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She had woken up all alone. Her parents had taken her sister and her brothers. Rob Lynburn had come recruiting, and he must have left her out because she was already close to Kami, the source he hated. Holly had come that near to evil.
“Everybody who is not sure of their power needs to come down with me to the Crying Pools,” Lillian continued. “Those who see gold in the water are sorcerers.”
Lillian stood from her chair and walked through the people crowding around her like a queen deigning to mingle with her subjects, not looking behind her because she assumed they would follow where she led. She left Chris Fairchild standing behind her, the mayor looking as if he felt useless but did not even dare to feel furious about it.
When Lillian passed Holly, she paused.
“Are you coming?” asked Lillian, entirely ignoring Angela and Rusty. “Your family did leave you asleep when Rob called the sorcerers to his side, which goes to show Rob doesn’t think you would be useful. But perhaps he was basing that on the fact that you already seemed allied with my son and nephew. It might be worth a try.”
“I’ve looked at the Crying Pools,” Holly told her, staring at the ground. “I won’t be useful.”
Holly could feel the weight of Lillian’s gaze on her, though she did not look up until she heard the click of her boot heels moving away.
“What a shame,” said Angie. “Imagine the glory of being Lillian’s lackey.”
Holly was able to look up then. She saw Angie looking at her, and felt the way she used to when she had Angie’s attention: glad to have it, and steadier because of it.
“How are you doing?” Angie asked awkwardly.
Holly tried to smile. “Not so great,” she answered. “Can we—can we get out of here?”
She did not want to stay here in the sorcerer’s house, stained with blood and gold, thinking of power and how her parents had been tempted by it. She was scared. She wanted no part of any of this: she had often wished she were not a Prescott, but never more than she did now.
“Of course,” said Angie.
* * *
Angie’s living room was almost as intimidating as the parlor at Aurimere. It was white and clinical as a doctor’s office, if said doctor’s office had a fur rug on the floor and a sofa with gold curly legs.
Rusty was in the kitchen making tea and snacks. Angie was prowling about the room like an unhappy cat.
“I’m sorry,” Angela said at last, and sat down beside Holly. “I don’t know what to say to make it better. But I’m sorry.”
That already made it better: that Angie, who never pretended, was concerned. It made Holly feel special, in a way she never really had before. She saw Angie’s hand waver for a moment, then move toward Holly’s: she was glad for a moment.
Then Holly remembered and flinched. Angela withdrew her hand.
“Can we just get it over with?” Angela demanded. “I want to be friends with you again, without all this weirdness. If you think I’m disgusting or something . . .”
Holly looked at Angie then, stricken. “Oh no,” she said. “No.”
“Then can I just say,” Angela began, and stopped, then started again. “I don’t want to say I’m sorry, as if a guy hitting on a girl is a compliment and a girl hitting on a girl is an insult that should be apologized for. I won’t try anything again. I obviously picked up cues that were not there; I don’t have any experience and I’m sorry that—”
“Cues?” Holly asked. She felt cold suddenly, as if she had been turned to ice and might shatter.
“What?” said Angela.
“You thought there were cues?” Holly asked. Her voice sounded cold too. “You mean you thought there was a chance I might like you back . . . that way?”
There was a silence.
Angela said in a level voice, “I made a mistake.”
“Yes, you did!” Holly stood up, looking at anything but Angie. “I have to go home.”
Home might still be empty, or it might have her family in it, her family with blood on their hands. Holly was scared to go home. But she couldn’t stay here. The whole world had become terrifying and hostile; Holly felt like it was closing in on her like a trap with cruel teeth, and the only way to survive would be to lose some part of herself.
* * *
It was night, and the terribly few people who had come to Ash’s mother were mostly gone. Aurimere was silent. The sound of a door opening behind him made Ash start and twist around in his chair. As usual when he saw Jared, he got a sinking feeling. Every time was like the first time Ash had ever seen him: every time he felt the same horror. Another young Lynburn, when Ash had thought he was the only one, and this one was already everything Ash’s father wanted. This one was already a killer.
Jared leaned against the doors of the counting room, head tipped back against the carvings of fire and water.
“So you’re back,” Ash said. “I thought you were never going to darken these doors again.”
Jared smiled, the scar by the side of his mouth tightening. “Don’t worry. I’m not here to stay.”
“But you’re always welcome,” Ash told him. “My mother’s made that very clear.”
Jared’s smile spread. Of all the painted Lynburn faces in the gallery, Ash had never seen one that looked as distant as his brother’s.
“The heir of Aurimere,” Jared said, his voice mocking. “Don’t tell me you bought that. Imagine me ruling anything; imagine anyone trusting me with anything that mattered. It’s a joke. Your mother is just trying to punish you.” He left the doors and strolled over to the table. He pulled out a chair and reversed it, straddling it, leaning his arms along the chair back with his chin on his arms.
“You think?” Ash asked.
“I do,” said Jared. “Why, Ash. Don’t tell me you ever bought me as a real rival.”
Ash’s father had told him to watch Kami, and she had responded to the attention until Jared had arrived on the scene. His parents had spent all their time talking about Jared until his father left. Jared was the focus of everyone’s attention, and Ash was out in the cold.
“Kind of funny,” Jared observed.
“What’s funny?” Ash asked, wondering if he could edge his chair away without Jared noticing.
“That neither of us even knew the other one was alive,” Jared said. “And yet you were always trying to be the good one. And everyone always knew I was the bad one.”
“Trying to be the good one?” Ash asked. “By—by almost killing someone for my dad?”
“Yeah,” said Jared. “Isn’t that what you were trying to do, be good?”
Ash hadn’t thought anyone would be able to understand that, when he barely understood himself how he’d gotten so twisted up. He’d never thought anyone would understand, least of all Jared.
“The Lynburns,” Jared continued quietly. “Aurimere. They’re what matter to you. You’re better than me. You were born to all this. Of course you’re going to have Aurimere. I don’t want it. I’d ruin it. I ruin everything I touch.” He slanted a look at the Lynburn coat of arms, and apparently saw something different than Ash saw, because he smirked and added, “And let’s face it, the place is pretty screwed as is.”
Ash had no idea how to deal with him. “I don’t understand.”
“We’re not in competition,” said Jared. “We don’t even want the same things. There’s no reason for us to be at odds. There’s every reason for us to work together.”
Ever since the night in the woods when he’d disappointed both his parents, no Lynburn had given Ash the slightest sign they thought he was worth bothering with. Even though Jared made a two-legged table look stable, his offer was tempting. “What did you have in mind?” Ash asked warily.
Jared’s focus on Ash tightened, eyes narrowing, so Ash felt as if Jared had leaned closer even though he had not. “That ceremony with the Crying Pools Aunt Lillian was talking about,” he said. “Is there a book about it? How’s it done?”
“As far as I know, it’s pretty simple.” Ash tried to make out the expression on Jared’s face, but he got nothing. Ash’s reflection in Jared’s pale eyes looked back at him, worried and hopeful. “Are you thinking of going to my mother and getting her to do the ceremony?”
“Would she have to help me?” Jared inquired. “Does it have to be just one person doing the ceremony and one person helping?”
Jared blinked, slow and considering. “I was thinking, what if both of us did the ceremony together. And we didn’t tell Aunt Lillian until it was done. Might do her good to get a surprise.”
His mother had said she didn’t think Ash would survive it. Ash wanted to prove her wrong, but he could not stop fearing she was right. “You don’t technically need another sorcerer to help,” he offered, tentatively. “Mum helped Dad, but she did it alone. There are just a few words you need to say; most of the ceremony is about what happens when you go into the pool. It’s a test. It’s more than that. It’s a trial—it’s about being strong enough to reach another place, from which you can access more power.”
Ash looked again at their coat of arms. Fire and water, Aurimere and the sword, and a drowning woman giving the lie to their motto, We neither drown nor burn. “There’s a way to open a channel of magic between us, so we can share power,” said Ash. “That’s what Mom did for Dad. We could do it. If we trusted each other enough.”
“We shouldn’t decide right away,” Jared said. “It’s a serious enough undertaking. We should both think it through.”
“Yeah.” Ash nodded. “That makes sense.”
Jared reached forward and took one of the papers from the table, flipping the worn-soft square of ivory paper casually between his brown fingers. “What are those words you need to say?”
Ash told him. Jared nodded, seeming mostly absorbed in reading the paper in his hands. “There’s someone here called Lydia Johnson who gave a lot of money for a love spell. Can we actually do those?”
“Not love,” said Ash. “If an attraction’s possible, we can direct and intensify it. But it won’t last.”
“So some long-ago Lynburn cheated the woman,” Jared remarked. “Aren’t we a charming family? Personally, I’m amazed the townspeople never barred all the doors and burned Aurimere to the ground with every last Lynburn inside.”
Ash stared. Personally, he was amazed by how crazy Jared was. The question about love spells made an awful suspicion occur to him. “What about you?” Ash asked. “You said that Aurimere and the Lynburns were what mattered to me, and that you and I didn’t even want the same things. So what matters to you? What do you want?”
Jared’s smile made Ash flinch. “Nothing I can have,” Jared told him. “Thanks for all the help, Ash.” He swung out of his chair, the piece of paper fluttering to the floor. Ash stooped to pick it up and it occurred to him that, crazy or not, Jared was the only member of his family who had reached out to him at all since that night in the quarry.
“Jared,” he called out.
Jared was already at the door, but he stopped and turned his head.
“I just wanted to say thanks,” Ash continued awkwardly. “Good talk. I will think about it.”
Jared stood framed by wood carvings of fire and water, as if choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, and the first feeling that Ash could empathize with crossed his brother’s face.
For an instant, he looked guilty.
“I’ll never take Aurimere away from you, Ash,” Jared said. “I swear. You can believe that.” Then the door carved with fire and water closed behind him, and Ash listened to his footsteps slowly fade away down the stone halls of home.