Page 3

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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She scrutinized Rusty. He was sitting on the other side of the kitchen island from herself, Angela, and Holly, resting his elbows on the granite surface. He was back to his usual self, all traces of his former alertness wiped out, big shoulders at ease and eyes heavy-lidded as if he might just go to sleep. There was never any way to tell what Rusty was thinking.
“And the imaginary friend you’ve had all your life—the voice in your head—was actually Jared Lynburn, who is also a sorcerer,” Rusty said. He shrugged. “Well, I did think there was something weird going on with him. And the fact that you guys were sort of . . . wearing woo-woo mental friendship bracelets meant he had more, ah, magical power, and you could use it.”
“I could use it better than he could,” Kami said. “He’s a sorcerer, and I was a source—the link between us meant I was a source of magic to him. But I broke the link between us.”
“Right,” said Rusty. “So you don’t have, ah, magic powers anymore.”
“Can you stop prefixing magic powers with ‘ah’?”
“I’m not ready to drop the prefix,” Rusty told her. “If you like, I can switch prefixes. I’m happy to go with ‘um, magic powers’ or ‘er . . . magic powers.’ Whichever works best for you ladies.”
Angela leaned across the table. “Rusty, I already beat up four scarecrows tonight. Do not push me.”
“Okay,” said Rusty. “So, we have three people with magic powers on our side: Lillian, Jared, and Ash Lynburn. And Jared and Ash—or, as I think of them, Sulky and Blondie—are still sorcerer trainees. On the side of evil are sorcerers in double digits, and aside from Rob; Jared’s mum, Rosalind; and Sergeant Kenn, we don’t know who most of them are.”
“Yet,” said Kami.
“Wow,” said Rusty. “Bet family reunions are going to be awkward for the Lynburns from now on. Also, I have lost a certain amount of faith in the police force.”
It was possible Rusty thought this was all an elaborate practical joke. Kami looked at Holly and Angela, hoping for backup. Angela scowled and Holly seemed uncomfortable. Maybe Holly didn’t want to look like a lunatic in front of a cute older guy. Or maybe she was uncomfortable being in Angela’s house.
The Montgomery house was never a comfortable house to be in at the best of times. Kami looked around at the shining kitchen island, the coffee machine she thought might unfold to be a robot butler, and Rusty, who seemed to have relaxed himself into a coma. She could not imagine a less likely place to tell someone about magic and be believed.
“You saw a little of what they can do tonight,” Kami said quietly. “There’s much more. There’s so much worse. Rob killed Nicola. He tried to kill me and Angela. We have to find some way to stop them, because there isn’t anybody else who will. If you don’t believe me, it doesn’t matter. If you won’t help me, it doesn’t matter. I know what I have to do.”
“You usually do,” Rusty said, and smiled lazily at her.
Holly reached out and squeezed Kami’s hand. “And we’re with you,” she said, her voice subdued but firm. Kami squeezed back.
Angela turned her gaze to Rusty and said, “That’s right. We don’t need you, you useless lump. In fact, you’d probably get in the way.”
Rusty placed a hand on his heart. “Without the love and support of my family, I would not be the man I am today. I’m with Cambridge too, of course.”
“You are?” Kami said blankly.
“A scarecrow tried to kill me. I don’t see anyone offering me alternative explanations for that,” Rusty drawled. “I believe you. I’ll help you. I’m with you. But it’s a lot to take in all at once. Could someone maybe fix me a snack? I think it would really help me process.”
Angela threw a roll of tinfoil at Rusty’s head. Holly started to laugh, and Rusty got up and fixed himself a snack, spreading tuna salad on bread with the air of a serf being worked unto death. Kami started to talk more easily, and Holly and Angela joined in, telling Rusty about going to the shut-up Monkshood Abbey, where Lynburns had committed murders two generations ago, and talking about seeing magic in the depths of the woods and the heart of their town.
Rusty was on their side. He believed her, and Angela and Holly had spoken up for her, been there for her despite the awkwardness between them. They could all be there for each other.
It was a relief to tell someone and be believed. Kami wanted to tell the world. For now, she could feel her team coming together. She could believe that her plan would come together as well.
* * *
Ash had scoured the town for his mother and his cousin half the night, trying not to think about what might happen to them if they were caught alone by his father. He trudged up the slope to Aurimere House, his camera beating a rapid anxious tattoo against his chest with every step, and heard his mother’s voice as he opened the door.
So they were both back safe. He doubted that either of them had been desperately concerned about him.
It struck Ash as almost unbearably strange sometimes that they were in Aurimere at last. For his whole childhood, it had been the promised land, the one thing his mother and father agreed on. He’d known that once they found Aunt Rosalind, they were going home. Where he belonged, where they all belonged, where they would never suffer again. “Our house,” his parents had called it. “Our town.”
Except he hadn’t understood that his parents meant different things by “our town”: his mother meant they had a responsibility to care for it, and his father that they had a right to rule it.
It had seemed easy enough to reconcile their different views when Aurimere was nothing but a dream. Both his mother and his father had told him, always, that they weren’t like other people: they were better.
He had spent his life knowing he was the heir of Aurimere, that Sorry-in-the-Vale was waiting for his return. He had spent his life wanting, so badly, to please them both.
His mother’s and father’s different views had ended in Ash seeing Angela chained on a quarry floor and knowing his father expected him to kill her. Now his father and his long-awaited aunt Rosalind were his enemies, and the only friends Ash had left did not trust him. He pulled his camera off from around his neck. He didn’t know why he was still carrying it around: it had been weeks since he saw something so beautiful and right he wanted to record it. He left it on the hall table and climbed the broad wooden staircase, heading toward his mother’s voice, which was coming from the general direction of the portrait gallery. His mother had not spoken much to him since she learned that he had picked up one of the golden knives the Lynburns had used long ago to shed blood and gain power, and almost used it.
Ash walked softly toward the gallery, past the door that led to the wing where they all slept, hesitating only when he reached the gallery entrance. The doorway had been carved in stone at a time when people were shorter than he was, and he had to duck his head slightly.
The gallery had a ceiling like a chapel’s, the curves of the walls meeting in an arch. The walls themselves were bright with gilt frames surrounding the faces of dead Lynburns. Two living Lynburns were standing in one of the alcoves, on either side of its dark, narrow, diamond-paned window: Jared was leaning against the stone, face turned toward the night. Ash’s mother never leaned against anything. She stood with one hand half outstretched toward Jared.
Ash hung back in the doorway. He felt short of breath and was not sure whether it was guilt, or whether he simply did not wish to be heard.
“Perhaps you do not entirely understand how the Lynburns work,” said his mother.
“Perhaps,” Jared said, mimicking Mom’s English accent, an ugly edge to his voice, “I don’t care about anything to do with the Lynburns.”
Mom was unruffled by what Ash would’ve thought she’d consider blasphemy. “You are one of us. Sorcery is in your blood and bones. You can’t be anything else. You can’t escape from what you are.”
“Oh, really?” Jared asked. “My mom ran away. Holly told me that her uncle ran away as well. Of course, maybe he wasn’t running from magic. Maybe he was just running from you.”
Ash had never heard anything special about Holly’s family, never heard his mother mention them. She ignored the mention of them now.
“So is that what you’re going to do, run away?” his mother asked. “Strange. You are many things, but I would not have said you were a coward.”
“Sorry for bringing it up,” Jared drawled, not sounding sorry. “But I wouldn’t have said you were an excellent judge of character. Based on the current evidence.”
Jared is wasting his time trying to make Mom flinch, Ash thought.
“Because my husband is a murderer, my sister a weakling, and my son such a coward he almost became a murderer too?” Lillian asked.
Ash felt sick. He’d known this was what she thought of him, but hearing her say it was worse than he could have imagined. He wanted to speak, to protest, but he stayed silent. Because she was right, and he was such a coward.
Jared was smiling, but his smile looked twisted. His eyes and scar were pale reflections in the dark glass. “That is what I meant, yeah. What a family. ‘One of us’? It would be better if there were none of us left.”
“But neither Rob nor Rosalind nor Ash is the leader of the Lynburns,” Mom said. “I am.”
“No offense, Aunt Lillian,” Jared told her, “but I’m not crazy about you either.”
“Rob is older than I am,” Lillian went on, and Ash found it terrifying how little they were actually communicating, how they refused to respond to each other even as they talked. “Rosalind was born before I was.”
“Fascinating,” Jared said in a monotone.
“The heir of Aurimere is not chosen by age or direct descent,” Ash’s mother said. “The leader chooses the strongest heir, the Lynburn who will be the best leader. That’s why I was chosen. And that’s who I would choose. You could lead after me. You could have Aurimere.”
Jared looked amused. “And why would I want it?”
“Because you want to be anything but what you are now. You want to be so strong that nothing can hurt you. You could be the heir. You could be someone that anybody would think was worthwhile. Think about it.”
His mother’s voice was forceful now, no longer cool: Ash could almost see the dream she was conjuring up, the vision of being a leader, the shimmering promise of Aurimere above their town.
It wasn’t his dream, not anymore.
Ash saw the glint of Jared’s pale cruel eyes in the dark glass differently now, saw the lift of his hooded lids and registered a certain focus. If he could see Jared’s reflection in the glass, he realized, Jared could see his. His mother was unaware of his presence. But Jared knew he was there.
“Sure,” Jared said, still smiling that little, twisted smile. “I’ll think about it.”
Ash ran then, stumbling as if he was drunk or blind, through the home of his dreams and out into the night. He ran down the path into the dark woods, until he could no longer see the lit windows of the manor on the hill. Then he sat at the foot of a tree, head in his hands, and wept.
Everything was meant to come right, once they came home.
Chapter Three
Broken Homes
You are probably all, dear readers, wondering what occurred in Sorry-in-the-Vale on Halloween night. It is only natural that masked attackers and random small fires across town might inspire some curiosity.
“What on earth is happening?” asked a witness to these events (Rusty Montgomery, age 20, who insisted on not remaining anonymous and also wished this paper to record the fact that he is single).