"Whoa,"I murmured. "So…what they said, about me binding you to me. That’s true?"
She crossed her arms and nodded, scowling.
"Okay. Wel , sorry about that. But I promise, if you help get me out of this, I’l do whatever it takes to, uh, unbind us."
She studied me and then her lips moved. I’m not sure what she said, but it looked like, "You better."
She drifted over to one of the portraits. Her fingers moved around the edges of the frame like smoke, and after a moment, it swung open, revealing a passageway. She nodded toward it, and I could swear she looked smug.
"Thank you,"I said, but she’d already vanished. I hesitated at the entrance until a deafening crack sounded from downstairs. I had no idea what it could be, but it sounded like the whole floor had split open. There was another rush of magic, and even if I didn’t have my powers anymore, I stil knew what it was. Lara had freed Daisy. I didn’t know what she’d done, but the screams that fol owed were inhuman.
Dad, I thought. Archer. Jenna. Cal. Get out so that you can help them.
The tunnel was smal enough that I had to hunch over, and once I’d moved a few feet down, it twisted so I could no longer see the opening into Council Headquarters. That meant everything was pitch-black. Instinctively, I lifted my hand to summon an orb before remembering that I couldn’t anymore.
As I walked, moving as quickly as I could, I heard sounds of the battle raging inside the house. There were distant thumps and crashes like thunder, and once I thought I heard screams. I made myself keep moving even as I desperately wondered what was happening behind me. Dad, Archer, Jenna, Cal, I kept repeating. You can’t help them if you’re dead.
The roof got lower as the tunnel twisted upward, and I had to drop to my knees and crawl the rest of the way up. Final y, my head thunked against something solid. I felt around with my fingers. A door.
I pushed up on it, and a shower of gravel and dirt rained down on me as it opened. I could see the tal hedges of the garden maze towering over me, so apparently I’d crawled right out the back of the house.
Pul ing myself out, I squinted. The light outside was so bright that for a disorienting moment, I thought the sun must be up. But no, it had been dark when I’d rushed through the house with Elizabeth and Mrs. Casnoff. Surely not enough time had passed for it to be sunrise. And the light wasn’t the soft lemon yel ow glow of sunlight, but the harsh orange glare of fire.
I rose to my feet and turned to face the house.
It was burning.
As I watched, tongues of flame broke out windows on the upper stories, licking at the building. An acre of roof, Lara had told us that first day, and now it seemed that the whole acre was on fire. Heat blasted my skin, and the smoke nearly choked me. Smoke.
Wel , at least now I knew.
One of the massive wooden front doors crashed off its hinges. The house where Alice had been made a demon. The place where my father had lived his whole life. Council Headquarters.
It was gone.
And Dad and Archer were stil inside.
I wanted to drop to my knees right there in the grass and sob, but a hand grabbed my arm. I screamed, swinging with everything I was worth. For the first time, I realized how vulnerable I was with no magic. My blows felt weak and ineffectual, and my powers screamed inside me.
"Sophie, it’s me. It’s me!"
"It’s okay,"he was saying, pul ing me closer to him. "It’s okay."
I col apsed against his chest, too weak with fear and worry to cry. "Where have you been?"
"After my testimony, the Council sent me back to Hecate. But I…I don’t know, I just felt like something was wrong here, so I used the Itineris to come back. What the hel happened?"he asked.
I looked up at him, his hazel eyes reflecting the inferno in front of us. "It’s the Council. They’re raising demons. They raised Nick and Daisy, and now Nick has kil ed a bunch of people. They sentenced Archer to death, and-"I broke off on a sob. "L’Occhio di Dio attacked the house because of it, and Lara is using Daisy against them. And…and my dad is stil in there. And Archer. And they did something to Jenna, but I don’t know what,"I finished, just as one of Thorne’s many chimneys crumbled in a plume of fire and smoke. It sounds strange, but until I said al of that out loud, the ful magnitude of what I’d lost hadn’t real y hit me. No more magic. Jenna missing, maybe dead. Archer and Dad trapped inside a burning building.
"Okay,"Cal said softly. Then, more firmly, "Get to the Itineris. I used that chain Cross had to get to Hecate and back, so it’s stil there. Use it and get out of here."
"How?"I asked, trying to focus. "I don’t have my powers anymore."
Cal shook his head. "You don’t need them. The Itineris has its own magic. It doesn’t need yours."
"Where am I supposed to go? I have no idea where my mom is."My throat tightened to the point of pain. Dad had said he was going to cal her.
What if she was on her way here right now? What if she walked into the middle of this? "You were at Hecate. Is she there?"
Cal shook his head. "No."There was another crash from inside, and Cal’s eyes darted back to Thorne. "Go to the Itineris and tel it you want to go to Aislinn Brannick. That should be enough to get you there, or at least close enough."
If he had told me to climb around the back of the mil and go to Narnia, I’m not sure I could have been more shocked. "What?"I shouted over the roar of the flames. "Why would I go there?"
"Because that’s where your mother is,"he said, his gaze boring into mine.
My hands clenched the front of his shirt. "Oh my God, did they capture her or something?"
He shook his head. "No, but I don’t have time to explain. Just trust me. She won’t hurt you, and it’s the only place I can think of where you’d be safe.
I’l see what I can do for your dad. And Cross."
I clutched his arm. "Cal, that’s suicide,"I said. God knows I wanted Dad and Archer safe, but the thought of Cal plunging back into that madness made my chest constrict with fear.
He gently pried my hand off his arm. "I have to,"he said softly. He went to turn away, and then stopped, like maybe he was reconsidering. But instead of agreeing to come back to the Itineris with me, he reached out, cupped my face, and brought his lips to mine.
I was so shocked that I literal y froze in place, one hand hovering in the air next to Cal’s shoulder. The kiss was brief-just a little too long to be considered chaste-but when he pul ed away, al I could do was stare at him, my mouth slightly agape. He ran his thumb over my lower lip, sending a tiny flurry of sparks through me. "Good-bye, Sophie."
Then he jogged toward Thorne, disappearing into the blazing house. One more name I could add to my list of the lost.
I’ve heard people say that when you go through a lot of trauma, your brain just shuts off, goes right into survival mode. That must have been what happened to me, because I felt like I’d been dosed with a giant shot of mind-Novocain.
I turned away from Thorne Abbey and began walking toward the mil . Not running, not sprinting. Just walking. One foot in front of the other. Go to Aislinn Brannick, he’d said. Your mother is there. Okay, then. I’d go to Aislinn Brannick.
Once I reached the mil , I found the chain pretty quickly. Lying just a few feet from it was Archer’s sword. That’s right; he’d left it here that horrible night.
My fingers were as numb as the rest of me when I reached down and picked it up, its weight heavy and solid in my hand. I would take it with me, just in case I ever saw Archer again.
And just then, that feeling washed over me again, the strange psychic impulse I’d been feeling since I left Graymalkin. But this time, it wasn’t dread that washed over me, or fear.
It was happiness. Hope.
I would see him again. I can’t tel you how I knew it. I just did.
My magic flared inside me, futile but stil there, and I felt the numbness slide away from me, steely determination taking its place. If Archer could live through this night, maybe that meant Dad and Cal could, too. And Jenna, wherever she was.
And together, maybe we had a chance of stopping al this. I clutched the sword tighter with one hand, and used the other to slip the chain around my neck.
"Aislinn Brannick,"I muttered under my breath. "Wherever you are, I real y hope Cal is right about you."
Then I stepped through the doorway.