Page 10

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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Ash and Lillian weren’t here yet. This meant the only one here who could do magic was Jared, and he’d known he was a sorcerer for about a month.
“Let’s go take a closer look. We need to see what Rob is doing,” said Kami, and set off at once so that no one would have a chance to stop her. As she circled the perimeter of the field, she kept seeing flares of orange light and hearing more of those sudden awful sounds. Kami kept her head down in case she was captured in a brief moment of light. She was aware someone had caught up with her when a shadow spilled into one of those flashes of light from Hallow’s Field and across her path.
Kami crouched even lower, seizing the chain link of the fence in one hand and Jared’s T-shirt in the other, bringing him down to her level.
“I’m not going back to discuss our options,” she told him.
He kept his voice low, matching hers. “Who asked you to? Telling each other to do the sensible thing is not really the basis of our relationship.” He was close to her and almost smiling, his focus entirely on her despite the horror beyond the fence.
Kami recalled vividly how she’d thought it was him kissing her. She had to stop hoping like this. It was humiliating, and it hurt too much. Kami let go of his shirt and turned her face away. “I wasn’t aware we had any sort of relationship.”
Kami walked on. After a moment she heard the rustle of Jared’s footsteps coming after her. She crept along a line of thornbushes and saw a throng of people standing silent up ahead. She and Jared crouched down by the bushes and waited like the crowd, shivering in the cold dawn, as light bled into the world.
So they could all see what the sorcerers had done.
The sorcerers were gone. The field of winter-dry grass was painted with slick red blood, the ground carved with dark lines and symbols cut deep into the earth, and in the blood and symbols lay the huddled shapes of dead animals. It made Kami think of what had happened to Nicola, and it made her sick for a whole other reason: this field was so utterly transformed, turned into a gory nightmare. Rob Lynburn had taken a piece of her town and made it his.
The people standing in front of the gate to Hallow’s Field, Kami was almost sure, were not those who had been running through the field casting spells and shedding blood. There was the mayor, Chris Fairchild, and his wife, Jocelyn, and several people who Kami knew were on the town council. There was her headmistress, Ms. Dollard. There was Mrs. Thompson, who Kami knew was a sorcerer, but who looked as if she might be about to have a heart attack.
There was her own mother, shivering in her winter coat, sleep-tangled bronze hair spilling over her shoulders. Mum looked tense, every line of her body straining. She looked as if she expected something more.
And more came.
Rob Lynburn came striding down from the hill where the thornbushes grew wild, forming a dark background for his shining gold hair. He was alone, his sorcerers apparently dismissed now that they had done their work. That made sense: people would be more afraid if they didn’t know for certain who Rob’s sorcerers were.
“I called you all here to make an announcement,” he said, his voice ringing out in the cold morning air. “Sorry-in-the-Vale is going back to the old ways. Sorcerers are going back to the old ways. I will be the Lynburn who rules in Aurimere, and this town will be protected, blessed and full of power again. And power has a price. The price is blood.”
Kami thought of what the Lynburns had asked from their town. The assembled people watching him looked scared, but Kami noticed that none of them looked surprised.
There was a sudden loud crackling, like several small bones snapping all at once, from Hallow’s Field. Kami flinched, coming up against the hard line of Jared’s chest. For a moment she saw nothing in the field but the nightmare she had seen before, but then she tilted her face up. A mass of clouds was eating the blue-gray of the sky. The clouds were suddenly touched with orange and scarlet, as if the sun had blazed into the sky.
It wasn’t the sun.
Down in the still-wet blood of Hallow’s Field, there was a new fire kindling. The smell of smoke hit them, thick and almost sweet. Kami felt Jared’s body tense for a spring.
She grabbed at him with no hesitation for once, seizing at his wrists, her head banging against his collarbone, her whole body involved in a fight to keep him down and still, keep him safe. He was so much bigger than she was that it was like trying to wrestle down an animal.
Kami let go of one wrist and seized his shirt again, using her leverage on it to swing herself back to face him. Then she took his face in both hands, tight jaw against her palms, her fingertips slipping against his scar.
“No,” she commanded softly.
Jared stilled, his body relaxing enough that Kami felt able to let go. Then her eyes stung as the smoke hit, tears abrupt and hot on her cheeks.
Hallow’s Field was an expanse of seething flame, the blood and the dead lost in the fire. It licked red tongues through the wire fence and swallowed the thorns that were encroaching on the fields with a roar. Sweat ran down Kami’s face, mingling with the tears. The fire did not catch on the thornbushes that lay outside the field, did not spread along the dry grass to the surrounding fields. The fire simmered behind its fence like a creature Rob had caged.
Firelight cast patterns on Rob’s pleasant, handsome face. He moved forward slowly to where the little throng of people stood. Everyone scattered except for one lone figure in her winter coat. Kami’s mother tilted up her face and looked at Rob. Kami could see the effort it cost her not to back away.
Rob smiled at Kami’s mother as if she was rather sweet, as if he didn’t know her at all. “In the old days, the town would offer up a sacrifice on the winter solstice for the coming of the new year,” said Rob. “So you have a choice to make, and after that the rest will live. You’ll live charmed lives, sheltered and guarded, under a real sorcerer’s rule.”
“The rest will live,” echoed Kami’s mother, her voice frayed with exhaustion. “So, you mean one person will die.”
“If you all want to die,” said Rob, “I’ll be happy to oblige you.”
Kami’s legs ached from crouching, her hands ached from her grasp on Jared’s shirt and his wrist, and her eyes hurt as she tried to watch her mother.
“I trust you’re all going to be sensible,” Rob said, in a terribly reasonable tone. “I will be waiting to accept your tokens. I’ll be watching for the signs.” He vanished as Lillian had once, in a sigh of wind and a blink. He left Hallow’s Field burning.
Jared pulled away from Kami as soon as Rob was gone, rising to his feet. Kami stood up too. She looked across at the crowd by the gate, and saw them all recognize Jared. She saw her mother, looking at her.
Kami had to look away. From the opposite direction, she saw the others coming, Lillian and Ash at their head. They were walking at a fast clip, Lillian zeroing in on Jared because Lynburns were the only people she ever really saw. “Who did you see?” Lillian asked.
“Rob,” Kami said. “And the people here. He summoned them so they could see what he would do.”
Jared nodded. “So he could issue his ultimatum. The town goes back to the old ways, or else.”
“My family,” Holly said uncertainly, and everyone turned to look at her. Angela shoved her shoulder in front of Holly’s, glaring indiscriminately, and Holly went on: “They were all gone when I woke up. I hoped, but—they’re not at the gate.”
“We know Rob was collecting sorcerers,” Lillian said crisply. “Your family came at his call and did what he wanted them to do.”
So it was true: Holly’s family were all sorcerers and would come and kill on Rob’s command. Kami watched Holly take a deep, shaky breath.
“Forget him,” Jared said tersely. “What are we going to do?”
Lillian eyed the people at the gate, their scared faces, and then looked away from them to survey the burning field. “I don’t have to do anything,” she answered. “I’m the Lynburn of Aurimere, and magic has come back to this town. The sorcerers are all going to come to me. Then we’ll meet my husband and his traitors before the town. We will crush him.”
Chapter Eight
Past Hearing
“We’re getting out of this town,” said Mum.
She’d run home, dragging Kami along as if she was five years old. Kami was still out of breath. Ten had hunched in on himself and tears had instantly sprung to Tomo’s eyes as they watched their mother going crazy in front of them.
“Mum, you’re scaring them,” Kami said.
Ten and Tomo sidled toward her.
Mum was throwing her clothes into a suitcase on the bed. The whole room was a tornado. She stilled and looked at Kami. “They should be scared.”
“Claire,” Dad said from the doorway. He walked toward Mum and turned her, hands on her shoulders, to face him. “Claire. Stop.”
“Jon,” Mum snapped back. “There isn’t any time.”
“You’re scaring the kids,” said Dad. “You’re scaring me. Leave town? You were the one who always wanted to stay in this town. It was your dream.”
Mum was trembling under his hands, though she hadn’t trembled in front of Rob Lynburn with a field of blood and fire behind her. “I’ve been dreaming too long,” she said. “Now we have to survive.”
Kami wanted to tell her father what was happening, but Tomo was leaning hard against her legs. None of them had ever seen their parents act this way before: Kami could not desert her brothers. She sat down on the floor and Tomo climbed into her lap as he had not done since he was four years old. Ten leaned heavily against her shoulder, face bent to Tomo’s head, and Kami felt anchored to the floor, helpless under the weight of those she loved.
“Claire, what is going on?”
“I don’t deserve for you to trust me,” Mum said rapidly. “I know that, and I’m sorry. I’m going to explain. But we have to get out of here quickly. Let me call Helen and tell her we’re coming to stay.”
“I can’t go,” Kami called out from the floor. “I’ll stay with Angela and Rusty.”
“No!” Tomo sobbed, clutching her as if she was trying to go right now.
“You’re coming with us,” said Mum. “The Lynburns can rot in hell for all I care, every one of them. Rob told me the link was broken—you’re safe now—”
“Been having a lot of private conversations with him, have you?” Kami snapped.
“If someone doesn’t tell me what’s going on right now—!” Dad shouted as Kami had never heard him shout before. Still leaning against her, Ten flinched and made a low sound.
Dad’s eyes cut away from Mum, toward Ten. He let go of Mum’s shoulders and walked over to him, kneeling down and giving him a hug. His eyes met Kami’s, and Kami nodded.
“Let me call Helen,” Mum pleaded.
“Okay,” Dad said reluctantly. Mum went over to the bedside table, autodialed Helen’s number on the cordless phone, and left it on speakerphone so she could keep packing.
Kami rocked Tomo and thought. She couldn’t go to London: if she could get away, her family couldn’t follow her. Her parents would have to save Tomo and Ten. She was still thinking when she heard Aunt Helen’s voice in the quiet. “Hello? Helen Somerville speaking.”
“Helen, it’s Claire,” said Mum, and suddenly she was crying, in great hungry gulps. “The Lynburns are back, really back, the way they used to be in Grandma’s stories. They already killed a girl—I thought it was just one of them, one of the young ones run mad, I thought it would all stop and it wouldn’t be so bad. I thought there had to be some way to get back our lives. But they want blood, and we have to escape.”