The Golden Lily Chapter 19

The Golden Lily Chapter 19

“SHE WAS LEAVING TOWN,” I reminded him.

“Not until tomorrow.”

He was right, I realized. When we’d spoken to Sonya last night, she’d said two days. “Are you sure she’s really disappeared?” I asked. “Maybe she’s just… out.”

“Belikov’s here, and he’s freaked out. He says she never came home last night.” I nearly dropped the phone. Last night? Sonya had been gone that long? That was nearly twenty-four hours ago. “How did no one notice until now?” I demanded.

“I don’t know,” said Adrian. “Can you just come over? Please, Sydney?” I was powerless when he used my first name. It always took everything to an extra level of seriousness – not that this situation needed any particular help. Sonya. Gone for twenty-four hours. For all we knew, she wasn’t even alive if those sword-wielding freaks had caught her.

Brayden’s face was a mix of incredulity and disappointment when I told him I had to leave.

“But you just… I mean…” It was a rare moment of speechlessness for him.

“I’m sorry,” I said earnestly. “Especially after being late and ruining the museum. But it’s a family emergency.”

“Your family has an awful lot of emergencies.”

You have no idea, I thought. Instead of saying that, I simply apologized again. “I really am sorry. I…” I nearly said I’d make it up to him, but that was what I’d said when I left the Halloween dance early. Tonight was supposed to have been the makeup date. “I’m just sorry.” ADRIAN’S PLACE WAS CLOSE ENOUGH that I could’ve reasonably walked, but Brayden insisted on driving me, since dusk was falling. I had no problem accepting.

“Whoa,” said Brayden, when we pulled up to the building. “Nice Mustang.”

“Yeah. It’s a 1967 C-code,” I said automatically. “Great engine. My brother’s. He’s moved it again! I hope he wasn’t out driving anywhere he wasn’t supposed to – whoa. What’s that?” Brayden looked at where I was staring. “A Jaguar?”

“Obviously.” The sleek, black car was parked just in front of Adrian’s Mustang. “Where’d it come from?”

Brayden had no answer, of course. After more apologies and a promise to get in touch, I left him. There was no pretense of a kiss, not when he was so disappointed in the evening’s outcome and I was too anxious about Sonya. In fact, I forgot all about Brayden as I walked up to the building. I had bigger concerns.

“It’s Clarence’s,” said Adrian, as soon as he answered the door.

“Huh?” I asked.

“The Jag. I figured you’d want to know. He let Belikov drive it over since Sonya left with the rental.” He stepped aside as I entered and shook his head in dismay. “Can you believe it was locked away in his garage the whole time I lived with him? He said he forgot he owned it!

And there I was, stuck with the bus.”

I would’ve laughed under almost any other circumstances. But when I saw Dimitri’s face, all humor left me. He was pacing the living room like a trapped animal, radiating frustration and concern.

“I’m an idiot,” he muttered. It was unclear if he was talking to himself or us. “I didn’t realize she was gone last night, and then I spent half the day thinking she was out gardening!”

“Did you try calling her cell?” I knew it was a foolish question, but I had to begin logically.

“Yes,” Dimitri said. “No answer. Then I double-checked to make sure her flight hadn’t changed, and then I talked to Mikhail to see if he knew anything. He didn’t. All I succeeded at doing there was making him worry.”

“He should,” I murmured, sitting on the edge of the couch. Nothing good could come of this. We knew the Warriors were obsessed with Sonya, and now she’d disappeared after going out alone.

“I only just found out she came to see you two,” added Dimitri. He stopped pacing and glanced between us. “Did she say anything at all about where she was going?”

“No,” I said. “Things didn’t exactly… end well between us.” Dimitri nodded. “Adrian implied the same thing.”

I looked up at Adrian and could tell he didn’t want to get into it any more than I did. “We had an argument,” he admitted. “She was trying to push Sydney into some experiments, and Sydney refused. I jumped in when Sonya kept pushing, and finally she just took off. Never said anything about where she was going.”

Dimitri’s face grew darker. “So, anything could’ve happened. She could’ve been taken right outside on the street. Or she could have gone somewhere and been abducted there.” Or she could be dead. Dimitri was speaking in terms of her still being alive, but I wasn’t so sure. The hunters who had jumped us in the alley had seemed pretty intent on killing her then and there. If she hadn’t come home last night, the odds seemed good they’d found her then.

Twenty-four hours was an awfully long time to keep a “creature of darkness” alive. Studying Dimitri’s face again, I knew he was well aware of all of this. He was simply operating on the hope that we had a chance to do something, that we weren’t powerless.

Resolved, Dimitri strode for the door. “I have to go talk to the police.”

“Missing person report?” asked Adrian.

“That, and more importantly, to get a search out on that car. If she was taken…” He hesitated, driving home the fear that lurked in all of us. “Well. If she’s hidden away somewhere, she’s going to be very difficult to locate. But it’s a lot harder to hide a car than one woman. If the police can get its description out there, we might get a clue if it turns up.” He started to open the door and then glanced back at us. “You’re sure you don’t remember anything else she said that could help?”

Adrian and I reiterated that we didn’t. Dimitri left, giving us unnecessary instructions to alert him immediately if we thought of anything or – if by a miracle – Sonya showed up. I groaned once he was gone.

“This is my fault,” I said.

Adrian looked at me in surprise. “Why on earth would you say that?”

“Sonya came here – left when she wasn’t supposed to – because of me. Because of my blood. Who knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t refused? Maybe a few minutes difference, and the hunters wouldn’t have been around. Or maybe if she hadn’t been so upset, she would’ve been able to defend herself more.” A million memories tumbled through my head.

Sonya making the lily grow for me. Sonya talking to the queen on Adrian’s behalf. Sonya showing me pictures of bridesmaid dresses. Sonya working diligently to stop Strigoi and redeem herself. All of that could be lost now.

“Maybe, maybe, maybe.” Adrian sat down near me on the couch. “You can’t think like that, and you sure as hell can’t blame yourself for the actions of some crazy paranoid fringe group.”

I knew he was right, but it didn’t make me feel any better. “I should call the Alchemists.

We’ve got ties to law enforcement too.”

“Probably a good idea,” he said, though his words were a little halfhearted. “I’ve just got a bad feeling about those guys. Even if… well, even if she’s alive, I really don’t know how we’re going to find her. Short of some miraculous, magical solution.” I froze.

“Oh my God.”

“What is it?” he asked, looking at me in concern. “Did you remember something?”

“Yes… but not what you’re thinking.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. No, no, no.

The thought in my head was crazy. I had no business even considering it. Dimitri had the right idea. We needed to focus on normal, concrete methods of locating Sonya.

“Sage?” Adrian lightly touched my arm, and I jumped at the feel of his fingertips against my skin. “You okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly. “I just thought of something crazy.”

“Welcome to my world.”

I looked away, conflicted about the decision before me. What I was contemplating… well, some might argue it wasn’t so different than what I’d done before. And yet, it all came down to the fine line between doing something by choice and doing something because I had to.

There was no question here. This would be a choice. An exercising of free will.

“Adrian… what if I had a way to find Sonya, but it went against everything I believe in?” He took several moments to answer. “Do you believe in getting Sonya back? If so, you wouldn’t be going against everything you believe in.”

It was odd logic, but it gave me the nudge I needed. I took out my cell phone and dialed a number I almost never called – though I certainly received texts and calls from it all the time.

An answer came after two rings. “Ms. Terwilliger? This is Sydney.”

“Miss Melbourne. What I can do for you?”

“I need to see you. It’s kind of urg – no, no ‘kind of’ about it. It’s urgent. Are you at the school?”

“No. As shocking as it is, I do go home on occasion.” She paused for a moment.

“However… you are certainly welcome to come to my house.” I don’t know why that made me uneasy. After all, I spent plenty of time at Clarence’s.

Surely a vampire’s sprawling estate was much worse than a high school teacher’s home. Of course, said teacher was also a witch, so I wasn’t certain if I could expect a boring suburban flat or a house made of candy.

I swallowed. “Do you keep a lot of the same spell books at home that you do at school?” Adrian arched an eyebrow at the word spell.

Ms. Terwilliger hesitated for much longer this time. “Yes,” she said. “And more.” She gave me her address, and before I could even hang up, Adrian said, “I’m coming with you.”

“You don’t even know where I’m going.”

“True,” he said. “But lack of information’s never stopped me before. Besides, I know it has something to do with Sonya, which is good enough for me. That, and you looked scared to death. There’s no way I can let you go alone.”

I crossed my arms. “I’ve faced scarier things, and last I checked, it’s not your place to ‘let’

me do anything.” There was such concern in his face, however, that I knew I wouldn’t be able to refuse… especially since I was kind of scared. “You have to promise not to tell anyone what we’re going to do. Or talk about what you see.”

“Damn. What’s going on, Sage?” he asked. “Are we talking animal sacrifice or something?”

“Adrian,” I said quietly.

He grew serious again. “I promise. Not a word, unless you say otherwise.” I didn’t have to study him to know I could trust him. “Okay, then. But before we go, I need your hairbrush…”

Ms. Terwilliger lived in Vista Azul, the same suburb Amberwood was in. To my surprise, the house really did look quite ordinary. It was small but otherwise blended in well to its older neighborhood. The sun had long since set when we arrived, and I was conscious of the school’s approaching curfew. When she let us into her house, I found the interior a bit more in line with what I’d been expecting. Sure, there was a TV and modern furniture, but the decor also featured a lot of candles and statuary of various gods and goddesses. The scent of Nag Champa hung in the air. I counted at least three cats in the first five minutes and didn’t doubt there were more.

“Miss Melbourne, welcome.” Ms. Terwilliger took in Adrian with interest. “And welcome to your friend.”

“My brother,” I said pointedly. “Adrian.”

Ms. Terwilliger – fully aware of the Moroi world – smiled. “Yes. Of course. You attend Carlton, correct?”

“Yeah,” said Adrian. “You’re the one who helped get me in, right? Thanks for that.”

“Well,” said Ms. Terwilliger, with a shrug, “I’m always happy to help star pupils – especially those who are so diligent about keeping me in coffee. Now then, what’s this urgent matter that brings you out at night?”

My eyes were already on a large bookcase in her living room. The shelves were filled with old, leather-bound books – exactly the kind she always made me work on. “Do you… do you have a spell that would help locate someone?” I asked. Each word caused me pain. “I mean, I know they’re out there. I’ve come across them in my work a couple of times. But I was wondering if there was maybe one that you’d recommend over another.” Ms. Terwilliger laughed softly, and I looked away. “Well, well. This is definitely worth a late-night visit.” We were in her dining room, and she pulled out an ornate wooden chair to sit down. One of the cats brushed against her leg. “There are a number of location spells, certainly –

though none are quite at your level. And by your level, I mean your constant refusal to practice or better yourself.”

I scowled. “Is there one that you could do?”

She shook her head. “No. This is your problem. You’re going to do it. You need to.”

“Well, not if it’s beyond me!” I protested. “Please. This is a matter of life and death.” That, and I didn’t want to taint myself with her magic. Bad enough I was encouraging her at all.

“Rest easy. I wouldn’t make you do it if you couldn’t handle it,” she said. “To make it work, however, it’s imperative we have something that can connect us to the person we’re looking for. There are spells where that’s not necessary – but those are definitely out of your league.” I produced Adrian’s brush from my purse. “Something like a strand of hair?”

“Something exactly like that,” she said, clearly impressed.

I’d remembered Adrian’s complaint about Sonya using some of his personal items. Although he apparently cleaned the brush regularly (and really, I’d expect nothing less from someone who spent so much time on his hair), there were still a few lingering red strands.

Carefully, I plucked the longest one from the bristles and held it up.

“What do I need to do?” I asked. I was trying to be strong, but my hands shook.

“Let’s find out.” She rose and walked into the living room, studying the shelves. Adrian turned to me.

“Is she for real?” He paused and reconsidered. “Are you for real? Spells? Magic? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I drink blood and control people’s minds. But I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

“Neither had I until a month ago.” I sighed. “And unfortunately, it is real. Worse, she thinks I have a knack for it. Do you remember at all when one of the Strigoi in your apartment caught on fire?”

“Vaguely, but yeah. It kind of all got brushed aside, and I never thought much about it.” He frowned, troubled by the memory. “I was out of it from the bite.”

“Well, it wasn’t some freak accident. It was… magic.” I gestured toward Ms. Terwilliger.

“And I made it happen.”

His eyes widened. “Are you some kind of mutant human? Like a fire user? And I use mutant as a compliment, you know. I wouldn’t think less of you.”

“It’s not like vampire magic,” I said. Some part of me supposed I should be pleased that Adrian would still be friendly with a “mutant.” “It’s not some internal connection to the elements.

According to her, some humans can work magic by pulling it from the world. It sounds crazy, but… well. I did set a Strigoi on fire.”

I could see Adrian taking all of this in as Ms. Terwilliger returned to us. She set down a book with a red leather cover and flipped through the pages before finding what she wanted.

We all peered at it.

“That’s not English,” said Adrian helpfully.

“It’s just Greek,” I said, skimming the ingredient list. “It doesn’t seem to require much.”

“That’s because a huge part of it is mental focus,” explained Ms. Terwilliger. “It’s more complicated than it looks. It’ll take you a few hours at least.” I took in the time on an ornate grandfather clock. “I don’t have a few hours. Too close to curfew.”

“Easily remedied,” said Ms. Terwilliger. She picked up her cell phone from the table and dialed a number from memory. “Hello, Desiree? This is Jaclyn. Yes, fine. Thank you. I have Sydney Melrose out here right now, helping me on a very crucial project.” I nearly rolled my eyes. She was perfectly aware of my last name when she needed to be, apparently. “I’m afraid she might be out past the dorm curfew, and I was wondering if you’d be kind enough to allow an extension. Yes… yes, I know. But it’s very important for my work, and I think we can all agree that with her exemplary record, she’s hardly the type we need to worry about abusing such privileges. She’s certainly one of the most trustworthy students I know.” That got a small smirk from Adrian.

Thirty more seconds, and I was free of curfew. “Who’s Desiree?” I asked, once Ms. Terwilliger hung up.

“Your dorm matron. Weathers.”

“Really?” I thought of stout, motherly Mrs. Weathers. I never would’ve guessed her first name was Desiree. It was the kind of name I would associate with someone sultry and seductive.

Maybe she had some scandalous life outside of school we didn’t know about. “So, do I have an all-night pass?”

“Not sure I’d push it that far,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “But we certainly have enough time for this spell. I can’t make it for you, but I can help you with the ingredients and supplies.” I tapped the book, forgetting about my fear as I scanned the lengthy list. Details like this put me back in my comfort zone. “You have all of these?”

“Of course.”

Ms. Terwilliger led us down a hall that branched off from the kitchen, where I’d expect to find bedrooms. One room did indeed give us a glimpse of a bed as we walked by, but our eventual destination was something else altogether: a workshop. It was kind of what you’d get if you crossed a wizard’s lair with a mad scientist’s lab. Part of the room had very modern equipment: beakers, a sink, burners, etc. The rest was from a different era, vials of oils and dried herbs, along with scrolls and honest-to-goodness cauldrons. Plants and herbs lined the sill of a dark window. There were two more cats in here, and I was pretty sure they weren’t the same ones I’d seen in the living room.

“It looks chaotic,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “But I daresay it’s organized enough, even for you.” Upon closer inspection, I saw she was right. All of the plants and little vials were labeled and in alphabetical order. All of the various tools were equally identified, enumerated by size and material. The room’s center was a large, smooth stone table, and I set the book down on it, careful to stay on the page I needed.

“What now?” I asked.

“Now, you construct it,” she said. “The more of it you do on your own, the stronger your connection will be to the spell. Certainly come and get me if you have trouble with the ingredients or the directions. Otherwise, the more of your focus and concentration that goes into this, the better.”

“Where are you going to be?” I asked, startled. As much as I disliked the thought of working with her in a creepy, arcane lab, I disliked the thought of being alone here even more.

She gestured toward where we’d come from. “Oh, just out there. I’ll entertain your ‘brother’

too since you really do need to do this alone.”

My anxiety increased. I’d protested Adrian’s original request to come here, but now I wanted him around. “Can I at least get some coffee?”

She chuckled. “Normally, I’d say yes – particularly if you were just doing grunt work to build an amulet or potion. Because you’ll be using your mind, the magic will work much better if your thoughts are free and clear of any substances that affect your mental state.”

“Boy, that sounds familiar,” muttered Adrian.

“Okay, then,” I said, resolving to be strong. “I need to get started. Sonya’s waiting.” Provided she was still alive to wait.

Ms. Terwilliger left, telling me to get her when I was on the spell’s last stage. Adrian delayed a moment to speak with me. “You sure you’re okay with all of this? I mean, from what I know about you and the Alchemists… well, it seems like you’d actually be pretty not-okay with this.”

“I’m not,” I agreed. “Like I said, this goes against everything I believe – against everything they’ve taught me. Which is why you can’t tell anyone. You heard her passive aggressive remark about me not practicing? She’s been on me for a while now to develop my so-called magical skills, and I keep refusing – because it’s wrong. So, she has me research spell books for my independent study with her, in the hopes of me learning by osmosis.”

“That’s messed up,” he said, shaking his head. “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

I gave him a small smile. “Well, I want to find Sonya. So I do have to do this.” He gave me no smile in return. “Okay. But I’m just going to be out there – having a tea party with her cats or whatever it is she has in mind. You need me? You yell. You want to leave? We go. I’ll get you out of here, no matter what.” Something clenched in my chest, and for a moment, the whole world narrowed down to the green of his eyes. “Thank you.”

Adrian left, and I was alone. Well, almost. One of the cats had stuck around, a sleek black one with yellow eyes. It was lying on a high shelf, watching me curiously, like it wondered if I could really pull this off. That made two of us.

For a moment, I couldn’t move. I was about to willingly work magic. All the protests and arguments I’d given Ms. Terwilliger were like ash in the wind now. I started trembling and felt short of breath. Then, I thought about Sonya. Kind, brave Sonya. She’d devoted so much energy and time to doing the right thing. How could I do any less?

As I’d noted to Ms. Terwilliger, the spell was deceptively simple. It didn’t require half as many steps as the fire amulet. I had to keep water simmering in a copper cauldron and add different ingredients to it, most of which were clear oils that had to be measured with exacting care. The air soon grew heavy with the scent of bergamot, vanilla, and heliotrope. Some of the steps had the same ritual redundancy I’d done before. For example, I had to pluck thirteen fresh mint leaves off one of her plants, dropping each leaf in one at a time while counting them off in Greek. Then, when they had simmered for thirteen minutes, I had to remove each one with a rosewood spoon.

Before leaving, Ms. Terwilliger had told me to stay focused and think about both the steps of the spell and what I was ultimately hoping to accomplish. So, I turned my thoughts toward Sonya and finding her, praying that she was okay. When I finally finished these initial steps, I saw that almost an hour had gone by. I’d barely noticed it passing. I wiped a hand over my forehead, surprised at how much the steamy room had made me sweat. I went out to find Ms.

Terwilliger and Adrian, uncertain what weird activity I’d find going on. Instead, things were pretty ordinary: they were watching TV. Both glanced up at my approach.

“Ready?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Smells like tea in here,” said Adrian, as they followed me to the workroom.

Ms. Terwilliger examined the small cauldron and nodded her head in approval. “It looks excellent.” I didn’t know how she could tell at a glance but figured I’d take her word for it.

“Now. The actual scrying involves a silver plate, correct?” She scanned her shelves of dishes and pointed at something. “There. Use that.”

I pulled down a perfectly round plate about twelve inches across. It was smooth, with no ornamentation, and had been polished to such brilliance that it reflected almost as well as a mirror. I probably could’ve done without that part, though, seeing as my hair and makeup were showing the wear and tear of the day. Around anyone else, I would have felt selfconscious.

I set the plate on the worktable and poured one cup of water from the cauldron onto the silvery surface. All non-liquid ingredients had been removed, and the water was perfectly clear. Once it stopped rippling, the mirror effect returned. Ms. Terwilliger handed me a tiny bowl of galbanum incense, which the book said should be burning during this last stage. I lit the resin with a candle, and a bitter, green smell wafted up, contrasting with the sweetness of the liquid.

“You still have the hair?” Ms. Terwilliger asked.

“Of course.” I laid it across the water’s smooth surface. Part of me wanted something to happen – sparks or smoke – but I’d read the directions and knew better. I pulled a stool up to the table and sat on it, allowing me to gaze down into the water. “Now I look?”

“Now you look,” she confirmed. “Your mind needs to be both focused and spread out. You need to think about the components of the spell and the magic they hold, as well as your desire to find the spell’s subject. At the same time, you need to maintain a perfect clarity of mind and stay fixed on your task with razor sharp focus.”

I looked down at my reflection and tried to do all those things she’d just described. Nothing happened. “I don’t see anything.”

“Of course not,” she said. “It’s only been a minute. I told you this was an advanced spell. It may take a while for you to fully muster the strength and power you need. Stay on task. We’ll be waiting.”

The two of them left. I stared bleakly at the water, wondering how long “a while” was. I’d been excited when the spell seemed so simple originally. Now, I wished there were more ingredients to mix, more incantations to recite. This high-level magic, relying on will and mental energy, was much more difficult – mainly because it was intangible. I liked the concrete. I liked to know exactly what was needed to make something happen. Cause and effect.

But this? This was just me staring and staring, hoping I was “staying fixed” and using

“razor sharp focus.” How would I know if I was? Even if I achieved that state, it might still take a while to manifest what I needed. I tried not to think of that yet. Sonya. Sonya was all that mattered right now. All of my will and energy had to go into saving her.

I kept telling myself that as the minutes ticked by. Each time I was certain I should stop and ask Ms. Terwilliger what to do, I would force myself to keep looking into the water. Sonya, Sonya. Think about Sonya. And still, nothing happened. Finally, when an ache in my back made sitting unbearable, I stood up to stretch. The rest of my muscles were starting to cramp up too. I walked back to the living room; almost an hour and a half had passed since I’d last been out here.

“Anything?” asked Ms. Terwilliger.

“No,” I said. “I must be doing something wrong.”

“You’re focusing your mind? Thinking about her? About finding her?” I was really tired of hearing the word focus. Frustration was replacing my earlier anxiety about magic. “Yes, yes, and yes,” I said. “But it’s still not working.” She shrugged. “And that’s why we have a curfew extension. Try again.” Adrian flashed me a sympathetic look and started to say something – but then thought better of it. I nearly left but paused as a troublesome thought nagged at me.

“What if she’s not alive?” I asked. “Could that be why it’s not working?” Ms. Terwilliger shook her head. “No. You’d still see something if she wasn’t. And… well, you’d know.”

I returned to the workroom and tried again – with similar results. The next time I went to talk to Ms. Terwilliger, I saw that it hadn’t been quite an hour. “I’m doing something wrong,” I insisted. “Either that, or I messed up the initial spell. Or this really is beyond me.”

“If I know you, the spell was flawless,” she said. “And no, this isn’t beyond you, but only you have the power to make it happen.”

I was too tired to parse her esoteric philosophy nonsense. I turned without a word and trudged back to the workroom. When I reached it, I discovered I’d been followed. I looked up at Adrian and sighed.

“No distractions, remember?” I said.

“I won’t stay,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“Yeah… I mean, I don’t know. In as much as anyone can be with all of this.” I nodded toward the silver plate. “Maybe I do need you to get me out of here.” He considered for a moment and then shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I stared up at him in disbelief. “What happened to me not having to do anything I didn’t want to do? And you nobly defending me?”

One of his knowing little smiles played over his lips. “Well. That was back when you didn’t want to do this because it challenged all your beliefs. Now that the line is crossed, your problem seems to be a little pessimism and not believing you can do this. And honestly, that’s bullshit.”

“A little pessimism?” I exclaimed. “Adrian, I’ve been staring at a bowl of water for over two hours! It’s nearly one thirty. I’m exhausted, I want coffee, and every muscle in my body hurts.

Oh, and I’m about ready to throw up from that incense.”

“Those things all suck,” he agreed. “But I seem to recall you giving all of us lectures recently about enduring hardships to do what’s right. Are you saying you can’t do that to help Sonya?”

“I would do anything to help her! Anything within my power, that is. And I don’t think this is.”

“I don’t know,” he speculated. “I’ve had a lot of time to talk to Jackie – she lets me call her that, you know – and I’ve learned all about this human magic stuff. There’s a lot you can do with it.”

“It’s wrong,” I grumbled.

“And yet here you are, with the ability to find Sonya.” Adrian hesitated and then, reaching some decision, stepped toward me and rested his hands on my shoulders. “Jackie told me that you’re one of the most naturally gifted people she’s ever encountered for this kind of stuff.

She said that with a little practice, a spell like this’ll be cake for you, and she’s certain you can pull it off now. And I believe her. Not because I have proof you’re magically talented but because I’ve seen how you approach everything else. You won’t fail at this. You don’t fail at anything.” I was so exhausted I thought I might cry. I wanted to fall forward and have him carry me out of here, like he’d promised earlier. “That’s the problem. I don’t fail, but I’m afraid I will now.

I don’t know what it’s like. And it terrifies me.” Especially because Sonya’s life depends on me.

Adrian reached out and traced the lily on my cheek. “You won’t have to find out what it’s like tonight because you aren’t going to fail. You can do this. And I’ll be here with you as long as it takes, okay?”

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. “Okay.” I returned to my stool after he left and tried to ignore the fatigue in my body and mind. I thought about what he’d said, about how I wouldn’t fail. I thought about his faith in me. And most importantly, I thought about Sonya. I thought about how desperately I wanted to help her.

All these things churned within me as I stared at the water, crystal clear except for the hair floating in it. One red line against all that silver. It was like a spark of fire, a spark that grew brighter and brighter in my eyes until it took on a more definite shape, a circle with stylized lines radiating from it. A sun, I realized. Someone had painted an orange sun onto a piece of plywood and hung it on a chain-link fence. Even with the shoddy canvas, the artist had gone to a lot of care in painting the sun, stylizing the rays and making sure the lengths were consistent with each other. The fence itself was ugly and industrial, and I caught sight of what looked like an electrifying box hanging on it. The landscape was brown and barren, but mountains in the distance told me it was still the greater Palm Springs area. This was kind of like the area Wolfe lived in, outside of town and away from the pretty greenery. Through the fence, beyond the sign, I caught sight of a large, sprawling building –

“Ow!”

The vision vanished as my head hit the floor. I had fallen off the stool.

I managed to sit up, but that was all I could do. The world was spinning, and my stomach felt queasy and empty. After what could have been three seconds or three hours, I heard voices and footsteps. Strong arms caught hold of me, and Adrian helped me to my feet. I clung to the table while he picked the stool up and helped me sit back down. Ms. Terwilliger pushed the silver plate aside and replaced it with an ordinary kitchen plate filled with cheese and crackers. A glass of orange juice soon joined it.

“Here,” she said. “Eat these. You’ll feel better.”

I was so disoriented and weak that I didn’t even hesitate. I ate and drank as though I hadn’t eaten in a week while Adrian and Ms. Terwilliger waited patiently. It was only when I’d practically licked the plate clean that I realized what I’d just consumed.

“Havarti and orange juice?” I groaned. “That’s too much fat and sugar for this time of night.”

Adrian scoffed. “Glad to see there’s no lasting damage.”

“Get used to it if you’re going to be using magic a lot,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “Spells can deplete you. Not unusual at all to have your blood sugar drop afterward. Orange juice will become your best friend.”

“I’ll never get used to it, seeing as I’m not going to – ” I gasped, as the images I’d seen in the silver plate came tumbling back to me. “Sonya! I think I saw where she’s at.” I described what I’d seen, though none of us had any clue about where or what this place might be.

“You’re sure it was like a regular sun? With rays?” asked Adrian. “Because I thought the hunters used that old Alchemist one – the circle and dot.”

“They do, but this was definitely – oh God.” I looked up at Adrian. “We have to get back to Amberwood. Right now.”

“Not after that,” said Ms. Terwilliger. She was using her stern teacher voice. “That took more from you than I expected. Sleep here, and I’ll make sure everything’s cleared up with Desiree and the school tomorrow.”

“No.” I stood up and felt my legs start to buckle, but in the end, they held. Adrian put a supportive arm around me, clearly not believing in my body’s recovery. “I have to get back there. I think I know how we can find out where this place is.” Adrian was right that the sun I’d just described wasn’t the design that had been on the sword or brochure. Both of those had used the ancient symbol. The one in my vision was a more modern adaptation – and this wasn’t the first time I’d seen it.

The sun in my vision was an exact match for Trey’s tattoo.