Raven a creepy hollow st.., p.4
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       Raven (A Creepy Hollow Story Book 2), p.4

           Rachel Morgan
 
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  She nodded and finally took a proper look at her surroundings. “Where are we?”

  Flint’s eyes darted around the small living room they’d landed in. He appeared as surprised as she was, despite the fact that he’d been the one directing the faerie paths. “Oh. I’m sorry. This must have been my first thought.” His gaze returned to her. “I’ll take you to the Guild instead. It’s more appropriate for you to wait there while—”

  “Is this your home?” Raven asked, taking another look around the room. It was more plainly decorated than any of the rooms in her parents’ home, but the upholstery was good quality, and some thought had definitely gone into the color palette.

  “Uh …” Flint hesitated, which was odd, since it wasn’t a difficult question. “Yes,” he finally said.

  “Can we wait here instead?”

  “Raven,” he said slowly, “the Guild is where I’m expected to take you if something like this happens.”

  Looking again at her surroundings, and overlaying them with an image of one of her parents’ lavish lounges, Flint’s unease suddenly made sense. “I’m sorry.” She stood. “You’re uncomfortable with me being in your home. It’s … it’s fine. We can go to the Guild.”

  His eyes widened. “No—I mean—that isn’t what I mean. Of course I don’t mind you being in my home.” His laugh came out sounding far from natural. “This is just … extremely unprofessional of me. My priority is your safety, and my first thought should have been the Guild, not here.”

  She smiled. “Your home must be safe if it was your first thought.”

  Flint relaxed a little. “It is. We have all the regular protective spells on the exterior of the tree. But I should still take you to the Guild. I … well, I don’t want your parents dismissing me at the end of all this.”

  “Of course. I understand.”

  “Flint, what’s going—Oh, hello.”

  Raven turned at the sound of a woman’s voice. She stood at the bottom of the stairs with a girl probably a few years younger than Raven just behind her. Their sleepy eyes and messy hair—blonde, but with the same shade of green that streaked through Flint’s dark hair—suggested they’d both been in bed before Flint and Raven arrived here. “Hi,” Raven said uncertainly, wishing she could remember Flint’s surname so she could address his mother properly.

  The woman tied the belt of her gown and patted her hair. “Flint, is everything okay?”

  “Yes, sorry, I’m just taking Raven to the Guild. There was a—disturbance. At her house.”

  A frown briefly pulled at his mother’s features, but it was gone a moment later. “Okay.”

  “I’m so sorry we woke you,” Raven said. “We’ll be on our way now. And Flint’s shift is over, so I’m sure he’ll be back home soon.”

  The girl moved forward so that she stood on the same step as her mother. “You’re Raven Rosewood?” she asked. “From the house Flint works at?”

  Raven opened her mouth to respond, but Flint’s mother got there first. “Go back to bed, Tora,” she said quietly. “You shouldn’t be up this late on a school night.”

  Tora grinned at her brother before swinging around and hurrying up the stairs.

  “I’m so sorry,” Raven repeated. “We’re leaving right now. I hope you, um, don’t have too much trouble getting back to sleep.” She hastily patted her jacket, feeling for a stylus, but remembered she didn’t have one on her. She looked at Flint.

  “Right. Yes. Uh, see you in the morning, Mom.”

  He opened a faerie paths doorway on the wall, grabbed Raven’s hand, and the two of them hurried into the darkness. They walked out on the other side into a tangled forest. Flint took a step forward and raised his hand to write against the nearest tree. At first Raven assumed he was opening another doorway to the paths, but then she noticed the words weren’t the same. A moment later, the tree began to change. Its leaves were sucked into the branches, and the branches merged with the trunk. As the trunk widened, glass doors materialized at its center. Stairs pushed outward from the roots. When everything stopped moving, a golden, brightly lit entrance stood before them.

  “Come on,” Flint said, leading her up the stairs. “Sorry for the whole magical display, but for visitors who have nothing to do with the Guild, this is the only way in.” At the top of the stairs, where a guard stood waiting, Flint held up one hand. The guard used her stylus to scan the dark swirling patterns on Flint’s wrist. Then he had to explain why Raven was there, fill in a scroll the woman seemed to produce from nowhere, and place a narrow leather band around Raven’s wrist. “It will be removed on your way out,” the guard told Raven as she watched a symbol glow briefly on the band before vanishing.

  “If you don’t work here,” Raven whispered to Flint as they walked inside, “why do you still have guardian markings on your wrists?”

  Numerous doors led off the foyer of the Guild, and Flint moved toward one on the right. “As long as I’m still working as a guardian, I’ll always have the markings. That doesn’t change just because I’m not working at a particular Guild.” He took her along a corridor and into a comfortable waiting area with plenty of seats scattered around and a desk on one side. Flint nodded at the man behind the desk. “We can sit here until your parents arrive,” he said to Raven.

  She chose a couch and sat down. While she didn’t want to be left alone in this unfamiliar place, she didn’t want to keep Flint here when his shift was finished. “You don’t have to wait with me,” she told him. “I know your duty’s over for the night.”

  “Raven, you’re a friend.” He sat beside her. “I don’t mind waiting with you.”

  She smiled. It was probably selfish of her, but she was happy to have him stay. She leaned back and pushed her hands through her hair. “I keep thinking of all the things I could have done to better defend myself against that woman. Any of the small things you’ve taught me over the past few months. But no, I had to throw a stool at her with my bare hands, for goodness sake. What happened to throwing it with magic? What happened to releasing any form of magic? That would have been better than scrambling around like a helpless human. Not,” she added quickly at the sight of Flint’s raised eyebrows, “that I have anything against humans. They could probably have done better than me tonight because they don’t have magic, so they’re prepared in different ways.”

  “Trust me,” Flint said, “most of them are not prepared for an assault of any kind, let alone a magical one.”

  Raven sighed. “Look, this isn’t about humans. This is about my embarrassing lack of self-defense skills.”

  “Have you seen me try to cast an article of clothing before?”

  “Well, no.” She tilted her head to the side and gave Flint a sly grin. “I doubt you could even cast a button back on.”

  “Exactly. We all have different skills. At least you have some skills in the self-defense department, based on the few things I’ve taught you.”

  “I still feel pretty useless right now.”

  He stuck his hand out, palm up. “Give me a button. I’ll soon make you feel less useless.”

  She chuckled. “If I had one, I’d give it to you, just so we’d have something amusing to pass the time with. Sadly, I don’t.” She looked around the room once more, then stood up to examine some of the paintings on the walls. When she reached a mirror, she was startled by her appearance. Her floral jacket was smudged with dark smoke and torn across the left sleeve, and the white shirt beneath it was just as dirty. And despite the fact that she’d been thrown across both the college foyer and her bedroom, she could still see at least one feather in her hair. “Flint!” she scolded. “Why didn’t you tell me I look so terrible?”

  “Hmm?” He looked up from his amber.

  “I can’t believe your mother saw me looking such a mess. What must she think of me?”

  Flint laughed. “I can tell you right now that my mother was far more concerned about appearing in front of you in her dressing gown than about anythi
ng that might have been wrong with your outfit.”

  “That can’t be true. Her dressing gown was lovely.”

  “I’ll be sure to tell her you think so.” He checked his amber again and added, “It’s odd that we haven’t heard from your parents yet. I thought they’d be here by now.”

  “I guess.” Raven lowered herself back onto the couch. “It isn’t hugely surprising, though. Sometimes, if it’s a good party, they don’t notice that they’re missing messages or mirror calls. After Mom sent you to fetch me, she probably assumed her motherly duty was done for the night.”

  “I’m sorry, Raven. That isn’t …” He frowned at his amber again.

  “What?” Raven asked.

  “Uh …” He paused, reading through the tiny, glowing script that appeared on his amber. “That woman who was in your room. She put up a fight and … well, she’s dead.”

  “Oh. Oh my goodness.” Raven’s hand rose to cover her mouth for a moment. “But … it’s supposed to be quite tough to kill a faerie.”

  “Yes,” Flint said quietly.

  “It must have been quite a fight.” She leaned forward on her elbows, shaking her head. “And the thing is, it hadn’t even occurred to me to take that piece of paper to the Guild. I didn’t think it was related to the explosion. I probably would have thrown it away. This woman got herself killed for nothing.”

  “So senseless,” Flint murmured.

  They continued to chat quietly while they waited, and it was almost midnight by the time Raven’s parents showed up. Zalea ran toward her daughter, the glittering tassels of her dress flapping around her knees. “Oh, what a relief,” she said, wrapping Raven tightly in a hug. “You see?” she said when she stepped back. “I told you it was dangerous to stay late at college.”

  “Mom.” Raven said patiently. “This is the first time something like this has ever happened at Delph. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that I happened to be on the premises at the same time. I think we should be more concerned about the fact that someone got into my bedroom.”

  “That is definitely of great concern,” her father Kenrick said. “I’d like to know how that happened.”

  “Apparently no one at the front gate saw anything unusual, sir,” Flint said, standing straight and stiff and staring over her father’s shoulder while he spoke. “The guards patrolling the walls saw nothing either. It’s possible that Raven and I were followed through the faerie paths.”

  Zalea clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. “Impossible,” she muttered.

  Raven watched Flint open his mouth, then shut it again, clearly deciding it was best not to argue with her mother.

  “Thank you for waiting with Raven,” Kenrick said to Flint. “You’re dismissed now.”

  Raven cringed at her father’s words, spoken to Flint as if he were a servant. “Good night,” she murmured as he left.

  “I’ll speak to our head of security the moment we get home,” Kenrick said to Zalea. “If the protective spells around the house aren’t the absolute latest, he’s fired.”

  “And if they are, he needs to explain how this happened,” Zalea added, “and then add more spells. Another few layers of protection should stop this from happening again.”

  “Great,” Raven said to her parents. “So everything’s okay then?”

  Zalea crossed her arms and faced Raven. “Extra protective spells aren’t enough. When it comes to my daughter, I want every security measure we can afford.”

  “Agreed,” Kenrick said.

  Raven raised both eyebrows, not liking the sound of where this was going. “What exactly does that mean?”

  Zalea hesitated a moment too long before speaking. “It means you need a bodyguard.”

  Raven’s mouth dropped open. “I do not need a bodyguard.”

  “I won’t let you leave the house without one. It’s your choice.”

  “That isn’t a choice at all, Mom.”

  “Well, it’s the only choice you’re getting. Either allow a trained guardian to accompany you everywhere, or leave Delphinium College and remain at home where I know you’re safe.”

  Raven shook her head slowly. “You wouldn’t make me leave Delph without graduating. It would be just as much of an embarrassment to you as to me. You won’t be able to brag about me and my bright future to all your friends if I don’t finish college and get that internship.”

  Zalea blinked and looked down. Her voice was uncharacteristically quiet when she spoke. “Perhaps not, but at least my daughter will still be alive.”

  Raven hadn’t meant it earlier when she’d told Flint her mother might lock her up in her own house after this incident, but it seemed she’d been far closer to the truth than she could have imagined. “Fine.” She folded her arms over her chest, matching her mother’s stance. “Then I get to choose the guard.”

  Zalea paused, her lips pursing together for a moment. “All right. Who do you want?”

  Raven raised her chin just the slightest, daring her mother to contradict her. “Flint.”

  “Flint?” Zalea gazed blankly at her. “Which one is that?”

  Raven’s shoulders slumped in disbelief. “The one who saved my life tonight. Twice.”

  “Oh, the one who was just standing here?” Zalea said with disdain, gold bangles jingling around her arm as she waved to the empty spot Flint had occupied until minutes ago. “But he’s the youngest guard we’ve ever had. Far too inexperienced. What about Rex?” she suggested, referring to the guard who often accompanied Raven’s father to evening meetings. “He’s been in private security for at least a hundred and fifty years.”

  “I don’t want some old man following me around everywhere, Mom. It’s weird. This whole bodyguard idea is weird. At least if it’s someone closer to my own age I don’t have to feel like a naughty child you’re trying to keep an eye on.”

  Kenrick’s brow creased as he stroked his chin in consideration. “How old is … what did you say his name was?”

  “Flint.”

  “He’s only twenty-one,” Zalea said.

  “Twenty-two,” Raven corrected.

  Zalea narrowed her eyes. “Didn’t I speak to you about inappropriate relationships with our employees? Exactly how well do you know this young man?”

  “I know that he’s been with us for almost a year, which means he’s a year older than when you hired him.”

  “He did come with an excellent letter of recommendation from the Guild,” Kenrick said. “I remember that. It’s the only reason we consented to employ a guard so young. And he’s already proved himself by protecting Raven twice tonight.” He let out a long breath and pushed both hands into his pockets. “I think we can probably trust him with Raven’s safety.”

  “Probably?” Zalea repeated. “We need more than probably.”

  “You can trust him, Mom. There’s no probably about it. He risked his life for me tonight.”

  “Fine.” Zalea turned to her husband. “Can you make sure this guard—Flint—is informed of his new duty tomorrow?”

  “Of course.”

  “And he’s not following me around college,” Raven added. “That would be a total embarrassment, and a total waste of his time.”

  “College is where you were almost hurt. I won’t let you walk around there without—”

  “The college would never allow it,” Raven said, sincerely hoping her words were true. “It would be a complete disruption to our classes to have someone following me everywhere. What if every student wanted a bodyguard? There’d be no space for us all. Besides, I’m sure Delph will increase their security after this incident.”

  “Raven—”

  “Flint can accompany me to and from college. If I go shopping or to Daisy’s or to one of your parties or anywhere else, he can come with. But I will not be babysat at my school.”

  A painfully long moment of silence passed before Zalea nodded brusquely. Then she swept past Raven, leaning closer to her husband and muttering, “This stubb
orn streak of hers comes entirely from you.”

  Chapter Six

  Whispers followed Raven around college on Monday. Fortunately, they were the only thing that followed her. Flint accompanied her through the faerie paths and around to the back entrance of Delphinium—the front entrance was closed off for now—and waited to leave until after she’d entered the building. It felt unnecessary to Raven, but at the same time, she enjoyed Flint’s company.

  In class, the subject on everyone’s lips was the explosion. Lessons had ended for the year, and everyone was supposed to be finishing off their collections for the final show. Instead, they gathered in small groups around each other’s desks and discussed their theories about the explosion.

  “So guess what I heard,” Poe said, leaning against Raven’s desk along with Jessima, his closest friend.

  “Can I first ask how reliable your source is,” Raven said, “before you go spreading around whatever it is that you ‘heard’?”

  “Hey, this information is legit. I was around the corner when two guardians were speaking to the director this morning. This is proper eavesdropping we’re talking about here.”

  “I’m not sure you should be proud of that,” Jessima said.

  “Yeah, okay, whatever.” Poe waved at her to keep quiet. “I heard the director telling the guardians that Mella Cascata was supposed to meet her here on Friday night. Something about preparations for the final show. So perhaps—” he paused dramatically “—that bomb was meant for the great Madame Cascata.”

  With a frown, Raven thought back to the mirror conversation she’d overheard the director having on Friday night. She’d spoken about having to wait for someone who didn’t show up. A woman who expected everyone to jump whenever she said so. That sounded like it was probably Mella Cascata.

  “You think someone wanted to kill Mella Cascata?” Jessima said. “More likely someone wanted to kill the director.”

 
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