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The kids were back in bed by the time Kami heard the creak of the front door opening, and instantly afterward the loud sound of her father’s voice.
He sounded furious in the same frightening way he had before.
“You just wanted to protect me, and protect our children, and protect the town.”
“Yes,” said Mum.
“So you told lie after lie, all for the best, until you had told so many lies you didn’t know how to begin telling the truth.”
“Yes,” Mum said again, desperately.
“I could have forgiven you for any of those lies,” Dad said, though he didn’t sound forgiving. “But there were so many of them. You didn’t know how to begin telling the truth? I don’t know how to begin trusting you again. There was no time in our lives when you weren’t lying to me. There’s nothing to go back to.”
Kami crept down the stairs, trying to walk softly and sidestep every creak, until she was in position to look down into the hall. She could see her parents’ shadows, black against the yellow wall, and how far apart they stood.
“There was nothing you could have done if I had told you,” Mum said, low. “I did wrong, but I did it because I love you and I love the kids.”
“It wasn’t your choice to make!” Dad said. “They’re not just your kids. They’re our kids. That’s what it meant when we got married, that we promised to make those choices together, and I always have.”
“I know you gave up a lot to come back to Sorry-in-the-Vale when I told you I was going to have Kami,” Mum told him unsteadily. “And you never threw it in my face, until now.”
“That’s not fair.”
“I wanted to make it up to you, I wanted to make things right for you,” said Mum, her voice changing, becoming more like her usual voice, trying to be calm, trying to explain matters. “So I did a spell, and it hurt Kami. After that I was sure I could never tell you any of it. I was sure you would never forgive me.”
“Well then,” Dad said. His voice had changed too: it was very soft. “At last we find something we can agree on.”
They went into the kitchen. Kami heard the clatter of their movement, the absence of noise that was their furious silence. Her hand was still locked around the banister, gripping the wood as if there might be some comfort there. As if wood and stone were what her home was made of. She thought of Aurimere House, where Angela had said people were going to Lillian, where there might be answers.
Angela had said Jared was there too.
No. She wasn’t going to do it. She was going to go back to bed and sleep, and in the morning she would be in control of herself. In the morning she would fix this.
Kami pried her hand off the banister. She walked slowly back up the stairs and into her room, shutting the door behind her with finality, as if she could make the world outside stop. She lay down on the bed, still in her clothes, and closed her eyes so she could not see the fires burning. Scarlet traces lingered in the darkness behind her eyes. Falling asleep felt like giving up, like she could not bear her own thoughts a moment longer and was snatching at oblivion.
She didn’t get oblivion. She dreamed instead of water and gold, drowning and burning, and not caring. She dreamed that Jared was back in her head, where she could be utterly sure of him. Everything else was chaos in her dream, and it did not matter. She was happy.
Kami woke with a violent jolt that snapped her into awareness, curled up in her sheets with every muscle tense and aching.
She got out of bed to close her window and found herself just kneeling instead, her whole body shaking. She laid her face down on the icy cushions of the window seat and reached out, hand on the windowsill. As if there was anything there to grasp but the bitterly cold night air.
Kami had never been like other people. She had never had to cry herself to sleep alone. It was overwhelming to realize that there was not going to be any comfort ever again. She was going to spend the rest of her life living the way other people did, in terrible everyday loneliness, and she did not know how to bear it.
She wanted to make any bargain to have him back.
Kami rose after a long dark while and slipped down the stairs and out the door as quietly as she could. Then she began to run, along the curve of the woods to where the path led straight up to Aurimere.
The windows were all lit up, and the hall was so bright that for a moment when the door opened all Kami could see was someone tall, and light on fair hair.
Ash said, sounding surprised but pleased, “Kami?”
“Is Jared still here?” Kami asked.
“No,” Ash answered, after a brief pause. “But he’s all right. Actually, we had the first good conversation we’ve ever had. What would you think about us doing the ceremony together?”
“The Crying Pools ceremony?” Kami asked. “The one Lillian said was dangerous?”
“Yeah,” Ash said. “I mean, we both know it’s a big decision. But it’s something to think over. It might make all the difference to the town. Look, do you want to come in?” He stepped a little aside. The night air was pulling frost-tipped fingers through Kami’s hair, but she stayed where she was.
“Did Jared say that? That it was a big decision?”
“And we both needed to think it through,” Ash said.
“Think it through?” Kami repeated, above the sound of the wind. “Jared? Don’t you know him at all? If he sounds reasonable, or sensible, or capable of any sort of rational thought, it means he’s lying through his teeth! What did you tell him about the ceremony?”
They stared at each other for a moment of horrified silence. “I told him how to do it,” Ash said at last.
Kami turned and ran away from the lights of Aurimere, down the dark path into the woods. Behind her she heard Ash slam the door of the house and run to catch up.
* * *
The tree branches were limned with ice: it made the whole wood look as if it was made of moonlight, branches shining like icicles in the night. Everything was sharp silver and darkness. These woods had been Kami’s once: in these trees she had seen her thoughts brought to life in real and vivid color. They were not her woods anymore.
Kami went crashing through the debris of dead leaves and fallen tree trunks, scrambling and sliding. A screech and the flutter of ghost-pale wings against the sky made her jump and glance up. She didn’t break stride until she was in the clearing with the Crying Pools, panting. She grabbed a willow to hold herself up. She leaned her face against the trunk, feeling it scrape against her cheek, and stood staring out at the stretch of water and grass.
The grass was broken and dead around the pools, like a metallic spiderweb splintered and scattered in shards over the earth. The branches of the willows by the pools were bare, their outlines reflected in lacy shapes in the frosted mirrors of the pools. The little hollow was utterly silver and silent. Kami thought for a moment that all was well.
Then she saw the crumpled shape by the edge of one pool. She ran to kneel in the icy grass and touch the worn surface of Jared’s leather jacket.
Kami let out a sob and saw the dragon’s-smoke cloud of her breath drift away into the air. Standing by the willow, white and stricken, was Ash.
“The ice on the pool isn’t broken,” she said, and heard her own voice break.
“It wouldn’t be,” Ash replied. “The ceremony is about becoming one with the elements, controlling nature. If he went into the pools, he should have gone in without a ripple. Or without breaking the ice.”
Kami thought of the way Jared had always been drawn to these pools, how when they had found out the truth about what their link was he’d gone diving in one of them. He’d broken the surface of the pool then. He had been human enough to do that, then, and she’d had to save him.
“How can we stop him?” Ash whispered.
“I intend to start by saying ‘Screw this,’ ” said Kami, and cast about for a stone in the woods. Ash watched her in obvious confusion, but she ignored him and found a stone. She hurled it into the frozen pool with all the force she had.
The ice shattered, turning into drowning glints of silver in the black water.
The night water was opaque: Kami could not see Jared or anything else, though she knelt by his jacket again and shoved her hands into the water up to the elbows. It was so cold it burned, and she had to pull her arms out, gasping with pain.
“Kami,” Ash whispered. He sounded horrified. His voice also sounded as if it belonged in this night world, natural as the sound of wings and birdcall, while hers had disturbed the quiet. When he moved forward and toward her, she saw how he seemed to fit into the woods, slim and pale as the wintertime trees.
“He’s in there,” Kami whispered back.
“Yes, he’s in there,” Ash said, and crouched down across the pool from her. “But you can’t reach him.”
“I can reach him anywhere,” Kami told him. “And you’re a sorcerer. Do something! Do magic.”
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that!”
Kami glared at him. “You said this was about—about becoming one with the elements. But he hasn’t stopped existing. He’s in there. He’s just on—on a different elemental wavelength. Plane. Something like that.”
In the shadows moving behind the whispering leaves, in a place seen through a glass darkly, Jared was there. She had been able to reach him across an ocean: she had to believe she could find him now.
“You don’t understand,” Ash said hopelessly.
“I understand this,” Kami returned. “Think of where he is, conjure it up, bring it closer. Open a door for me, or I swear to God I will break through a wall.” She stood up and reached a hand across the pool to Ash, whose fingers closed around hers, unexpectedly strong.
His eyes went wide. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going in after him,” Kami said. “Don’t let go of my hand.” She took a firmer hold on his hand, and jumped into the pool.
It was like taking a tumble into the night sky. She felt as if she was falling through fathoms of airless darkness, lost beyond recall.
Ash’s hand stayed tightly clasped with hers, though it made every muscle in her arm scream to hang on. She struck out with her free hand, blackness all around her, skin burning with cold and lungs burning from lack of oxygen. This was a nightmare eager to swallow her whole, but if Jared was here, some part of her could survive. She was not going to give up until this place surrendered what was hers.
She reached out again and again, fingers finding nothing, and then she clawed through nothing. She kept searching: she’d pulled him out of this pool once, he’d saved her from drowning once. Jagged pieces of memory slid through her mind, and she felt that if only she could put them together, she would understand how to get to him.
Except that she did not know how. All she knew was that she was not giving up. Darkness was blotting her out, but she made the thought of finding him her last light and chased it until even that was winked out and lost.
Kami could feel her fingers again when she felt another hand brush hers, and knew whose it was. She held on with all the strength she hadn’t known she had left, entwined her fingers with his, clinging so hard that they would be drowned or saved together. She hung on to him and hung there in space, numb and almost content.
Then she was drawn up through the water, inch by painful inch. When she surfaced, her lips opened and she breathed in mingled air and water. She choked and held on to both boys’ hands so fiercely her fingers felt as if they might break.
Ash was saying something, murmuring words of horror and relief, as he helped Kami out of the water. She knelt in the cold dirt and felt Ash’s hands through the soaked material of her shirt.