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Guardian creepy hollow 1, p.4
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       Guardian (Creepy Hollow, #1), p.4

           Rachel Morgan
 
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  Zell drops me back onto the ground. My shoulder screams. “To find the other guardian, remember? If this doesn’t work out.”

  “Fine,” grunts Drake. He takes hold of the hook and pulls the rope toward Nate.

  Nate looks at me. “Why didn’t you run?” I whisper fiercely.

  Confusion mingles with the fear in his eyes. “Did you really think I’d leave you here?”

  A strange warmth blooms within my chest. It’s unfamiliar, this feeling, and I want to examine it closer—but the hook is now attached to the rope around Nate’s wrists. Drake’s hands move to the handle on the side of the contraption. He starts winding. The rope across the top of the beam grows taut, pulling Nate clear off the ground. His face twists in pain. With a flick of the lever, he’s dangling over the ravine.

  “Whoa!” Nate looks down, blinks, then raises his gaze to the starry sky. “Not cool. Definitely not cool.”

  “This is insane!” I shout at Drake. “How is this woman supposed to know you’re dangling her son off some arbitrary cliff?”

  Drake gives me a small smile. “She’ll know.”

  I bite down on my knuckles to keep myself from screaming obscenities at Drake. Do something! I silently yell at myself instead. Save him, dammit, it’s what you’re trained to do!

  A fork of lightning splits the sky. I look up to see a dark cloud that I’m sure wasn’t there moments ago. Zell turns his gaze upward. I can’t tell if he’s causing the storm, but he seems like the kind of twisted guy who’d manipulate the weather just to add to the drama of the whole situation.

  “Ready for some fun?” Drake shouts above the wind that gusts through the ravine. He releases the contraption’s handle, and with a yelp of fright, Nate drops like a stone.

  “Stop!” I scream with such force that it feels like everything inside me hurts. Drake grabs the spinning handle, and Nate jerks to a halt, crying out in pain.

  At the tips of my fingers, which are stretched desperately toward Nate, I see the tiniest sparkle vanishing. I lower my hands and check that the metal band is still attached to my arm. It is. But maybe it doesn’t actually block magic. Maybe it just makes magic really difficult to use.

  Okay. I have a feeling this is going to hurt. A lot.

  Nate cries out again before I can decide what magic to try and force out of myself. I look up, but Drake hasn’t dropped Nate again. We have a new problem: Nate’s hands are slipping out of the rope.

  And then I notice something else: a solitary figure standing on the other side of the ravine. But there’s no time to hang around and find out if it really is Nate’s mother.

  “Violet!” Nate’s hands slide a little further through the rope.

  I grit my teeth and dig my fingers into the dirt, drawing strength from the earth. My wrist burns. And burns. And burns. I can almost smell the sizzling flesh beneath the metal on my wrist. With a roar of pain and anger I throw everything I can muster at Zell. The ball of purple sparks hits him in the stomach, and he flies backward into Drake. Drake loses hold of the handle, but it doesn’t matter because Nate is already falling.

  The magic has torn through the ropes at my wrists—an added bonus I hadn’t anticipated. I push myself to my feet, run for the edge of the cliff, and leap into Nate’s flailing arms. Now we’re both plummeting through the air, and Nate is screaming in my ear, and I’m trying desperately to get my stylus out of my boot.

  What the hell was I thinking? I can’t even open a doorway in the air when I’m stationary. How do I expect to do it when the air is moving past me at a zillion miles an hour? But there’s nothing like the idea of impending death to motivate me.

  I maneuver our falling bodies so that I’m underneath Nate. If a doorway is going to open we need to fall into it, not past it. I write the words in the air rushing up behind my back. Nothing.

  Come on. Focus.

  “We’re gonna die!” screeches Nate.

  “Shut up!” I yell, but the wind snatches the words away the moment they leave my mouth. I can barely feel my fingers past the agony in my wrist, but I have to do this.

  I try again. And again. I close my eyes and imagine the words as I write them.

  And suddenly we’re surrounded by black emptiness. No motion. No nothing.

  Yes! I did it! And we managed to escape Drake and Zell. We start falling out of the blackness. No, wait, that wasn’t my destination. No! Drake and Zell are not my destination!

  But that’s exactly where the paths deposit us—on the grass beside the wooden contraption.

  “What the hell?” gasps Nate.

  I jump up, grab his hand—reddened and scratched from the rope—and run for the tiny cabin. I hear Zell shouting behind us. Crap! Has he recovered already? I scribble words onto the cabin door and plunge into the darkness with Nate.

  There’s a snicker behind me, and I know Zell made it through before the doorway closed. I stop my mind before it can go anywhere. Don’t think. Don’t choose a destination. Zell is so close; if I exit now will he be able to follow us through? I don’t know. I thought you had to have contact with someone to travel together through the paths, but the fact that I can still hear him . . .

  I clamp my uninjured hand over Nate’s mouth. Perhaps, if we’re quiet enough, Zell will think we exited and he missed it. Nate’s breath is hot against my hand, and his lips are as soft as I imagined them to be from the window seat of his bedroom. That strange warmth returns to my chest. It radiates down to my stomach and along my arms, like the sunlight of spring awakening a frozen land.

  This is weird.

  I remove my hand from Nate’s mouth, sure that he’s got the message by now.

  “I know you’re there,” Zell calls softly. “How about we play a little game?” I bite my lip. I won’t be tricked into anything. “Nathaniel’s mother disappeared, and I have a feeling she won’t be back. So I think it’s time to move on to plan B.” His voice shifts around us as he speaks. Is he moving? Or is this some strange quality of the paths? “So the game goes like this, Violet,” Zell continues, and I shiver at the way he whispers my name. “You agree to tell me where I can locate a certain faerie guardian, and I agree not to kill young Nathaniel. If you decide not to tell me, then you get to watch him die.”

  Great game.

  “Now. The guardian I need is one with a special talent. A talent for finding people. Anyone. Anywhere. You heard of this guardian?”

  I squeeze Nate’s arm so hard I probably stop the supply of blood to his fingers.

  “You know who I’m talking about,” says Zell, his voice sounding closer and then further away. “And when I get my hands on you I will tear the answer from your mind.”

  Well, you’ll have to catch me first.

  I pick my destination. We drop out of the darkness and into the mall, right in front of the elevator, just like I planned. It’s open—thank you thank you thank you—and empty. Of course it’s empty, it’s night time. I rush into the elevator, never letting go of Nate’s hand, and hit the first button I see.

  Zell appears.

  “Close, dammit, close!” I shout at the mechanical doors. Through the slowly narrowing gap I see Zell raise his hand. The doors meet and the entire elevator shudders under the power of Zell’s spell. I raise my stylus to the mirror beside me, clench my teeth to keep from crying out in agony, and scribble once more. We run into the opening darkness.

  “Draven Avenue,” I blurt out desperately.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  We tumble onto the grass in Nate’s back garden. I sit up immediately, afraid that Zell will somehow follow us through. But the only thing that breaks the silence on this quiet street is the sound of our labored breathing and the occasional cricket chirp.

  I collapse onto my side—the side that wasn’t hit with Zell’s magic. My stylus rolls from my open palm onto the grass beside me. I try to reach it to return it to my boot, but my hand is in such pain I can’t even move my fingers.

  Nate takes a few deep breaths befor
e propping himself up on one elbow. He looks down at me and says, “Of all the places in the world we could have landed after falling off that cliff, you chose to take us back to the very people who just tried to kill us?”

  I sit up in disbelief, blinking away the dark spots that threaten to engulf my vision. “Shouldn’t you be thanking me?”

  “Vi,” he says, a smile turning his lips up. “I’m just—”

  “You were the one who was convinced they weren’t actually going to harm us. You ruined our chance at escaping last night. You didn’t even try to run away when I attacked Drake on the cliff! I have been trying to save your ass since the moment that reptiscilla appeared in your bedroom—a job you haven’t exactly made easy for me—and now that we’re finally out of harm’s way you can’t even be bothered to—”

  He leans toward me, cutting off my words by pressing his mouth to mine. He’s kissing me. He’s kissing me! I freeze for a second, then shove him away from me before realizing that I actually kind of like it. “I—I’m sorry. That was just—instinct. You, um, took me by surprise.”

  Do I want him to kiss me again? Is it a good idea? No. Yes. I don’t know!

  “No problem,” says Nate, refusing to look at me. “Just trying to get you to stop shouting at me.”

  I can’t seem to get any words out.

  “Looks like it worked,” he adds. “And I wasn’t trying to make you angry with that comment. I was just . . . making a light-hearted observation. And thanks. For saving me. Again.”

  He isn’t going to try to kiss me again. It’s probably for the best. No, it’s definitely for the best. I shouldn’t be kissing human boys. I’m sure it’s on some list of Guild rules.

  “Oh, wow, have you seen the back of your shoulder?” Nate asks, leaning to one side so he has a better view of my back.

  I stare at him.

  “Sorry, dumb question. Of course you can’t see it. It, um, looks pretty painful.”

  “Not as painful as this.” I hold out my scorched wrist. It’s throbbing with such intensity I think I might be sick.

  “What the hell?” Nate whispers, touching my elbow to bring my arm closer to his face. The skin around the metal band is blistered and raw. “This happened because you used magic?”

  “Yeah. I think this band is meant to make the use of magic so painful that the wearer is basically powerless. But, you know, we had to get away.”

  “You have to get this seen to.” Nate’s eyes are large and worried.

  “I suppose.” The black spots are swimming in front of my eyes again. “Normally I’d heal from something like this pretty quickly, but—” don’t pass out, don’t pass out “—um, I guess this band thing is stopping that.”

  Nate looks toward his house. “Let’s go inside. I can get you some painkillers at least. My parents like to go to bed early so as long as we’re quiet we won’t—”

  “Violet!” My head jerks up to search for the source of the voice. “You’re okay.” A man leaps off the roof and lands beside us. I’m about to panic when I realize I recognize him. It’s Flint, Tora’s older brother. He’s involved with security at the Guild, so I’m not entirely sure what he’s doing hanging out on Nate’s roof. Oh, heck, did he see us kissing? “Tora’s going crazy,” says Flint. “She’ll be so relieved to know you’re all right.”

  “But . . .” I’m confused now. “How did she know anything was wrong?”

  “Raven saw what happened.” Flint sits down on the grass and crosses his legs. “She was in the trees, setting up traps for those nixles that are breeding out of control, and some faerie—a crimson, I think she said—jumped out of nowhere, stunned you both, and disappeared with you.”

  I nod. “I figured that’s what happened.”

  “We had no idea where to look for you, of course; you’re the only one with that ability.” Flint winks at me. Nate gives me a strange look. “So Tora’s been harassing the guys at Missing Fae all day—you know how slow they are—and I’ve been checking in here regularly, hoping you’d show up. Oh, I almost forgot.” Flint removes a small bag from his back and pulls out an emergency kit. He opens the lid, lifts out two tiny cupcakes, and gives us each one. “Raven modified yours slightly,” he says to Nate. “It’s human-safe.”

  Nate stares at the cupcake in his hand for a few moments, then looks up at Flint. “Are you serious? Vi’s arm has been magically barbequed and you think she needs a cupcake?”

  “What? Let me see.” I hold out my arm, and Flint leans closer. He examines the metal that’s stuck to my skin. I watch his expression grow darker.

  “You know what this is,” I say.

  He nods. “I haven’t seen one in a long time, but I do know what it is. And I know how to remove it.”

  “Oh, thank goodness.”

  Flint doesn’t look happy though. “It’s going to hurt, Vi. Badly. Really badly. You should definitely eat the cupcake first. And let’s move out of sight of the house. I’m glamoured, but you two are rather conspicuous.”

  We huddle between the rose bushes, and Nate pops the cupcake into his mouth in one bite. I do the same, and within seconds I feel a kind of healing strength spreading throughout me. At the same time the pain in my wrist increases. My body is fighting to heal itself, but that horrible metallic band won’t let it.

  “That wasn’t a normal cupcake, was it?” says Nate, once he’s finished swallowing.

  “Of course not,” says Flint. He removes a special stylus from his emergency kit. Instead of narrowing to a point, it has a square, flat tip. The type of tip you could insert underneath things. “Okay, let’s get that thing off you.”

  I swallow, then jump slightly as I feel Nate’s hand covering my uninjured one. “Squeeze as hard as you need to,” he says. “But just so you know, if there’s any blood involved I’ll probably pass out.”

  Flint grips my arm above my wrist and whispers words I don’t recognize. Then, very gently, he pushes the edge of the stylus beneath the metal band. The flash of pain seems to be everywhere at once—chest, head, fingers, feet, eyes—blinding me with its intensity. I jerk back, breathe in sharply, and watch the black spots gather in full force before my eyes.

  *

  Murmuring voices rouse me. The pain is gone, though a deep weariness reaches right to the core of me. I blink a few times, and my eyes focus on Nate’s worried face. I can feel the grass beneath my head.

  “I guess I was the one who passed out, huh?”

  “Understandable,” says Flint, his head appearing next to Nate’s. “I probably should have just put you to sleep first. Sorry about that.”

  I shrug. “I was only conscious for about three seconds of pain before everything went black.” I raise my arm to have a look. A strip of angry red skin encircles my wrist, but the intense agony has faded to a mere whisper of an ache. I sit up and find that Nate is still holding my other hand. I don’t pull it away.

  “It will leave a scar,” Flint tells me. “Strange, I know, since we’re not supposed to scar, but it must be some property of the magic in the band.” He stands. “I’ve put some protective spells around the house in case that faerie comes back for the boy.”

  I pull my hand out of Nate’s—reluctantly—and stand up. “Thanks, though it’s probably not necessary. I don’t think he knows where Nate lives, or I’m sure he would have come here first and taken Nate when no one else was around.”

  But how did Zell know that Nate was in Creepy Hollow forest with me?

  “Well, I need to get going,” says Flint. “I’ve already informed Tora that you’re okay. She’ll visit you in the morning. Oh, and the boy’s parents think he’s been away on a school field trip.”

  “Thank you, Flint.” I lean forward to hug him.

  “You can take care of things from here?” he whispers into my ear. I know what he means, and for a split second I wonder if I still have that vial of Forget. But when I pat my pocket I find the tiny cylindrical shape there. I nod at Flint. Of course I’ll take care
of it. I will. Nate definitely needs to forget everything that’s happened.

  Flint kneels on the grass and writes a doorway into the ground. He jumps into the void and disappears.

  Okay. Now you just have to get Nate to drink what’s in that vial. Then you can go home and this will all be over.

  I turn around and join Nate on the ground. He’s playing with my stylus. “Why isn’t it working for me? Has it run out of magic or something?”

  I laugh. “The magic isn’t in the stylus, silly, it’s in me. It’s in nature.” I place my palms next to each other, draw on my own power, and watch my cupped hands fill with a liquid like molten silver. Nate leans forward and touches it; his fingers come away dry. I throw the liquid into the air and watch the droplets transform into shimmering silver butterflies that flit quickly away.

  “The stylus just helps to channel magic,” I explain, “like when we send amber messages to each other, or open doorways to the paths.”

  “But when you conjure sparkly weapons out of nothing, all you need is your hands?” he asks.

  “Oh, the weapons are different,” I say. “When we begin our training, we each get assigned a whole set of weapons. Bow and arrow, sword, whip, daggers, and a whole lot of others. These weapons are enchanted so we don’t have to carry them on us. But it’s not like they’re invisible, it’s more like . . . they exist in another dimension.”

  “Another dimension?” Nate smiles. “Have we moved from fantasy to sci-fi now?”

  “Well, I don’t really know how else to explain it.” I twist a piece of grass around my finger. “It’s like they’re always there, but just out of reach. So as soon as I need one, my mind calls for it, and a moment later it’s in my hands. When I don’t need it anymore it disappears.”

  “Incredible,” Nate says with a grin. He leans back on his hands. “This may sound weird, but I’m glad that reptiscilla attacked me. I’d never have known about your world otherwise. Or about you.”

 
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