvas off the mirror. As before, he was sitting on the table, smirking at me.
"Jackass, jackass on the wall, where's the info on Hex Hall?"
Torin laughed long and loud at that, and I saw that his teeth were slightly crooked. Seeing as how he was from the sixteenth century, I guess he was lucky to have any teeth at all.
"Oh, I do like you," he said, wiping tears from his eyes. "All these bloody warrior women are so serious. It's nice to have a real wit about the place again."
"Whatever. Do you know where the file on Hex Hall is, or not, Mirror Boy?"
He leaned forward and pointed under the table. In the mirror I saw a box pushed back in the shadows. No wonder I'd missed it.
As I dragged the box out, Torin said, "Is that all you want my help with, Sophia?" I rocked back on my heels and scowled at him. "You made it pretty clear last night that you're big into being cryptic. I'm not in the mood to have my chain jerked right now."
He was quiet while I pawed through the box. I pulled out two big manila envelopes with casnoff scrawled across them. There were three separate folders labeled hecate hall, and I took those out, too.
"You were stuck in a void space," Torin said.
I was so busy flipping through the first Casnoff folder that it took a second for what he said to register. Once it did, I looked up at him blankly.
"Those three weeks you lost. You were stuck in a void between dimensions. That's how the Itineris works, traveling in and around other dimensions. Most of the time there are no problems. But you got stuck, probably because of what you are. Or aren't." When I just kept staring at him, he clarified. "You're not a demon anymore, not completely, but neither are you human." Torin rested his chin in his hand, a heavy ruby ring on his pinkie winking at me. "You were a very confusing object for the Itineris to digest. So it held you for a bit. You're quite fortunate it eventually decided to spit you out."
The words "digest" and "spit" were more than a little unsettling. "Okay," I finally said. "That's, um, really awful to know. But thanks for telling me." He shrugged. "It was nothing."
I went back to the folder, studying a picture of Mrs. Casnoff and her sister, Lara, when they were young, maybe in their late teens, early twenties. There was a man sitting with them who had black hair slicked back from his forehead, and a mustache every bit as elaborate as one of Mrs. Casnoff's hairdos. I guessed this was Mrs. Casnoff's father, Alexei.
"You know, I can see more than just the future or the past."
"Really?" I asked, paging through the papers in the file. "Can you also see the present? Because I can do that, too. Like, right now, I sense that I'm in a messy room with a total toolbox."
I didn't look up, but I could hear the scowl in his voice when he said, "No. In certain cases, I can see...let us say, alternative futures."
"What does that mean?"
"Time is not a fixed thing, Sophia. Every decision can lead us down a different path. So, occasionally, I see more than one possible outcome.
For example, I told your aunt that you would be the one to stop these Casnoff witches from raising their demon forces. And I did see that. But it isn't the only future I saw for you."
I wanted to ignore him, but I found myself putting the file down and facing the mirror. "What was the other one?"
"It's quite the contradiction," he answered, ridiculously pleased with himself. "For in one scenario, I saw you defeating the Casnoffs. And in the other, I saw you joined with them. Of course I didn't share that vision with Aislinn. If I had, I doubt your welcome would have been quite so cordial.
You should thank me, really."
All I could do was say, "Well, your vision was wrong. I would never be part of the Casnoffs' demon...whatever."
"Oh, you weren't part of it," he clarified, grinning. "You were leading it."
I turned away then; my hands were shaking. "You're just saying all this to screw with me."
"Believe that if you like, Soph-" He broke off, and I raised my head to see Izzy standing in the doorway. "Isolde!" Torin exclaimed. "How lovely to see you."
Izzy chewed on her lower lip. "Why are you talking to Torin?" she asked.
"I need help finding some stuff," I replied, holding up the folder so that she could see. "I figured he was useful for that, at least, since his prophecies seems to be on the fritz."
Torin made an offended noise. "They most certainly are not! I am never wrong." Sliding off the table, his gaze flicked to Izzy. "Never." At that, Izzy crossed the room in a couple of big strides and draped the canvas back over the mirror. "Cover me up all you want, Isolde," Torin said, his voice now muffled. "It does not change anything."
Something flickered across Izzy's face, and I couldn't help but ask, "What's that all about?" But she just shook her head and came to kneel next to me on the floor. "It's nothing. Just more of Torin's crap. So did you find what you were looking for?"
"Not sure yet," I said, turning back to the first page of the Casnoffs' file.
Alexei Casnoff was born in 1916 in St. Petersburg (or, as it was called at that time, Petrograd), to Grigori and Svetlana Casnoff, and Before I could get any further, a loud pounding reverberated throughout the house.
I dropped the papers. "What the heck was that?"
Frowning, Izzy got to her feet. "I don't know. I think it's at the front door, but...no one ever comes here." Together, we dashed out of the War Room and into the hallway. Aislinn had one hand on the doorknob and a dagger in the other. Mom was right behind her. Inside my chest, my magic shrieked and swirled, and I knew that whatever waited on the other side was powerful.
And as Aislinn slowly opened the door, I realized I was right.
Standing on the threshold, looking taller and older and a lot more exhausted than I remembered, was Cal.
And leaning against him, the purple marks on his face unnaturally dark against his pale skin, was my dad.
"James!" Mom gasped, and then there was total confusion as everyone started talking at once.
"What's he doing here?" Aislinn barked, just as Izzy laid her hand on my arm and said, "Who are those guys?"
"It's-it's my dad," I said, my voice breaking. And then I was shoving past Aislinn to throw my arms around Dad's neck.
His own arms came up to weakly encircle me. "Sophie," he murmured against my hair. "Sophie." It was almost too good to believe, that he could be standing here, that Call could be next to him. I squeezed my dad tight, tears spilling onto his shirt collar. "You're okay," I sobbed. "You're okay."
He gave a raspy chuckle. "More or less. Thanks to Cal, here."
I pulled back. Dad's eyes were red, and he looked like death warmed over. And the purple markings swirling all over his skin, signs of the Removal, were just as devastating to see as they'd been the night he'd gotten them.
But he was there, and that was all that mattered. My eyes slid over to Cal, who still hovered uncertainly beside Dad. "You're okay, too," I said softly, and he smiled. Well, he did that weird lip quirk that Call called a smile. "Yeah," was all he said, but there was a lot of meaning behind that one word. Relief and happiness flooded through me, and I took a step forward, wanting to hug him, too. But for some reason, at the last moment, I just reached out and squeezed his arm. "I'm glad."
His hand briefly covered mine, his touch rough and warm. I could feel a blush spreading up from my chest, so I turned back to Dad. "How did you get here? Where have you been?"
"Can we go somewhere less...transitory to discuss this?" he asked, gesturing around the hallway. I felt like I might burst into tears all over again. Transitory. God, I'd missed him so much.
I'm pretty sure Aislinn was about to tell him no, but Mom stepped forward. "Of course. We can talk in the living room." For a moment, my parents held each other's gaze, and while normally your parents gazing at each other is kind of gross, I couldn't help but smile.
Like every room in the Brannick house, the living room was practically empty. There was a couch that seemed slightly better than the monstrosity in the War Room, and Dad and Call sat there. I sat on Dad's other side, while Aislinn and Izzy hung out in the doorway, and Mom perched on the edge of the sofa nearest me.
Dad sighed, and his hand trembled a little as he laid it on mine. "I can't begin to say how good it is to see you." I laced my fingers with his. "Same here. I mean, with me seeing you, obviously." Smiling, Dad squeezed my hand. "Yes, I deduced as much."