The Indigo Spell Chapter Twenty-Four

The Indigo Spell Chapter Twenty-Four

I FELT PRETTY BAD about burning down my teacher’s house.

Ms. Terwilliger, for obvious reasons, seemed to think that was the least of her problems. She wasn’t sure if her insurance would cover the damage, but her company was pretty speedy in sending someone out to investigate the cause. We were still waiting to hear their verdict on coverage, but one thing they didn’t report finding was any sign of human remains. Part of me was relieved that I hadn’t actually killed anyone. Another part of me feared we hadn’t seen the last of Alicia. What silly comparison had Adrian made? The Moriarty to your Holmes. I had to imagine that being hit in the face with razor blades and then left in a burning building would make anyone hold a grudge.

A little investigation eventually turned up Veronica at a Los Angeles hospital, checked in as Jane Doe. Visiting her comatose sister became the greatest of Ms. Terwilliger’s priorities, and she harbored hopes of possibly finding a way to undo the spell. Despite how busy she now was, my teacher still managed to urge me to meet her coven, and I agreed for a few different reasons. One was that it was kind of impossible for me to act like I didn’t want to wield magic anymore.

The other reason was that I didn’t plan on being around.

I was still resolved to go with Marcus to Mexico, and the week flew by. Winter finals were a breeze, and before I knew it, it was Friday, the day before our trip to Mexico. I took a risk by telling my friends goodbye. The safest thing would’ve been to disappear without a trace, but I trusted them all – even Angeline – to keep my secret and feign ignorance once the Alchemists discovered they had a runaway. I told Trey as well. No matter what had gone down between us, he was still my friend, and I would miss him.

As the day wore on, the dorm grew quieter and quieter – aside from unending Christmas music playing in the lobby. Not wanting to exclude other religions, Mrs. Weathers had also set out a menorah and “Happy Kwanzaa” banner. Tomorrow was officially the last day before everyone had to be out, and a number of people had already left for winter break. I’d finished my own packing, which was light. I didn’t want to be burdened down with excess luggage since I really had no idea what to expect in Mexico.

I still had two people I needed to say goodbye to: Adrian and Jill. I’d avoided them both for very different reasons, but time was running out. I knew Jill was just a flight of stairs away, but Adrian was more difficult. We’d been in touch a couple times after the fire, simply to sort out some details, but he’d soon gone silent. No calls, no texts, no dreams. Maybe I should’ve been glad. Maybe I should’ve welcomed the chance to leave without any painful goodbyes . . . but I couldn’t. My chest ached with the thought of not seeing him again. Even though he was the reason I was leaving, I still felt like I needed some closure.

It’s not about closure, Sydney. You want to see him. You need to see him. And that’s exactly why you have to leave.

Finally, I took the plunge and called him. It took me so long to work up the nerve that I could hardly believe it when he didn’t answer. I resisted the urge to immediately try again. No. I could wait. There would still be time tomorrow, and surely . . . surely he wasn’t avoiding me?

I decided to hold off on talking to Jill until the next day. Telling her goodbye was just as difficult – and not just because of what she saw through the bond. I knew she’d think I was abandoning her. In truth, if I stayed and ended up with Adrian, I’d possibly be caught and never be able to help her at all. At least if I was away and free, I could try to help her from the outside. I hoped she’d understand.

Waiting on her gave me the opportunity to take care of an unwelcome errand: returning Malachi Wolfe’s gun. I’d never gone to his home without Adrian, and even though I knew I had nothing to fear from Wolfe, there was still something a little unsettling about going to the compound alone.

To my complete and utter astonishment, Wolfe let me into the house when I arrived. All was quiet. “Where are the dogs?” I asked.

“At training,” he said. “I have a friend who’s an expert dog trainer, and he’s giving them some stealth lessons. He used to work for a local K-9 unit.”

I didn’t think it was in the Chihuahua genetic code to ever be stealthy. I kept that to myself and instead stared around in amazement at Wolfe’s kitchen. I’d expected something like a ship’s galley. Instead, I found an astonishingly cheery room, with blue-checkered wallpaper and a squirrel cookie jar. If someone had asked me to describe the most unlikely Wolfe kitchen out there, it would’ve looked something like this. No – wait. On the refrigerator, he had some magnets that looked like ninja throwing stars. That, at least, was in character.

Adrian’s going to flip out when I tell him. Then I remembered I might not see Adrian for a very long time. That realization killed whatever amusement I’d just felt.

“So what do you need?” asked Wolfe. Peering at him, I suddenly had a strange feeling the eye patch really was on a different eye from last time. I should’ve paid more attention. “Another gun?”

I returned to the task at hand. “No, sir. I didn’t even need the first one, but thanks for lending it to me.” I removed it from the bag and handed it to him.

He gave the gun a once-over and then set it inside a drawer. “Fixed your problem? You can still hang on to it if you want.”

“I’m leaving the country. Bringing it over the border might cause me some trouble.”

“Fair enough,” he said. He grabbed the cookie jar and took off the lid, leaning it toward me. An amazing scent drifted out. “Want one? I just made them.”

I was really regretting not being able to tell Adrian about this. “No thanks, sir. I’ve had more than enough sugar these last few weeks.” I felt like I should have a frequent customer card for Pies and Stuff.

“I thought you looked better. Not all skin and bones anymore.” He nodded in approval, which felt really weird and slightly creepy. “So where are you two kids going?”

“Mexi – oh, Adrian’s not going with me. I’m going with someone else.”

“Really?” He slid the squirrel back across the counter. “I’m surprised. I always figured when you two left here, you went home and had your own private ‘training sessions.'”

I felt myself turning bright red. “No! It’s not like – I mean, we’re just friends, sir.”

“I had a friend like that once. Silver Tooth Sally.” He got that faraway expression that always came on when he had an anecdote to share.

“I’m sorry, did you say – “

“Never met a woman like Sally,” he interrupted. “We fought our way across Switzerland together, always watching each other’s backs. We finally got out alive – just barely – and she wanted to come back to the States and settle down. Not me. I had dreams, you see. I was a young man then, drawn to danger and glory. I left her and went off to live with an Orcadian shaman. It took two years and a lot of vision quests to realize my mistake, but when I got back, I couldn’t find her. When I close my eye at night, I can still see that tooth sparkle like a star. It haunts me, girl. It haunts me.”

I frowned. “I don’t think the Orcadians have vision quests, sir. Or shamans.”

Wolfe leaned forward and shook a finger at me, his eye wide. “Learn from my mistakes, girl. Don’t go to the Orkneys. You don’t need some mystical vision to see what’s in front of you, you hear me?”

I gulped. “Yes, sir.”

I hurried out after that, thinking that being in a different country from Malachi Wolfe might be a good thing.

The next morning, I prepared to tell Jill goodbye, but she beat me to it and showed up at my door. It was the first time we’d truly spoken since the morning after that last dream with Adrian.

She walked into my room and frowned when she saw the suitcase. “You’re really going?”

“Yes. And I’m sure you know why.”

She crossed her arms and looked me straight in the eye, without any of the reservation she’d shown last time. I had trouble holding that stare. “Sydney, don’t leave Adrian because of me.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” I said automatically.

“It’s really not,” she said. “From everything I’ve seen and heard, you’re just afraid. You’ve always controlled every detail of your life. When you couldn’t – like with the Alchemists – you found a way to seize back that control.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting control,” I snapped.

“Except that we can’t always have it, and sometimes that’s a good thing. A great thing, even,” she added. “And that’s how it is with Adrian. No matter how hard you try, you aren’t going to be able to control your feelings for him. You can’t help loving him, and so you’re running away. I’m just an excuse.”

Who was she to lecture me like this? “You think I’m lying about how awkward it is for you to see everything that happens between us? Every intimate detail is on display. I can’t do that. I can’t live like that.”

“Adrian’s learned to.”

“Well, he’s had to.”

“Exactly.” Some of her fierceness mellowed. “Sydney, he brought me back from the dead. It’s the greatest thing anyone can or will do for me. I can’t pay him back, but I can let him live his life the way he wants to. I don’t expect him to shelter me because of the bond, and I’m not going to judge him – or you. Someday, he and I will learn to block each other.”

“Someday,” I reiterated.

“Yes. And until then, we do the best we can. All you’re doing by leaving is making three people miserable.”

“Three?” I frowned. “I’m helping you.”

“Do you really think I’m happy when he’s miserable? Do you think I like the darkness that crawls over him?” When I said nothing, she pushed forward. “Look, I don’t have the same physical reaction to you that he does, but when he’s with you, he’s so full of joy . . . it radiates through to me, and it’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never been in love like you guys are.”

“I’m not – ” I couldn’t say it, and she gave me a knowing look. I tried a different tactic. “Staying here is dangerous, especially with him. The Alchemists might find out about everything – him, my tattoo, Ms. Terwilliger, and God knows what else.”

“And if they don’t find out, look at what you get. Adrian. The rest of us. Magic. The chance to uncover their secrets. I know you love this life. Why would you give it up? You’re too smart to get caught. We’ll help you. Do you really think Marcus and his Merry Men can do that much fighting when they’re always on the run?”

I shook my head. “They’re like me. They understand me.”

She was obstinate. “They aren’t like you at all. They talk. You act.”

It was so surprising to see her like this, so confident and so much wiser than her years. It was also a little irritating. If she was so wise, why couldn’t she understand how much was at stake?

“Jill, staying is a big risk – in all ways.”

“Of course it is!” she exclaimed, her eyes flashing with anger. “Any life worth living is going to have risks. If you go to Mexico, you’ll regret it – and I think you know that.”

My phone rang, cutting off my next response. It was Eddie. He rarely called, and panic seized me.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded.

He sounded mystified. “I wouldn’t say anything’s wrong . . . just surprising. Is Jill with you? You guys should really come down. We’re outside”

He hung up, and I was left totally confused. “What’s up?” asked Jill.

“Something surprising, apparently.”

She and I went down to the lobby, with no more mention of Adrian. When we stepped outside, we found Eddie and Angeline pointedly avoiding eye contact with each other. Standing near them was a tall, good-looking guy with neatly trimmed black hair and bright blue eyes. He wore a stern, serious expression and was scanning the area.

“He’s a dhampir,” Jill murmured to me.

His eyes locked onto us at our approach, and that fierce look relaxed.

“Jill, Sydney,” said Eddie. “This is Neil Raymond. He’s going to be joining us here.”

Neil swept Jill a bow so low, it was a wonder he didn’t hit the ground. “Princess Jillian,” he said in a deep voice. “It’s an honor to serve you, and I’ll do so to the best of my abilities, even if it means sacrificing my own life.”

Jill took a step back, her eyes wide as she took him in. “Th-thank you.”

Eddie looked back and forth between them, a small frown appearing on his face. “Neil’s been sent as backup. I guess you filed some complaint about Jill not having enough protection?” That was to me, and unless I was mistaken, there was an accusatory note in his voice.

“No – I. Oh. I guess I kind of did.” When I’d been trying to do damage control with Stanton, one of my grievances had been that I never felt Jill was safe. I guess this was Stanton’s response. It was surprising, just as Eddie had said, but more eyes on her couldn’t hurt. From the way she was sizing Neil up, she certainly didn’t seem to mind either.

I shook his hand. “Nice to have you around, Neil. Are they passing you off as another cousin?”

“Just a new student,” he said. That was probably just as well. Our “family” was in danger of taking over Amberwood.

I would’ve liked to learn a little more about him, but my time was up. Marcus was picking me up soon to go to the train station, seeing as Latte had been declared totaled. I guess that was a different sort of closure, albeit a sad kind.

I told them all goodbye as I left to get my suitcase, acting as though I just had to run an errand. Eddie, Angeline, and Jill knew the truth, and I could see the hurt and regret in their eyes – especially Jill. I prayed they’d be okay without me. When I came back downstairs, I found Jill was the only one still there.

“I forgot to give you this,” she said, handing over a small envelope. My name was on the outside, and I recognized the writing.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of him and thought he might be avoiding me. This is his goodbye, huh?” I felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see Adrian in person one last time. Maybe a letter was better than nothing, but I wished I could have left with those beautiful eyes fresh in my mind. “Is he . . . is he really upset?” I couldn’t stand the thought of him hurting.

“Read the letter,” she said mysteriously. “And remember, Sydney. This isn’t about me. This is about you guys. You can control everything else, but not this. Let go, and accept how you feel.”

We left on that note, and I went outside to sit on the curb and wait for Marcus. I stared at the envelope, looking at the way Adrian had written my name. Three times I nearly opened it . . . but chickened out each time. Finally, I saw Marcus drive in, and the envelope disappeared into my purse.

As soon as he picked me up, he began talking excitedly about the big plans ahead. I barely heard. All I kept thinking about was Adrian and how empty my life was going to seem without him. Marcus and I were meeting Wade and Amelia at the train station, but I couldn’t picture any of them understanding me like Adrian – even if they were human and shared the same background. None of them would have his dry wit or uncanny insight. And simmering beneath all those emotions were the more heated memories . . . the way we’d kissed, the way it had felt to be wrapped up in him. . . .

“Sydney? Are you even paying attention?”

I blinked and glanced over at Marcus. I think it was another of those moments where he couldn’t believe someone wasn’t hanging on to his every word. “Sorry,” I said. “My mind’s somewhere else.”

He grinned. “Well, shift it to beaches and margaritas because your life’s about to change.”

It was always beaches and margaritas with him. “You left out the part about us sealing the tattoo. Unless your tattooist is also a bartender.”

“There you go again, funny and beautiful.” He laughed. “We’re going to have a great time.”

“How long will we be down there?”

“Well, we’ll take care of the tattoos first. That’s the most important thing.” I was relieved to see him taking that seriously. “Then we’ll lie low, enjoy the sights for a few weeks. After that, we’ll come back and follow some leads on other dissatisfied Alchemists.”

“And then you’ll repeat the process?” I asked. In the rear-view mirror, I could see the Palm Springs skyline disappearing as we drove north. I felt a pang of longing in my chest. “Get others to retrieve critical information and then free them?”

“Exactly.”

We drove in silence for another minute as I processed his words. “Marcus, what do you do with that information you gather? I mean, what are you going to do about Master Jameson?”

“Keep finding more evidence,” he said promptly. “This is the biggest lead we’ve ever had. Now we can really push forward in finding out more.”

“It’s more than a lead. Why not leak it to the Moroi?”

“The Alchemists would deny it. Besides, we don’t want to be hasty.”

“So what if they do deny it?” I demanded. “At least the Moroi will have a heads-up.”

He glanced over at me with a look that reminded me of a parent trying to be patient with a child. Ahead of us, I saw a sign for the train station. “Sydney, I know you’re eager, but trust me. This is the way we’ve always done things.”

“I don’t know that it’s the right way, though.”

“You have a lot of ideas for someone who just joined up.” He chuckled. I wished he’d stop doing that. “Just wait, and then you’ll understand.”

I didn’t like his condescending attitude. “I think I already understand. And you know what? I don’t think you guys do anything. I mean, you’ve uncovered some amazing information . . . but then what? You keep waiting. You run away and skulk around. How is this really helping? Your intentions are good . . . but that’s all they are.” I could almost hear Jill’s voice: They talk. You act.

Ironically, Marcus was speechless.

“You could do so much,” I continued. “When I first found out about you, you seemed to hold all the potential in the world. Technically, you still do. But it’s being wasted.” He pulled into the train station’s parking lot, still looking utterly stunned.

“Where the hell is this coming from?” he asked at last.

“Me,” I said. “Because I’m not like you guys. I can’t do nothing. I can’t run away. And . . . I can’t go with you.”

It felt good to say that . . . and it also felt right. All week, my brain had been telling me the right thing to do was to walk away before things with Adrian and the Alchemists blew up. And yes, that probably was the smart thing. My heart had never entirely been on board, but I’d tried to ignore it. It wasn’t until I’d listened to both Jill and Marcus that I realized just this once, my brain might have to opt for the less logical solution.

I had to give Marcus credit. He actually looked concerned and wasn’t just put out at not getting his way. “Sydney I know how attached you are to this place and these people, but it’s not safe for you here. It’s not safe for you anywhere, not as long as the Alchemists are watching. Not as long as your tattoo is vulnerable.”

“Someone told me any life worth living has risks,” I said, unable to hide a smile. I never thought I’d be quoting Jill.

Marcus slammed his fist against the dashboard. “That’s sentimental bullshit! It sounds good in theory, but the reality is completely different.”

“What kind of reality could you have created if you’d stayed with the Alchemists?” I asked. “How much could you have uncovered?”

“Nothing if I was caught,” he said flatly. “And no matter how useless you think we are, I’ve freed dozens of Alchemists. I’ve helped Clarence and other Moroi.”

“You aren’t useless, Marcus. You do good work, but we’re just not on the same path, that’s all. I’m staying and doing things my way. Isn’t that what you said when we first met? Helping the Moroi on our own terms? These are mine.”

“You’re wasting your time!”

“It’s my time to waste,” I said. Adrian had said exactly the same thing to me on the flight to the wedding, when I’d told him he couldn’t keep loving me. I felt bad for Marcus. I really did, especially since he’d truly been counting on me to come with him.

He caught hold of my hand. “Sydney, please don’t do this,” he begged. “No matter how confident you feel, no matter how careful you think you are, things will spiral out of control.”

“They already have,” I said, opening the passenger door. “And I’m going to stop fighting them. Thank you for everything, Marcus. I mean it.”

“Wait, Sydney,” he called. “Just tell me one thing.”

I glanced back and waited.

“Where did this come from? When you called me to tell me you were coming, you said you’d realized it was the smart thing to do. What made you change your mind?”

I gave him a smile that I hoped was as dazzling as one of his. “I realized I’m in love.”

Marcus, startled, looked around as though he expected to see my objet d’amour in the car with us. “And you just realized that? Did you just have some sort of vision?”

“Didn’t need to,” I said, thinking of Wolfe’s ill-fated trip to the Orkneys. “It’s always been right in front of me.”