Sunday, September 1, 2019
The Indigo Spell Chapter Five
I LEFT SHORTLY THEREAFTER with the Alchemists and didn't expect to see Adrian for a little while. He was staying on with the other Moroi a couple more days in Pennsylvania, so there was no chance of a repeat flight together. My trip back to California was quiet and uneventful, though my mind raced with all the developments of the last couple of days. Between Ms. Terwilliger's cryptic warning and my new lead on Marcus, I had plenty to occupy me. A text message from Eddie greeted me when I hailed a cab at the Palm Springs airport: We're eating at Marquee's. Wanna join us? A follow-up message soon came: You can drive us back. I directed the driver to take me to a suburb on the far edge of the city rather than Amberwood's home in Vista Azul. I was hungry, seeing as there'd been no dinner served on the plane in coach, and besides, I wanted my car back in my own hands. When I arrived at the restaurant, I found Eddie and Angeline sitting on one side of a booth with Jill on the other. Immediately, I knew why they'd chosen to eat so far from our school. Being away meant Eddie and Angeline could go out as a couple. Back at Amberwood, everyone thought we were related. Eddie, Jill, and I passed ourselves off as siblings, while Angeline was our cousin. Eddie and Angeline had recently started dating, so they'd had to hide their relationship from our classmates to avoid raising suspicions. We already seemed to attract enough attention as it was. Angeline was cuddled up in Eddie's arm. Even he looked like he was having a good time, which was nice to see. He took his responsibilities so seriously and was often so tense that it seemed as though it wouldn't take much to make him snap in two. Angeline Ã¢â¬â though uncouth, unpredictable, and often inappropriate Ã¢â¬â had proven remarkably good for him. That didn't make him any less diligent in his guardian duties, of course. Things were a little different on the opposite side of the table. Jill looked miserable, slumped into the seat with her arms crossed. Her light brown hair hung forward, covering part of her face. After ill-fated romances with a guy who wanted to become a Strigoi and with Eddie's human roommate, Jill had come to realize that Eddie might very well be the guy for her. It was fitting, too, because for a long time, he'd harbored a secret crush on her, fiercely dedicated to her in the way a knight served his liege lady. He'd never believed he was worthy of Jill, and without any signs of her affection, he'd turned to Angeline Ã¢â¬â just when Jill had come around and wanted him. At times, it seemed like some sort of Shakespearean comedy . . . until I looked at Jill's face. Then I'd feel conflicted because I knew if Eddie returned her affection, Angeline would be the one with that sad, sad expression. It was kind of a mess and made me glad to be free of any romantic entanglements. Ã¢â¬Å"Sydney!Ã¢â¬ Jill beamed when she saw me, brushing her hair away. Maybe it was because she needed the distraction, or maybe it was because Adrian's new attitude toward me had lifted some of her moodiness. Regardless, I welcomed a return to the old friendliness in her rather than the brooding and accusing looks she'd harbored since I rejected him. Ã¢â¬Å"Hey, guys.Ã¢â¬ I slid into the booth beside her. Immediately, I opened up my cell phone's picture album and handed it to her since I knew she'd want to know about the wedding right away. Despite all the intrigue that had gone down there, I had managed to take some pictures without the other Alchemists noticing. Even if she'd seen some of it through Adrian's eyes, Jill would still want to examine everything in detail. She sighed with happiness as she scanned the pictures. Ã¢â¬Å"Look at Sonya. She's so pretty.Ã¢â¬ Angeline and Eddie leaned across the table to get a look. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh. And there's Rose and Lissa. They look great too.Ã¢â¬ There was an odd note in Jill's voice as she spoke. She was friends with Rose, but her half sister was still a bit of an enigma. Jill and Lissa hadn't even known they were sisters until recently, and the volatile political environment had forced Lissa to behave more as a queen than a sister toward Jill. It was a difficult relationship for both of them. Ã¢â¬Å"Did you have a fun time?Ã¢â¬ Eddie asked me. I considered my answer for several moments. Ã¢â¬Å"I had an interesting time. There's still a lot of tension between the Alchemists and your people, so some of it was a little weird.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"At least Adrian was there. Must have been nice to have someone you know,Ã¢â¬ said Angeline, in well-meaning ignorance. She pointed to a picture I'd taken of the reception hall. My intent had been to get a full shot of the venue for Jill, but Adrian had happened to walk into the shot, posed and perfect like some handsome spokesmodel hosting the event. Ã¢â¬Å"Always so pretty.Ã¢â¬ Angeline shook her head in disapproval. Ã¢â¬Å"Everyone there is. I guess that means there weren't any celebratory wrestling matches?Ã¢â¬ It was a sign of Angeline's progress that she'd deduced that so quickly. Her people, the Keepers, lived in the wilds of West Virginia, and their openness to romance between vampires, dhampirs, and humans was only one of their more bizarre customs. Friendly fights broke out often, and Angeline had had to learn that such behaviors weren't acceptable out here in mainstream America. Ã¢â¬Å"Not while I was there,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"But hey, maybe something went down after I left.Ã¢â¬ That brought grins to Jill's and Eddie's faces and a hopeful look to Angeline's. A waitress came by, and I ordered Diet Coke and a salad. Maybe I'd loosened up in my tight calorie counting, but I swore I could still taste the sugar from all the wedding cake I'd eaten after the spell. Angeline tightened her hold on Eddie's arm and smiled up at him. Ã¢â¬Å"If you ever get to see my home, you can fight my brother Josh to show that you're worthy of me.Ã¢â¬ I had to swallow a laugh. I'd seen the Keepers' community and knew she was absolutely serious. I worked to keep a straight face. Ã¢â¬Å"Aren't you breaking a lot of rules by being together without that having happened yet?Ã¢â¬ Angeline nodded, looking a little glum. Ã¢â¬Å"My mom would be so scandalized if she knew. But I guess this is a unique situation.Ã¢â¬ Eddie smiled indulgently at her. I think sometimes he thought we were exaggerating about the Keepers. He was going to be in for a shock if he ever did visit them. Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe I can fight a bunch of your relatives to make up for it,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"You might have to,Ã¢â¬ she said, not realizing he was joking. It was hardly romantic banter, but Jill looked decidedly uncomfortable discussing their relationship. She turned to me, very obviously trying not to look at them. Ã¢â¬Å"Sydney, what are we going to do about Christmas?Ã¢â¬ I shrugged, unsure what she was asking. Ã¢â¬Å"The usual, I guess. Give presents. Sing songs. Have Yuletide duels.Ã¢â¬ Angeline lit up at that. Jill rolled her eyes. Ã¢â¬Å"No, I mean, we're going to be on winter break in a few weeks. Is there any way . . . is there any way we can go home?Ã¢â¬ There was a plaintive note in her voice, and even Eddie and Angeline broke their mutual admiration to stare at me. I shifted under their scrutiny. Angeline wasn't as concerned about visiting the Keepers, but I knew Eddie and Jill missed their friends and family. I wished I could give them the answer they wanted to hear. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm sorry,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"You'll be staying at Clarence's for break. We can't risk . . . well, you know.Ã¢â¬ I didn't need to emphasize the need for Jill's safety. We were all familiar with that refrain. Ian's comment about how fragile the throne was drove home the importance of what we did. Jill's face fell. Even Eddie looked disappointed. Ã¢â¬Å"I figured,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"I just hoped . . . that is, I miss my mom so much.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"We can probably get a message to her,Ã¢â¬ I said gently. I knew that was no substitute for the real thing. I was able to make occasional phone calls to my own mom, and hearing her voice was a million times better than any email could be. I even got to talk to my older sister, Carly sometimes, which always cheered me up since she was so bright and funny. My younger sister, Zoe . . . well, she was a different story. She wouldn't take my calls. She'd nearly been initiated into the Alchemists Ã¢â¬â to take on this mission, in fact Ã¢â¬â when I'd stolen it from her. I'd done it to protect her from committing to the Alchemists so young, but she'd seen it as an insult. Looking at Jill's sad face, I felt my heart clench. She had been through so much. Her new royal status. Targeted by assassins. Fitting in to a human school. Her disastrous and deadly romances. And now enduring Eddie and Angeline. She handled it all with remarkable strength, always resolutely going through with what she had to do even if she didn't want to do it. Lissa was praised for being such an exemplary queen, but there was a regality and strength to Jill as well that many underestimated. Glancing up, I caught a spark in Eddie's eyes as he too seemed to recognize and admire that about her. After dinner, I took them back to Amberwood and was pleased to see that my car was in perfect shape. I drove a brown Subaru named Latte, and Eddie was the only other person I trusted behind the wheel. I dropped him off at the boys' dorm and then took Angeline and Jill back to ours. As we were walking in the door, I caught sight of Mrs. Santos, a teacher I knew by reputation. Ã¢â¬Å"You guys go ahead,Ã¢â¬ I told Jill and Angeline. Ã¢â¬Å"I'll see you tomorrow.Ã¢â¬ They left, and I walked across the lobby, waiting patiently for Mrs. Santos to finish a discussion with our dorm matron, Mrs. Weathers. When Mrs. Santos started to turn around and leave, I caught her attention. Ã¢â¬Å"Mrs. Santos? I'm Sydney Melrose. I wondered if I could Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, yes,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"I know who you are, dear. Ms. Terwilliger raves about you all the time at our department meetings.Ã¢â¬ Mrs. Santos was a kindly-looking woman with silver and black hair. Rumor had it she'd be retiring soon. I flushed a little at the praise. Ã¢â¬Å"Thank you, ma'am.Ã¢â¬ She and Ms. Terwilliger were both history teachers, though Mrs. Santos's focus was on American history, not world. Ã¢â¬Å"Do you have a minute? I wanted to ask you something.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Of course.Ã¢â¬ We stepped off to the side of the lobby, out of the incoming and outgoing dorm traffic. Ã¢â¬Å"You know a lot about local history, right? Southern California?Ã¢â¬ Mrs. Santos nodded. Ã¢â¬Å"I was born and raised here.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm interested in nontraditional architecture in the Los Angeles area,Ã¢â¬ I told her, the lie rolling easily off my lips. I'd thought about this in advance. Ã¢â¬Å"That is, non-Southwest styles. Do you know any neighborhoods like that? I'd heard there were some Victorian ones.Ã¢â¬ She brightened. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, yes. Absolutely. Fascinating subject. Victorian, Cape Cod, Colonial . . . there are all sorts. I don't have all the information on me, but I could email you when I get home tonight. There are several I know off the top of my head, and I know a historian who could help you with others.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That'd be great, ma'am. Thank you so much.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Always happy to help a star pupil.Ã¢â¬ She winked as she started to walk away. Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe next semester you'll do an independent study with me. Provided you can tear yourself away from Ms. Terwilliger.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'll keep it in mind,Ã¢â¬ I said. As soon as she was gone, I texted Ms. Terwilliger. Mrs. Santos is going to tell me about historical neighborhoods. The response came quickly: Excellent. Come over right now. I scowled as I typed back: I just got here. Haven't even been in my room. To which she replied: Then you can get here that much faster. Maybe that was true, but I still took the time to put my suitcase back in my room and change out of my travel clothes. Ms. Terwilliger lived pretty close to the school and looked as though she'd been pacing in circles when I arrived at her house. Ã¢â¬Å"Finally,Ã¢â¬ she said. I glanced at the time. Ã¢â¬Å"It's only been fifteen minutes.Ã¢â¬ She shook her head and again wore the same grim expression she'd had out in the desert. Ã¢â¬Å"Even that might be too much. Follow me.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger's home was a little bungalow that could have doubled as a New Age store or possibly a cat shelter. The level of clutter set my teeth on edge. Spell books, incense, statues, crystals, and all sorts of other magical items sat in piles in all rooms of the house. Only her workshop, the room she led me to, was neat and orderly Ã¢â¬â even to levels I approved of. Everything was clean and organized, to the point of being labeled and alphabetized. A large worktable sat in the center of the room, completely cleared off, save for a stunning necklace I'd never seen before. The chain was made of intricate gold loops, and the pendant was a deep red cabochon stone in a lacy gold setting. Ã¢â¬Å"Garnet?Ã¢â¬ I asked. Ã¢â¬Å"Very good,Ã¢â¬ she said, lifting the necklace. The candlelight in the room seemed to make every part of it glitter. Ã¢â¬Å"It's lovely,Ã¢â¬ I said. She held it out to me. Ã¢â¬Å"It's for you.Ã¢â¬ I stepped back uneasily. Ã¢â¬Å"For . . . me? I . . . I mean, thank you, but I can't accept a gift like that.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's not a gift,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"It's a necessity. One that might save your life. Take it and put it on.Ã¢â¬ I refused to touch it. Ã¢â¬Å"It's magical, isn't it?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"And don't give me that look. It's no different from any of the charms you've made for yourself.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Except that anything you'd make . . .Ã¢â¬ I swallowed as I stared into the depths of that bloodred jewel. Ã¢â¬Å"It's going to be a lot more powerful than anything I can create.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That's exactly the point. Now here.Ã¢â¬ She thrust it so close to me that it nearly swung out and hit me in the face. Steeling myself, I reached out and took it from her. Nothing happened. No smoke or sparks. No searing pain. Seeing her expectant look, I fastened it around my neck, letting the garnet lie next to my cross. She sighed, her relief nearly palpable. Ã¢â¬Å"Just as I'd hoped.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What?Ã¢â¬ I asked. Even if I sensed nothing special about it, the garnet felt heavy around my neck. Ã¢â¬Å"It's masking your magical ability,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"No one who meets you should be able to tell that you're a magic user.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm not a magic user,Ã¢â¬ I reminded her sharply. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm an Alchemist.Ã¢â¬ A small flicker of a smile played over her lips. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course you are Ã¢â¬â one who uses magic. And to a particularly powerful person, that would be obvious. Magic leaves a mark on your blood that permeates your whole body.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What?Ã¢â¬ I couldn't have been more shocked if she'd said I'd just contracted a deadly disease. Ã¢â¬Å"You never told me that before!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It wasn't important,Ã¢â¬ she said with a small shrug. Ã¢â¬Å"Until now. I need you hidden. Do not take that off. Ever.Ã¢â¬ I put my hands on my hips. Ã¢â¬Å"Ma'am, I don't understand.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"All will be revealed in time Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ I said. At that moment, I could have been talking to Stanton or any of the countless others who'd used me and fed me pieces of information throughout my life. Ã¢â¬Å"It will be revealed now. If you've gotten me into something dangerous, then you either need to get me out of it or tell me how to.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger stared at me for several quiet moments. A gray tabby cat rubbed up against my legs, ruining the seriousness of the moment. Ã¢â¬Å"You're right,Ã¢â¬ she said at last. Ã¢â¬Å"I do owe you an explanation. Have a seat.Ã¢â¬ I sat down on one of the stools by the table, and she sat opposite me. She clasped her hands together in front of her and seemed to be having a hard time gathering her thoughts. I had to force myself to stay calm and patient. Otherwise, the panic that had been gnawing at me since the desert would completely consume me. Ã¢â¬Å"You remember that woman you saw in the picture?Ã¢â¬ she asked at last. Ã¢â¬Å"Your sister.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger nodded. Ã¢â¬Å"Veronica. She's ten years older than me and looks half my age, as you could undoubtedly tell. Now, it isn't difficult to create an illusion. If I wanted to appear young and beautiful, I could Ã¢â¬â emphasis on appear. But Veronica? She's actually managed to make her body young and vibrant. It's an advanced, insidious kind of magic. You can't defy age like that without making some sacrifices.Ã¢â¬ She frowned, and my heart pounded. Creating youth made all my Alchemist sensibilities reel. It was nearly as bad as Strigoi immortality, maybe worse if she was talking about a human doing it. That kind of twisted magic had no place in this world. Her next words drove home the wrongness of it all. Ã¢â¬Å"Or, in her case, sacrificing others.Ã¢â¬ Sacrifice. The very word seemed to poison the air. She stood up and walked over to a shelf, producing a newspaper clipping. Wordlessly, she handed it to me. It was a recent article, from three days ago, talking about a nineteen-year-old UCLA student who'd been found comatose in her dorm room. No one knew what had caused it, and the girl was hospitalized with no indication of when or if she'd wake up. Ã¢â¬Å"What is this?Ã¢â¬ I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer. I inspected the article more closely, especially the picture it contained. At first, I wondered why the paper would show a sleeping old woman. Then, reading the fine print, I learned that the coma victim also displayed some unexplained physical symptoms: gray-streaked hair and dry, cracked skin. Doctors were currently investigating rare diseases. I cringed, unable to believe what I saw. She was hideous, and I couldn't look at her for very long. And just like that, I suddenly understood. Veronica wasn't sacrificing victims with knives and stone altars. She was conducting some kind of perverse magic on these girls that bent the rules of nature, putting them in this hideous state. My stomach twisted, and I gripped the table for support. Ã¢â¬Å"This girl was one of Veronica's victims,Ã¢â¬ confirmed Ms. Terwilliger. Ã¢â¬Å"That's how she maintains her youth and beauty Ã¢â¬â by taking it from others. When I read this, I thought Ã¢â¬â almost hoped Ã¢â¬â some other magic user was doing it. Not that I'd wish this on anyone. Your scrying spell confirmed she was in the area, however, which means it's my responsibility to deal with her.Ã¢â¬ I dared a look down at the article again and felt that nausea well up again. The girl was nineteen. What would it be like to have the life sucked out of you at so young an age? Maybe the coma was a blessing. And how corrupt and twisted would you have to be to do that to someone? I didn't know how exactly Ms. Terwilliger would Ã¢â¬Å"deal withÃ¢â¬ her sister and wasn't sure I wanted to find out. And yet, if Veronica really was doing things like this to innocents, then yes, someone like Ms. Terwilliger needed to stop her. A magical attack of this magnitude was one of the most terrible things I could imagine. It brought back all my ingrained fears about the wrongness of magic. How could I justify using it when it was capable of such horror? Old Alchemist lessons came back to me: Part of what makes the Moroi particularly dangerous is their ability to work magic. No one should be able to twist the world in that way It's wrong and can easily run out of control. I tuned back into the present. Ã¢â¬Å"How do I fit into this, ma'am? I already figured out where she is. Why am I in danger?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sydney,Ã¢â¬ Mrs. Terwilliger said, looking at me strangely. Ã¢â¬Å"There are few young women out there with your abilities. Along with youth and beauty, she intends to suck someone's magic away and use it to make herself that much more powerful. You, my dear, would be the ultimate coup for her.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She's like Strigoi,Ã¢â¬ I murmured, unable to repress a shiver. Although those undead vampires could feast on anyone, they preferred Moroi because they had magic in their blood. Drinking Moroi blood made Strigoi more powerful, and a chilling thought suddenly hit me. Ã¢â¬Å"Practically a human vampire.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Something like that,Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger agreed. Ã¢â¬Å"This amulet should hide your power, even from someone as strong as her. She shouldn't be able to find you.Ã¢â¬ A calico cat jumped up on the table, and I ran a hand over her sleek fur, taking comfort in the small contact. Ã¢â¬Å"The fact that you keep saying Ã¢â¬Ëshould' makes me a little nervous. Why would she even come looking in Palm Springs? Does she know about me yet?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No. But she knows I'm here, and she may check on me once in a while Ã¢â¬â so I need to hide you in case she does. I'm in a bind, however, because I need to find her but can't actively do the hunting. If she finds out I'm investigating, she'll know that I know she's here. I can't alert her. If I have the element of surprise on my side, I'm more likely to stop her.Ã¢â¬ She frowned. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm honestly surprised she would come so close to me in California at all. Regardless, I need to keep a low profile until it's time to strike.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger looked at me meaningfully, and I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I began to put together what she was saying. Ã¢â¬Å"You want me to hunt her.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's not hunting so much as gathering some data. You're the only one I can trust to do this. She and I can sense each other if we're close, no matter how much we try to hide our magic. I know this is going to sound shocking, but I actually think it'd be best if you hunted her Ã¢â¬â even if you're the one she's after. You're one of the few I can trust completely and you're resourceful enough to pull something like this off.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But I'd be putting myself out there. You just said I'd be a big catch for her.Ã¢â¬ The twists and turns here were mindboggling. Ã¢â¬Å"Yes. Which is why I gave you the amulet. She won't sense your magic, and if you're cautious in your investigation, she should have no reason to notice you.Ã¢â¬ I still wasn't following the logic here. Ã¢â¬Å"But why me? You have a coven. If you can't do it yourself, then there must be someone else Ã¢â¬â a stronger witch Ã¢â¬â who can do it.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Two reasons,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"One is that you have excellent investigative skills Ã¢â¬â more so than others older than you. You're intelligent and resourceful. The other reason . . . well, if another witch goes after her, she might very well kill Veronica.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Would that be such a bad thing?Ã¢â¬ I didn't like violence and killing by any means, but this might be a case where it was justified, if it could save other lives. Ã¢â¬Å"You said you were going to Ã¢â¬Ëtake care of her.'Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"If I have no choice . . . if I must kill her, then I will.Ã¢â¬ She looked dejected, and I had a moment of empathy. I loved my two sisters. What would I do if I was ever in a deadly conflict with one of them? Of course, it was hard to imagine Zoe or Carly committing this kind of atrocity. Ã¢â¬Å"However, there are other ways of neutralizing and subduing a magic user. If there's any way Ã¢â¬â any way at all Ã¢â¬â I can do that, I will. My coven sisters won't feel that way, which is why I need your help.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I can't.Ã¢â¬ I pushed the stool back and stood up, nearly stepping on a cat in the process. Ã¢â¬Å"There must be some other way you can do this. You know I'm already bogged down in supernatural affairs.Ã¢â¬ I actually couldn't bring myself to admit the real reason I wanted to dodge this. It was about more than just risking my life. So far, all my magical interactions had been with Ms. Terwilliger. If I signed on for this, I would be plunging into the world of witches, something I'd sworn I would never do. Ms. Terwilliger tapped the article, and her voice was quiet when she spoke. Ã¢â¬Å"Could you let this happen to other girls, knowing there's a way you could stop it? I've never heard of any of her victims waking up. The way this spell works, Veronica needs to renew it every few years, and it requires five victims within one month. She did this once before, and it caught me off guard. This time, we have warning. Four more people could suffer this fate. Do you want that?Ã¢â¬ There it was. She'd called me on the other part that had been nagging me because she knew me too well. I couldn't let innocents suffer, not even if it meant risking myself or facing the fears that haunted me. If I could stop this, I had to. No one deserved the fate of that girl in the paper. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course not.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And let's not forget that you could soon be one of her victims.Ã¢â¬ I touched the garnet. Ã¢â¬Å"You said I'm hidden.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You are, for now. And I hope against all hope you'll stay that way.Ã¢â¬ I'd never seen her so grim before, and it was hard to watch. I was used to her prattling, bumbling, no-nonsense nature. Ã¢â¬Å"But here's something I've never told you about how magic users sense each other.Ã¢â¬ Something I'd learned over the years: it was never a good thing when people said, Ã¢â¬Å"Here's something I never told you. . . .Ã¢â¬ I braced myself. Ã¢â¬Å"Untrained magic users have a particular feel that's unique from the more experienced,Ã¢â¬ she explained. Ã¢â¬Å"There's a oh, wild-ness about the magic that surrounds you. It's easy for advanced witches to sense. My coven keeps track of novice magic users, but those are tightly guarded secrets. Veronica won't have access to those names, but there are spells she can use that can pick up on some of that untamed magic if it's near her. It's how she probably found this poor girl.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger nodded toward the article. The idea of me having some Ã¢â¬Å"wildÃ¢â¬ magical aura was as shocking as her saying I had magic in my blood. Ã¢â¬Å"When she absorbs a victim,Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger continued, Ã¢â¬Å"she gets a burst of that wildness. It fades quickly, but when she possesses it, it can briefly enhance her ability to scry for another untrained victim. The more victims she takes, the stronger that ability will grow. There's a chance,Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger said gravely, Ã¢â¬Å"that it could be enough to break apart the garnet. I don't know.Ã¢â¬ She spread out her hands. Ã¢â¬Å"So you're saying . . . with each victim she attacks, the chance that she'll find me increases.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"All right. I'll help you hunt for her.Ã¢â¬ I shoved all my fears and doubts aside. The stakes were too high. My life, the other girls . . . Veronica had to be stopped for all our sakes. Someone like her couldn't be allowed to go on like this. Ã¢â¬Å"There's more,Ã¢â¬ added Ms. Terwilliger. Really? Ã¢â¬Å"More than hunting an evil witch who wants to drain me of my life and power?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"If we can stop Veronica from finding less powerful victims, we can save their lives and limit her ability to find you.Ã¢â¬ She produced a small velvet bag and emptied it out onto the table. Several small agate circles fell out. Ã¢â¬Å"These are charms that have some ability to mask magic. Not as strong as the garnet Ã¢â¬â that would take too long. But they're a quick fix that might save some of these other girls' lives.Ã¢â¬ I knew where this was going. Ã¢â¬Å"And you want me to deliver them.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm sorry. I know I'm giving you some very difficult tasks here.Ã¢â¬ This was getting worse and worse. Ã¢â¬Å"Difficult? That's an understatement. And putting aside the fact that you want me to find a woman who could suck my life away there's also the very small detail that the Alchemists would flip out if they knew I was involved with any of this.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger didn't answer right away. She just watched me. A black cat jumped up beside her and joined in the staring. Its yellow-eyed gaze seemed to say Do the right thing. Ã¢â¬Å"Where do I start?Ã¢â¬ I asked finally. Ã¢â¬Å"Finding that neighborhood is part of it, right?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes. And I'll tell you where to find her potential victims, if you'll do the legwork of warning them. My coven keeps track of them. They'll be girls very much like you, ones with power who refuse to train and have no mentor to look after them. Once we have a clear fix on Veronica herself . . .Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger's eyes hardened. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, then. That's when I'll step in.Ã¢â¬ Once more, I wondered if I really wanted to know what that entailed. A moment later, she added, Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, and I thought it would be a good idea to obscure your appearance as well.Ã¢â¬ I brightened. I couldn't explain it, but somehow, that made me feel immensely better. Ã¢â¬Å"There are a lot of spells for that, right?Ã¢â¬ I'd seen a number of them in my studies. Even if I had to use magic, it was better to at least look different. Ã¢â¬Å"Yes. . . .Ã¢â¬ She drummed her fingers against the table. Ã¢â¬Å"But the amulet might not be able to hide you wearing an Ã¢â¬Ëactive' spell, which would then defeat the whole purpose. What I was actually hoping was that your Ã¢â¬Ëbrother' Adrian might be able to help.Ã¢â¬ My legs felt weak, and I sat back down. Ã¢â¬Å"Why on earth should Adrian be involved in this?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, he seems like he'd do anything for you.Ã¢â¬ I eyed her, wondering if there was a double meaning in that. Her gaze was far away, her thoughts turned inward. She'd meant her words honestly. Ã¢â¬Å"Veronica wouldn't be able to detect vampire magic. His power . . . that spirit element he was telling me about . . . it can confuse the mind, right? Affect what others can see?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes. . . .Ã¢â¬ She focused on me again, nodding in satisfaction. Ã¢â¬Å"If he could accompany you, help muddle whoever meets you . . . well, that would offer an extra level of protection.Ã¢â¬ I still didn't know what all I'd be doing to hunt Ms. Terwilliger's sister, but it sounded like, at the very least, there'd be a drive to Los Angeles in my future. Me, trapped in another small space with Adrian while he continued with that infuriating Ã¢â¬Å"loving from afar.Ã¢â¬ I was so caught up in the emotional turmoil that idea caused that it took me a moment to realize the larger issue I was letting myself get sucked into. Ã¢â¬Å"Do you realize what you're asking?Ã¢â¬ I said quietly. I touched the garnet again. Ã¢â¬Å"To be a part of this, you're asking me to expose myself to both human magic and vampire magic. Everything I try to avoid.Ã¢â¬ Ms. Terwilliger snorted, and for the first time tonight, I saw a return of her usual amused attitude. Ã¢â¬Å"Unless I'm mistaken, you've been exposing yourself to both kinds of magic for some time now. So, it can't go against your beliefs that much.Ã¢â¬ She paused meaningfully. Ã¢â¬Å"If anything, it seems like it goes against the Alchemists' beliefs.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"The Alchemists' beliefs are my beliefs,Ã¢â¬ I said quickly. She arched an eyebrow. Ã¢â¬Å"Are they? I would hope your beliefs would be your beliefs.Ã¢â¬ I'd never thought about it that way before, but I suddenly hoped desperately that her words were true.