Page 9

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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“And your grandmother killed him for it,” Kami filled in.
Ash looked apologetic. “She would have seen him as a traitor.”
Kami’s grandfather had died before her father was born. But she’d known her grandmother: Sobo had lived half her life in this small English town, oceans away from Japan. She had made no secret of the fact that she considered most of its traditions insane. Sobo had never known about the magic. But Kami could well imagine what she would have thought of the Lynburns’ expectations of their family.
“What was the bargain?” Kami asked.
“Matthew Cooper,” Ash began.
Ash nodded. “He was an ancestor of yours. He did the Lynburns and Sorry-in-the-Vale a service—I don’t know what, exactly—and died doing it. His nearest relative was a man called Glass, and his relatives were rewarded in his stead, given the guardhouse and the Lynburns’ protection. The loyalty Matthew had shown was demanded from them in return.”
Kami thought of the statue, so familiar to her she had never wondered about it. She was wondering now. She was planning to find out Matthew Cooper’s story. But she wasn’t planning to relive it. “How times change,” Kami remarked. “I don’t take well to demands. And I don’t plan to do any serving.”
“One thing hasn’t changed,” said Ash. He bowed his head over his papers again. The light poured in through the ancient window behind him, wrapping him in gold. The only dark things about him were the two hands on his shoulders, as if his ancestors were pushing him into place. “I know you don’t have magic anymore. I wanted you to know that you have my protection. If you ever need help, all you have to do is call on me.”
Kami was frustrated by the way Ash talked about magic, as if it was the only possible power she could have, as Lillian talked about it. As if without it she was entirely helpless. She knew Angela was ready to guard her; she knew Rusty and Holly would too. Even Jared, whatever else he felt about her, had come to save her on the night of the Scarecrow Trials. She was just as ready to defend them in her turn.
Kami could not promise Ash forgiveness, or friendship, let alone anything more. But this was something she could do. “Thank you,” Kami said at last. “You can call on me too.” She flashed him a real smile. “Don’t be afraid. If something bad happens, I’ll protect you.”
Ash grinned. Kami wasn’t sure he knew she meant it, but he’d learn.
“There’s a record here of a woman paying for an extra year of her life,” Kami said. “Explain that to me. What kind of spell is that?”
Chapter Six
Faithless Blood
“Lots of people would be grateful for that food,” said Holly’s mother, rapping on the table by her plate.
Angela or Kami would have had a retort, Holly knew. She imagined snapping out something clever, the look on Mary’s, Ben’s, and Daniel’s faces, how her mother would have been silenced. Her father was on the phone in the corner of the kitchen, but even he would have heard her. Being who she was, Holly muttered an apology and put a forkful of food in her mouth.
“You’re not on one of those fool diets, are you?” asked Mum, frowning at her. “You don’t want to lose your looks, darlin’.” She gave a short laugh. “They’re about all you have going for you.”
“Yes, sir, tonight,” her father said, his mumble into the phone audible in the sudden silence. “Yes, sir. Hallow’s Field. I’ll be there.” He hung up.
Holly tensed at the mention of Hallow’s Field, which was one of the fields their family had farmed before Holly’s uncle Edmund had run away from Lillian Lynburn and the Lynburns had taken most of the Prescott land back. One of Holly’s earliest memories was seeing her father drunk and cursing Edmund’s name. None of their family was ever given the chance to forget that the Prescotts had once counted in this town.
Holly looked around at their kitchen, the cracked flagstones, the ceiling with a black cloud pattern of soot in one corner and the brown mottle of rot in another. The Prescotts had stopped mattering years before Holly was born.
Holly thought about Angie’s kitchen, which was all shining metal and basically looked as if it was from the future. She cringed at the idea of her friends seeing the inside of her house. Not that that was looking too likely.
Angie and Kami would probably already have drifted away from her if it hadn’t been for the sorcerers. And how sick was it to be almost glad there were murderers in town? Holly tried to swallow, but the food was bitter, as if she had picked up a handful of ash from the grate and shoved it in her mouth. She forced it down and pushed her plate away.
“Just not hungry, I’m sorry,” Holly said to the scarred surface of the kitchen table. She got up from the table and collected everyone’s plates, which was a trick she’d learned years ago. Nobody would stop her if she was doing work they didn’t want to do. She kept her head down, bent over the sink. The cold water turned her hands red and raw, and they kept stinging even when she went to her and Mary’s bedroom. She changed into her pajamas just so she could climb into bed and stick her hands under her pillow.
There was a little spotted mirror on the wall. Holly could see her reflection in it.
Don’t want to lose your looks, Mum had said. As if Holly could keep them: she could already look at Mum and see how fluffy hair could get thin and pink cheeks turn sunken and pale. Holly wasn’t beautiful like Angie. She was just pretty.
It was stupid to think that way. Holly liked the way she looked, mostly: she had fun with it.
Holly thought, suddenly, about calling Jared to take her mind off things. She couldn’t call Angie or Kami, didn’t have the first idea what to say, and Jared apparently didn’t have anyone to talk to either. Holly could sympathize with the urge to leave home.
She doubted that Jared was going to make her feel better. Her hands warmed under her pillow, and eventually she drifted off to sleep.
When Holly woke, she had the disorienting feeling that came from having slept too long or not long enough. It was still night, so she assumed it had only been a couple of hours. She had turned over in her sleep: the first thing her eyes caught on was not the mirror but her sister’s bare pillow, a dented silver hollow in the moonlight.
“Mary?” Holly called her sister’s name softly, and swung her legs out of bed. The spot in the bedroom floor where the carpet had worn clean away scraped the soles of her feet. She walked to the door, opened it, and looked down the hall, vaguely thinking that Mary must be in the bathroom.
Her brothers’ bedroom door stood open, a square of paler shadow cast inside the room. Holly could see both their beds, Ben’s neatly made and Daniel’s mattress naked, the sheet a ghost draped over the bolster.
Holly spun and ran down the hall, feet slapping against the tile outside her parents’ room. She shoved the door open, words already on her lips about to spill forth, about needing help, needing search parties, needing someone to take over.
Her parents’ room was deserted as well, the blankets and sheets tumbled together. One pillow lay pale and lonely on the floor.
Holly went still, her hand pressed against the door. The realization went through her like a stone sinking through cold water: she had been deserted.
Lillian Lynburn had said the Prescotts could not be trusted. Her father had called someone “sir” on the phone during dinner, and promised he would be at Hallow’s Field tonight.
Rob Lynburn had called his sorcerers together.
Holly ran back down to her bedroom and knelt on the worn floor, fumbling through her clothes from the day before. When her phone finally slid into her palm, cool against her sweaty skin, she almost sobbed.
“I don’t care, Kami, tell me about it in the morning,” Angie’s voice said in her ear a moment later, husky with sleep. Angie would know what to do.
“Angie,” Holly said. “It’s me.” There was a beat of silence where Holly wondered if Angela might hang up.
“What’s wrong?” Angela said, her voice much sharper and more awake.
“My whole family isn’t in their beds,” Holly whispered. “I think there might be something bad happening at Hallow’s Field.”
“Then we have to go down there,” Angie said decisively. “I’ll go wake Rusty.”
“I’ll call Kami,” Holly volunteered.
“We’ll meet you outside the field,” Angela said, and paused again. This time Holly heard her sharp, hesitant breath. “Holly?”
“Yes?” Holly whispered back.
“Don’t worry,” Angie told her, and hung up.
Holly felt a little steadier as she called Kami’s phone.
“What news?” asked Kami’s voice, fearless and curious, and Holly was able to tell her and keep her own voice calm.
Holly told Kami the plan, and was surprised when Kami did not answer immediately. Instead there was only silence, and a quiet creak.
“What is it?” Holly asked, the skin on her shoulder blades crawling, wanting to turn around even though she was sure the sound was coming from the phone.
“Nothing,” Kami answered. Her voice was the one that shook now. “It’s just that I looked in my parents’ room. My mother is gone too.”
Chapter Seven
Hallow’s Field
Kami could not get the image out of her mind of her father lying asleep, one hand flung across the bed, reaching for her mother who was not there. Kami could not believe her mother had gone.
She put her head down against the night wind and charged on. She was farther from Hallow’s Field than the others. The wind tossed her hair into her eyes and screamed in her ears as she ran. She almost didn’t notice the rattle and hum of the motorcycle on the cobbles until it turned into a screech beside her. The motorcycle wobbled into her path, and she looked into Jared’s face.
“You’re going to Hallow’s Field on your motorcycle?”
“Want a lift?”
“No,” said Kami. “I mean, you’re going into a situation where something really bad might be happening, and you’ve decided to make sure they can hear you coming? Better hope being a tavern wench works out, because you, sir, will never be a ninja.”
Jared’s bike was resting at an angle, the heavy metal frame leaning against Kami’s body. He was looking up at her, his gaze steady and his voice less harsh than usual.
“Come on,” he urged. Kami could not tell if it was a challenge or a plea. “Come with me.”
Kami wished for the thousandth time that she could read his mind. She thought of her mother, who had lied to her all her life and left them all tonight. She felt as if she could not trust anybody in the world.
She said, her voice a whisper, “I don’t want to go with you.”
“Fine,” Jared replied, leaning away and kick-starting his bike.
Kami walked on. By the time she reached the place outside Hallow’s Field where they had agreed to meet, her hands and feet were numb with cold. She walked through a ditch to reach the chain-link fence where the others stood. The ditch water bled slowly through the canvas of her shoes.
The fence cut up Hallow’s Field into a hundred steel-framed triangular pictures. Kami could only catch glimpses of chaos in the night: flickers of fire, silhouettes of people, sharp bursts of laughter, and sounds she couldn’t identify. They didn’t even sound human.
Hallow’s Field was not surrounded by fences on all sides: there were barns at the far end, and on the side of the field that ended in the looming shapes of barns ran the dark scribble of a blackthorn hedge.
Holly, Angela, and Rusty were huddled together by the fence, on the opposite end of the field; Jared stood a little apart from them. Kami only caught a glimpse of Holly’s face, but she was pale as moonlight.