Page 11

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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It was terrifying to see Mum break down at last, knuckles white on the phone, telling Aunt Helen that nightmares from their childhood had come true.
There was a pause.
Then Aunt Helen said, in a cheerful voice, “Well, I’d love to come see you, Claire, but I’m not getting any time off work until Christmas.”
Mum’s breath caught, her whole body going limp with something that looked like despair.
Kami held Tomo closer and glanced at Dad. Dad’s eyebrows were drawn together in a frown. He stood up, pushing Ten gently toward Kami, and took the phone out of Mum’s lax hands.
“Helen?” he said. “Helen, it’s Jon. Can you hear me?”
“Hi, Jon,” Aunt Helen replied. “Of course.”
Dad let out a breath he’d been holding. “I don’t really understand what’s happening, but Claire is very upset,” he said. “She says that she wants us to leave town, that there’s something dangerous going on. What’s all this about the Lynburns?”
The room was warm with the light of full morning, creeping inch by bright inch across the carpet. This was Kami’s home, where she expected to be safe. Now, everywhere she looked, her family was afraid.
Aunt Helen’s voice came through the phone again, so happy and normal that it made Kami’s insides clench. “I’m glad you’re getting on so well with the new neighbors. I can’t wait to meet them myself.”
Rob wanted the whole town to be afraid, but he didn’t want them to get help. Magic was connected to nature, sourced from it and influencing it, so Kami didn’t think he would have been able to put a spell on the phones.
It was the voices of the people in Sorry-in-the-Vale Rob must have twisted and warped, so that they literally could not speak against him, not in a way anyone outside their town could understand.
Dad hung up the phone and stood staring at the dead device in his hand. Then he lifted his eyes to his wife’s face. “What’s happening?” he asked, his voice full of tightly leashed calm.
“You have to tell him the truth,” Kami burst out. She could not bear seeing her mother lie to her father again, not this morning, not on top of everything else.
“I will,” said Mum, clasping her shaking hands and pressing her knuckles to her forehead. “I was going to,” she added. She looked at Kami, white-faced, uncertain that she would be believed, and looked at Dad in the same way. “When we were kids, I thought you heard all the same stories I did. Nobody talked about the Lynburns much. It was just something you knew.”
“What was something you knew?” Dad asked. “Claire, what?”
“That they were sorcerers,” whispered Mum. “That they killed your father, Jon.”
“My father?” Dad said in an incredulous voice.
“I thought you knew, and when I realized you didn’t—I loved you so much,” said Mum. “I loved Sorry-in-the-Vale so much. I wanted it to be different; I wanted the town to be wiped clean of all the old stories. I wanted it to be the way you saw it. I didn’t know how to tell you the truth, but I hoped you would never have to know as well. The Lynburns’ power was broken before we were born. They weren’t killing people anymore. I thought I could forget the old stories, that they didn’t really matter.”
Kami could not read her father’s expression. He looked the way Mum had said she wanted Sorry-in-the-Vale: wiped clean. He looked as if he did not know how to feel and thus felt nothing at all.
“But the Lynburns still scared me,” Mum said. “They weren’t killing anybody then, but I didn’t want them near me. I didn’t want them near you. So when Rosalind Lynburn said she’d go after you, I told her I’d do whatever she wanted: I told her I’d do a spell. I didn’t know, I never dreamed it would hurt the baby.”
Dad looked across at Kami and, with love and fear, said her name.
“I’m okay,” Kami said quickly, for both of them. “I’m all right.”
Her mother and Rosalind had magically created a link between them, so that Rosalind could still see Sorry-in-the-Vale after she was gone. It had turned into an entirely different link between their children. It had made Kami different, she knew that: the girl with the eyes that stared at nothing, the girl who talked to someone who wasn’t there. But it wasn’t like her mother thought, being controlled by a Lynburn sorcerer. It had been Jared, who she had always known better than anybody else.
Dad looked searchingly at Kami and, apparently reassured by what he saw, turned back to Mum. “A spell?” he repeated. After all that had happened, Kami saw he still did not quite believe.
Mum saw it too. Her face changed from misery to something like distraught elation. She had been lying to Dad since they were teenagers, and now the lies were finally being stripped away between them. “I’ll show you,” she said, and took his hand. “Come on then. I’ll show you.”
Kami stayed with her brothers as her parents went out the door of their house. Her mother was leading her father as though he was newly stricken blind, stumbling through an unfamiliar world.
Sitting on her parents’ rumpled bed by the open suitcase, Kami called Angela, to see if she could talk to anyone on the phone. She was relieved to find that she could.
Angela said that Rusty had tried calling their parents. She did not elaborate on that. Kami did not ask her to.
“So by now, everybody knows there is no help to be had outside,” Kami said thoughtfully. “Which means people are going to run. Either away, or to Rob, or to Lillian.”
Angela paused. “A few people have come to Lillian,” she said slowly. “She was right when she said people would turn to Aurimere. The mayor’s here.”
Kami looked out of the window to where Aurimere stood, gold towers against the pale haze of a winter sky.
“You said a few people?” asked Kami. “How many exactly?”
“Less than a dozen,” Angela said, and they were both quiet for a moment.
Kami wished fiercely that she could be there, taking it all down, the first time in memory that the townspeople had come to Aurimere to hold council with their sorcerer. Even if there were so few of them, she wished she could be among them. She looked at Tomo, tucked in beside her, and Ten sitting at her feet. She couldn’t leave them. “Where are Jared and Ash?”
“Ash said he was going to do research,” Angela said. “I think Jared went with him. I haven’t seen either of them in a while, but I don’t think either of them left.”
Kami was glad Jared had gone to Aurimere at least. “Okay. Call me if there’s any news, all right? And tomorrow we meet at Rusty’s gym. Lillian doesn’t want us? We’ll do this by ourselves.”
Kami hung up and called Jared’s number. She received the automatic message that it was turned off. Kami very carefully did not curse in front of her little brothers. She wished there was something she could do, right now.
Ten cleared his throat, as if he was an adult at a business meeting, and said, “Can you maybe explain stuff to me?”
Kami had an idea. “How would it be,” she asked, “if I wrote it down, so you could read it and understand it, the way you do your encyclopedias?”
Ten tilted his head, and she saw him get it. “Like one of your newspaper articles.”
“Exactly like that, yes.”
“I don’t read!” Tomo announced semi-hysterically, as if this was the absolute last straw. “Ever.”
“I’ll explain it to you,” Ten offered. When Kami stood, hefting Tomo’s weight as best she could, Ten reached up and grabbed Tomo’s hand.
They went into Dad’s office, because Kami figured that was the place Ten would feel most reassured. Dad’s stuff was lying around in piles. The background picture on his computer was one of them all the Halloween before last, when Kami had dressed up in spectacles, with a notebook and a blue shirt with an S on it, to be Superman and Lois Lane’s superpowered reporter daughter. Ten had been Albert Einstein with a shock of cotton-wool hair, and Tomo had been a fireman.
Kami opened up a blank document and started typing, Tomo in her lap, Ten with his sharp chin digging into her shoulder.
From the study window, Kami could see the glimmer of fire that was Hallow’s Field, still burning, casting an infernal glow on the clouds above the town. When scared people looked out of their windows, trying uselessly to call for help, they would see their home touched by hell.
Kami realized that until now, she had imagined that normal life would somehow go on. She had thought secrets should be told but had not calculated the cost of the telling. Now their voices had been twisted so they could not call for help, and how could they know what else Rob had done to make sure none of them would escape? Kami had always thought of Sorry-in-the-Vale as a little confining, had wanted to burst past its limits into a wider world. Now their town, from the woods to the cliffs, was their whole world: nobody could pass these limits. All the stories had come true. All the secrets were out and hunting them like monsters through the streets. And their town had transformed, through terrible alchemy, from gold to something dark. Everything was changed.
“You’re not taking my voice away,” Kami said aloud, and began to write.
Chapter Nine
Waiting to Answer
“I wish all the sorcerers in the world had just one throat,” Angela announced. “So I could punch them in it.”
Holly looked up from where she had been staring at her own hands.
They were all sitting in the parlor of Aurimere, and it was terrifyingly fancy. Of course, that didn’t faze Rusty, who was apparently sleeping on the red sofa with the weird canopy, or Angie. She was sitting in the corner of the sofa and utilizing her superpower of glaring at everyone in the room.
There were not that many people in the room. There was Mayor Fairchild and his wife, and Lillian Lynburn wasn’t even being nice to them: they weren’t sorcerers, so she was talking to them as if they were children. There were a few more people who Holly thought were sorcerers: a lady who worked in the bank; Mavis, who had been a few years ahead of Holly in school; the two Hope brothers who owned the big Hope farm. A few more people whose faces she knew but whose names she did not. Eight possible sorcerers, all told.
Not enough to fight Rob’s army of blood-shedding shadows. Not anything like enough.
“It doesn’t seem like there are . . . a lot of people here,” Holly said in a low voice.
Angela frowned. “Kami said Mrs. Thompson was a sorceress, and she didn’t seem to be on Rob’s side, so where is she?”
Holly stared.
“Mrs. Thompson owns the sweetshop,” Angela supplied.
“I know she runs the sweetshop, she’s my great-aunt,” Holly said. “My great-aunt Ingrid is a sorcerer?”
Of course it wouldn’t occur to Angie that the sweetshop owner was someone’s aunt. Angie’s parents were basically on holiday here.
And practically all of Holly’s relatives were sorcerers. Her parents, her sister, and her brothers, they’d all gone off to Rob. They’d had a hand in creating the nightmare that was Hallow’s Field.
Holly had never given much thought to whether her parents were good or bad people. She knew that their lives were lived in a tired groove of bitterness, retracing their past wrongs over and over until the present was nothing but an old track worn dark.
She had never thought about where that bitter path might lead.
“Maybe they’re protecting you,” Angela said suddenly. “Your family.” Holly started: she hadn’t thought anyone was paying attention to her.
“They’re probably just scared,” Holly said. “Who wouldn’t be scared? And if that guy—Rob Lynburn—if he offered my dad a way to be better than everyone else, to be important . . . My dad would really like that. I don’t know. Maybe they’re all just scared. I wish I could help them, but I’m scared too.”