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“The topic isn’t my stunning good looks?”
“Devastating though they undoubtedly are,” Kami told him, patting his knee, “no.”
“Shame,” said Rusty.
Kami fixed Lillian with a bright smile, full of team spirit. “So,” she said. “Let’s get planning.”
“I don’t want to plan with useless creatures who have no magic,” Lillian snapped. “I came because Ash said Jared was going to be here. I came because I want my nephew to drop this ridiculous farce and come home.”
“I will never go back to that tomb,” Jared informed her, every word clipped and precise. “You can rot there worshipping the Lynburn name and all the moldering Lynburn bones. I don’t care. I’m going to help destroy Rob and everyone allied with him, and then I’m going to get out of this town.”
Kami looked over at him again, as if her gaze was a compass always swinging north. The one thing she could read from his face was that the burning pallor of his eyes meant he was miserable. But his eyes looked like that all the time now.
“Destroying Rob,” said Lillian, “will not be so simple. That little trick with the scarecrows was only his first move. He is going to terrorize the town into supporting him. His goal is to make them all aware that magic has come back to Sorry-in-the-Vale, real magic. He wants to rule by fear: to have them so maddened by dread they turn against the Lynburns of Aurimere and to him.”
There was an appalled silence. Lillian’s words hung in the air, seeming to open up a dark vista in that little white room.
Kami cleared her throat. “Good analysis of the other side’s goals, Lillian. Now let’s discuss how to foil the enemy at every turn.”
Everybody stared at her as if she was speaking the language of aliens from a strange and far-off planet, emphasis on “strange.” Except Jared, who was staring out the window.
“Right,” said Kami, undaunted. “So a girl in my class called Amber Green, and our headmistress, Ms. Dollard, are both sorcerers. Amber’s with Rob, but we could use Ms. Dollard.”
“I never trusted Amber,” Angela remarked darkly. “Only the evil are that enthusiastic about volleyball.”
Holly hid a smile behind her hand. Kami decided to ignore this valuable volleyball-related input. “What we need are more names. We don’t know who the other sorcerers following Rob are. We don’t even know who in the town is a sorcerer. Lillian can tell us which families magic runs in, and we can check out the likeliest suspects. Any sorcerers who are on Rob’s side, we need to identify. Any sorcerers who aren’t, we need on our side.”
Lillian’s mouth curled in a way that was very reminiscent of Jared. “You can’t find them, and you can’t stop them,” she said. “So your plan is to make some lists.”
“For a start,” Kami said. “There are several strangers in town I have my eye on. We need to watch the newcomers. And we need to find out where Rob is. I went back to Monkshood Abbey—where Rob’s parents lived,” she added for Rusty’s benefit. “And I didn’t see anything. I’ve been watching the inns and the homes of the people who I thought might shelter him. But he can become invisible, of course.”
“Oh yeah,” said Rusty. “That’s very inconvenient. But very cool.”
Lillian’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know that? Have you been looking at the Aurimere records?”
“I saw Jared do it,” said Kami. “He made himself invisible and me too. We broke into a swimming pool and didn’t want to be caught in our . . .” She stopped before saying underwear. “But that’s not important at this time. There are Aurimere records? Can I see them?”
“Certainly not!” Lillian snapped.
“We have to learn,” Kami argued. “We have to find a way to protect ourselves against magic. I want everyone to train to fight people physically”—Rusty and Angela perked up as one—“but there must be ways to shield against magic.”
“I’ll tell you how,” Lillian said. “Do not put yourself in the path of sorcerers.”
“Since that’s not happening, do we have an option B?” Kami inquired. “The way I see it is, we have to know exactly who our enemy is and work out exactly how to fight them: it’s the only plan that will work.”
“Let me tell you my plan,” said Lillian. “My plan is to kill Rob, and anyone else who continues to defy me once he is dead. How many times must I point out to you that you are useless?” Lillian asked, using her voice like a knife, and twisting it. “This is a matter between sorcerers: this is a question of magical power. Any use you could possibly have had, you lost when you broke the link between my nephew and yourself. You cost us a great deal of power that day.”
“So is there a way to get us more power?” Ash asked. “A way that’s not—not Dad’s way?”
“There is a way for Jared to gain more power,” Lillian said, looking at Jared rather than Kami or her son. “It is very dangerous.”
Jared absorbed her words in sullen silence, head bowed and shoulders bunching under his jacket. At last he asked, “What would I have to do?”
“There is a ceremony a sorcerer can go through,” Lillian said. “One must go down to the depths of one of the Crying Pools, and come out reborn. At the bottom of the pools there is—”
Jared glanced up, his face looking younger suddenly, and shocked. “Gold,” he whispered.
Lillian gave a tight little smile of satisfaction. “So the pools have been calling out to you,” she said. “I thought they might. Not as a human would mean gold. But yes, in a way. There is power to be found there, a ceremony you can perform to enhance your own power. Complete the ceremony and you can see into the heart of the woods. You might gain the power to wake the woods again. And you would have the magic to remake a link that was broken. To have a source again.”
“No,” Jared said, his voice full of loathing. “I won’t do that.”
“I simply thought, as the young lady seems so anxious to help—”
Kami felt a chill run through her. She could have the link back, have him back.
Jared said, still in that disgusted voice, “No.”
Lillian spread her hands, as if to say As you wish. “If you do this,” she said, “you will have more power than any sorcerer in Sorry-in-the-Vale, save two. Only Rob and I have completed the ceremony.”
“I could do the ceremony,” Ash said suddenly, his voice cracking. His eyes rested on his mother, obviously hoping for her approval. “I want to do it,” he said, his voice getting stronger as he went on. “I want to help. You can count on me.”
“Absolutely not,” Lillian told him. “You wouldn’t live through it.”
Ash leaned forward in his chair. “And why not?”
“How many people have died trying to complete this ceremony?” Kami asked, her voice rising.
“Rob would have died, if I had not linked myself to him and shared my magic. The ceremony calls for courage and determination,” said Lillian. “Without those qualities, the sorcerer who goes through the ceremony will not survive.”
The implication was very clear. Kami saw Ash flinch.
“Sure,” Jared said, sounding tired. “I’ll do it.”
“You most certainly will not,” Kami said in protective terror, at the same time Ash demanded, stung, “Why do you think Jared has a better chance of surviving than I do?”
“She doesn’t,” Jared drawled. “But I’m not much of a loss, am I? I’m a half-breed: isn’t that how you put it once, Ash? Not really a proper sorcerer at all. And nobody cares much if I live or die. Why not risk it?”
“I care,” Kami said loudly, and found herself the sole focus of everybody’s attention.
They all looked sorry for her, she thought. Except for Lillian, who looked faintly contemptuous, and Jared himself, who looked away.
“Well,” he said, “I don’t.”
“I think Jared has a good chance of surviving the ceremony, or I would not suggest it,” Lillian said. “I am not in the habit of recklessly throwing away my resources.”
That made Jared let out a sound almost like a laugh, though it seemed to get stuck in his throat. “Why, Aunt Lillian. You old softy.”
Lillian ignored this as she did everything she did not like. “And who says,” she asked, “that you’re a half-breed?”
“My father was a lot of things,” Jared said, and Kami remembered all the things Jared’s father had been, before Jared threw him down a flight of stairs in the dark: violent and hateful, all the things Jared thought he was too. “But he wasn’t a sorcerer.”
Lillian’s voice rang out in the hush. “Who says that he was your father?”
Ash started, not Jared.
“Look at Ash,” Lillian continued, not even seeing how her son flinched. “Look at yourself. My sister was in love with my husband. She was pregnant before she ever left Sorry-in-the-Vale. I think your father was a sorcerer. I think your father was Rob Lynburn. You can talk about leaving this town, about leaving Aurimere. But you can’t get rid of yourself, no matter how much you want to. There’s magic in your blood. Every drop.”
Jared was looking down: not at the floor, Kami realized, but at his own hands, knuckles linked together and bone-white. He stood up and crossed the floor to Lillian in two strides. She tilted up her face to look at him. Their eyes met.
“Is that supposed to change something?” Jared asked softly. “It doesn’t change a thing. Either I already killed my father, or I’m going to kill him soon.” He turned away from Lillian and left the room, banging the door behind him.
“Well done, Mother,” Ash snapped, and left too. He might have been following Jared or just fleeing; Kami couldn’t tell.
Lillian regarded the rest of them with composure, as if they mattered to her not at all, because they were simply human and she was infinitely superior. “We will return momentarily,” she announced, and departed, closing the door with a decisive little snap.
Those left stared around at each other. Holly was openly dismayed. Kami could feel Angela’s stiff muscles against her own body, though her face betrayed nothing.
“This is all very intense,” Rusty said, giving Kami’s shoulder an encouraging little shake. “The Lynburns are better than cable.”
Kami stood up. “I have to go after him.” She couldn’t stand seeing them look at her sympathetically again, so she didn’t look. She just left, and they were all too kind to point out the obvious: that he didn’t want her.
Kami went through the corridor and into the bar. At the pool table, a couple of older boys were standing around looking at her strangely. She went into the next room, where Martha Wright gave her a look of appeal from behind the bar.
There was no Jared or Ash in sight. Kami opened the door and took a few steps into the street, white building and yellow street both turned gray by night and rain. The street was empty except for the thin, freezing rain slicking the cobbles and seeping through her clothes. Kami went back inside and walked slowly to rejoin the others.
She crossed the floor of the pool room, ignoring the staring guys again, and opened the door to the corridor leading into the parlor. It took her a moment to realize there was someone else in that small dark corridor.
He was standing against the wall in the shadows. The only light was the stripe cast through the door Kami had not quite shut behind her; the iron doorknob was still pressed against her palm. His face was shadowed, but in that pale strip of light, she saw the gold glint of his hair and the line of his body, shoulders squared and arms folded.