Authors: Danielle Ellison
Tags: #love at first sight, #Paranormal, #teen paranormal romance, #demons, #young adult novel, #Witches, #first love
Penelope hasn’t come out, and it’s been an hour. I was in and out of my test in twenty minutes. I stand up again, look out the window, sit down. Where is she? What would they do to her?
An anonymous tip. Who would report us for this? And why? And more importantly, how does anyone know? None of this makes any sense.
“Carter,” Ellore says my name and I jump up out of my seat. She’s alone. No Pen.
“What’s going on? Where’s Pen?”
can barely look at me. Her hands are shaking. I’ve never seen her like this. I try to be patient, but I can’t handle her not looking at me. “Something happened in her test.”
The worst words ever said. “Where is she?”
“They’re taking her.”
I shake my head. Taking her…“What are you talking about? What happened?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it—”
“Like what?” And she looks at me, eyes wide and hands shaking. She holds them out in front of her, like she doesn’t understand her own hands. And I get it immediately. It wasn’t that Penelope didn’t do magic, it was that she did. She used the void. I grab Ellore’s shoulders. I need her to focus. “What happened, Ellore?”
“It came out from her fingertips—bright. So bright. I can’t even explain it. I—”
Just like in De’Intero. Everything was so bright then, and if she did it in her re-testing then there’s no telling who saw her. This is trouble. “Where is she?” I hear my heart pounding in my head. I have to find her. I have to stop whatever’s about to happen. “Tell me. Please.”
“The Triad voted.” My dad. The Triad has approved our re-testing, and he’s aware of our magic, that we’re connected. Did he set us up? He wouldn’t do that. Would he?
Ellore mutters. “They think it’s safest if she’s contained, until they can figure out what’s going on. She’s in transport, but they’ll…”
I don’t wait to let her finish that sentence. I run.
I burst into my dad’s office, unscheduled and uninvited. Both things that he hates. “We need to talk.”
Believe you are the most determined presence in the room and others will accept it. You are a Prescott, after all.
Kenneth Slade and Sacra Lenore, two members of the council, both look in my direction. Their expressions say it all: how dare I burst in and demand time with the Triad leader? Kenneth raises an eyebrow at me. I don’t give a damn about procedure. Not right now. Not while Pen is in trouble.
“Now,” I add. I use my best Prescott tone. See Dad? I have been paying attention for almost eighteen years.
Victor Prescott crosses his arms, but doesn’t even blink. His suit crinkles around his shoulders as he waves a hand in the air toward Kenneth and Sacra. Only that movement and they’re already on their feet. Dad presses his lips into a tight line. “We’ll resume this later.”
As soon as the door closes behind them, I look at my dad and cross my arms to mimic his stance. “Stop this.”
He leans back in his chair with a sigh. I hate when he is condescending. “Sit down, son.”
I shake my head. “I’m not sitting down. Whatever’s happening to Penelope—stop.” I’m past the point of saying please. We’re both aware of what I’m doing here. “She hasn’t done anything to deserve any of this.”
Dad raises an eyebrow, leaning back in his seat. The chair squeaks. “She cheated on her exams.”
“You reported us?”
He holds his hands up. “I did not, but I should thank whoever did.”
I slam my hands on his desk, and give him the finger in my head. He doesn’t even flinch. “She didn’t cheat.”
“You gave her magic, William, and that’s cheating. Even indirectly. She’s told lie after lie. As have you.”
“This isn’t fair.”
Victor Prescott straightens in his chair. I said the wrong word, and I can tell from the look on his face. ‘Fair’ isn’t a word in our language. “You’ve spent most of your life ignoring my advice and instructions, but expecting fairness? That is not what I raised you to be.”
I won’t be anything he raised me to be. Always on alert, ready for action, stern but open, better. I won’t pretend my way through life, or smile and agree. I want to live my own way and to be as far away from him as possible.
“Aren’t you going to sit?” he asks.
I ignore him. “Let her go, Dad. She’s not a threat to anything.”
“Normally, I would agree—but now I have a mess. How do we explain today? What she did, that doesn’t happen with
witches.” Witches pull the magic from the elements, we exist and use magic from nature. “That light? It’s only seen when a witch is undergoing a transformation into a demon. When they’ve killed another witch and given up this side for evil. It’s a sign of betrayal.” Dad says. I bite my tongue, press down until I taste the iron. Dad notices, even if he doesn’t acknowledge it. “There’s only so much I can do,” he adds.
I have to keep my cool, even though I feel it slipping away each moment I’m here and she’s there. They can’t think Penelope betrayed our kind. She’d never kill another witch or choose evil. That’s not Penelope. “You can ignore it. You’re the leader of the Triad.”
“Ellore and the rest of the Triad saw the test, son. You said she had access to the void, but that?”
I lower myself into the seat. I shouldn’t have told my dad anything about who Pen was. But I had to after De’Intero. If he hadn’t been on our side, no one on the Triad would’ve had more questions about why we missed testing and what happed in De’Intero. Questions that we wouldn’t have been able to answer. We would’ve been found out immediately and never become Enforcers. I had to protect her, protect myself, and telling my dad was the only way to do that.
I sigh and look at my dad. Fine. “Containment? She hasn’t done anything.”
“She came between us.”
I lean up toward my dad’s desk. There it is—the blame that he so easily places on other people. “You came between us when you lied about mom.”
“Ever since you met Miss Grey you’ve been wild. Demon hunting. Lying. Not to mention risking your life at De’Intero.”
“I did all those things before Penelope, Dad.”
“It has only gotten worse with her. Two people’s secrets are harder to keep than one.”
Arguing isn’t changing this. I need to play this like my dad would. I need to play it to win. What would he do? He’d manipulate, convince, and wager. “You can convince them it was a mistake, a fluke, and erase it all.”
“I could.” He presses his lips into a line.
I nod toward him. My dad will never give up until he meets his goal. That’s the way this power play works. “What do you want?”
A thin grin spreads onto his face. Even under his beard it looks sinister. Dad’s brown eyes widen, and I’ve said the right thing. This is what he was anticipating, but this is the way he plays chess. Even though it’s someone’s life, it’s the same thing to him.
“What I have always desired: your safety. You can have no doubt placed on you or on your status.”
I hold back a groan. “How do you propose that happens?”
Dad almost looks proud as he leans back in his chair. “I’ll set things straight with Miss Grey. She’ll be stripped of her badges, and she can’t serve as an Enforcer.” That’s going to kill her, but it’s better than the alternative. “As her partner, you’ll be forced to step down as well.”
There it is. He never liked me chasing the path of Enforcer anyway, compromise or not. “That’s it?”
He holds up a hand. Yeah, that’s never it. “You’ll embrace your path. This,” he points to his office, “is your destiny. You will train up for your future, leave behind the rest of your hobbies, and protect yourself. You’re not a child anymore. This is your life. Our legacy.”
He’s had my whole future planned out since I was born. The Prescott name. The Prescott legacy. The Prescott smile.
Prescott men can never be wrong, or show weakness if they want to lead. They always lead.
I scoff. “That’s really all that matters to you?”
Dad’s eyes focus on mine, which isn’t what he usually does. He’s looking at me directly in the eye without the mask. Without the motive behind the words. “When it comes to keeping you safe, yes. You are the next leader of the Triad, and you must embrace that. I cannot have you wasting time around the city, so you’ll be here. I will have your support on decisions in the community. You will embrace who you are, uphold the Prescott legacy.”
I’m done talking about legacy. I can agree to all of that. I hold out my hand, but he doesn’t take it.
“We will be forced to figure out a solution for Miss Grey.”
“You can’t contain her or exile her. If you do, the deal’s off. Convince them of another way,” I say. Dad stares back at me, silent and then nods.
“Sabrina and Rafe will not settle for letting her walk away from this unscathed.”
“As long as she’s safe.” I hold my hand out to my father without hesitation. If me embracing the Prescott legacy means keeping Penelope safe, I will do it. I will do whatever it takes. “Now set her free.”
“I have to talk to the others.”
“It will be a few hours, William. You can go to her until then. She’s in level four.” He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I’m halfway out the door when he says, “I expect you to be home in time for dinner. Don’t be late.”
I don’t respond as I leave. Mostly because I feel like I’ve sold my soul to the devil.
I hear everything Carter is saying, but it isn’t sinking in. My brain doesn’t want to accept it. Even after two hours of us talking about it through a containment window.
“I’m losing my badge,” I repeat.
“Dad couldn’t figure out a way for you to keep it—but he found one for me to keep you.”
His words are intentional and they make my heart race. Normally, I’d let them linger on my soul and make a mark there, but right now, it’s all a lot to process. Carter suddenly decided to trust his dad. They’ve been on the outs ever since he learned about Krieg
en, when Victor Prescott said that all the secrets were for Carter’s own good. I can’t imagine what it took for him to go to his dad. For me. “Why did he agree?”
Carter looks away. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” I say.
His eyes are sharp on mine. “It’s dealt with, Penelope.”
. He only calls me that when it’s serious. I won’t push him, for now, but I doubt his father would go through all of this for me. Not without a cost. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save your badge too, but at least it isn’t your life. Dad promised he wouldn’t exile you,” he says again.
I don’t know if he’s trying to convince himself or me. He’s right, really. I’m alive and I get to stay with my family, with him. I can’t say for sure what would happen if Victor hadn’t agreed. Magic came out of my fingers. Anyone who saw that will question everything I do. My loyalties, my magic, me…
Being an Enforcer is what I worked my whole life for. What is my life without that?
“I told you not to use it anymore.” Carter says. He means the magic. The void.
“What choice did I have? If I had no magic at all then it would’ve been worse. They would’ve punished us for cheating, and then we’d have to explain how. The answer to that isn’t one they’d like.” If I’d failed, been found out as a halfling, then my whole family would be punished for hiding me. They’d be tested for their magic, and we’d all be maintained. Killed. And if they found out about Carter, I doubt his dad could even protect him from that. This is what they do with halflings.
He shakes his head. “And look what’s happened now.”
We don’t have the chance to talk about it anymore. The doors open and a few members of the council appear there. They all look at me, equal parts disgust and equal parts fear. “The Triad is ready for you,” they say. This is it. The end for me as an Enforcer, and who knows what else.
The walk to the Triad chambers is a surprisingly short one. The first time I came in here I expected an elaborate space similar the rest of the Nucleus House. It’s not that. It’s simple, with ten chairs for the council and three on a higher pedestal for the Triad. Everyone is already seated. Carter is stopped at the door, and I wish he was next to me.
“Miss Grey,” Rafe Ezrati says. “It is with heavy hearts that we call you here. It’s not every day that we are incorrect about one of our own.”
There’s a long pause and I want to speak, but I’m pretty sure that’s on the “no-no” list. It’s too late now for talking anyway, now that they’ve all been called here.
“The Triad and the council have discussed it, and we are granting you amnesty for your discretion.” Sabina Stone says.
“The unorthodox ability you possess will not be shared beyond the confines of these walls. Everyone here is sworn to an unbreakable secrecy, but Miss Grey, your case is officially under investigation.” He pauses. “We will discover why you have these unique abilities, and the purpose for them.”
I glance at Carter. What does that mean? He looks as surprised as me.
“Until that is resolved, your standing as Enforcer is revoked,” Victor Prescott adds.
With that word, Victor, Sabina, and Rafe all flick a hand in the air. The whole room is silent, and the badges emblazoned on my shirt disappear. I’m no longer an Enforcer.
“Until the investigation of your magic is cleared, you should consider yourself on probation. You will be kept from magic until we decide otherwise,” Sabrina says. The Triad waves their hands again, muttering words in Latin.
Kept from magic? My wrist burns and a long thin gold band appear around my wrists. I hold them up to watch as the band wraps around them, and then sinks into my skin. It burns, but only for a moment before it flashes gold and disappears. The outline is still visible. What was that?
“You’ve been marked,” Victor starts.
That doesn’t sound good. Isn’t that what they were planning to do with the Statics?
Victor holds his head higher. “It allows for us to find you or call upon you, should we need your compliance. No one else will see it on you, and it will not interrupt your daily life. It will prevent you from access to the essence, the Nucleus House, the WNN—anything controlled magically—until our investigation has a result.”
“I have vouched for you, per my son’s insistance,” Victor adds after a moment of awkward silence. I look toward Carter, grateful that he put himself on the line. But what did he have to give up in exchange? There’s no way this is all out of the kindness of Victor’s heart. “His trust in you and mine in him is allowing you to walk free until the investigation has been closed. Do not show that we have made an unwise decision.”
I nod slightly toward him.
“You have thirty minutes to clear your belongings from the Nucleus House, then your probation begins,” Rafe adds.
The three of them rise and disappear out of a door, followed by the council. While they all exit, my mind races. I’m being tracked like Vassago and the Do Not Expel demons, or DNE’s, and my essence is blocked by this marking. I examine my wrist. I see the outline of it there, the gold ribbon, about half an inch thick. I’ve never heard of a witch being marked before.
“Do you see it?” I ask Carter when he moves beside me.
He takes my hands in his and looks closer, his fingers trailing over the spot where we saw it land. “Nothing.” He drops my hands. “We should go get your stuff.”
“You can get it later. There’s one thing I want to do before I can’t come here anymore,” I say. Carter raises his eyebrow. “Poncho.”
When we get to Poncho’s office, Hyde and Seak the cats, are waiting outside of the door.
“You’re strangely calm about all of this,” Carter says as the door opens. The cats go in before we do. It’s no wonder curiosity kills them.
I guess I am. “I can’t explain why.” I should be angry, but I’m not. It’s almost like I’ve somehow known that this wasn’t meant to be. But that’s not right, because it was the only thing I ever wanted.
Whoa, past tense.
The only thing I want.
I still want it.
“I wonder if it’s because of the magic ribbon?” I offer. Carter
, but he doesn’t sound convinced.
Poncho is scribbling on some pages when we approach his desk. “Miss Grey, Mr. Prescott,” Poncho says, turning in his chair. Hyde and Seak jump on the desktop. “Good afternoon.”
He obviously hasn’t yet heard that this is my last visit.
“Is it?” I ask. I watch his face to see if he gives anything away, but he doesn’t. Poncho knows everything, and even if he’s masquerading as a librarian instead of some kind of demon, he holds it close to the belt. He can’t, or won’t, tell me whatever he knows. Which is really annoying.
“Most absolutely. I have news for you, which you could qualify as good if it ends up being news you are pleased with.” Poncho can never say a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“I guess we’ll see then,” I say.
Poncho lays the dagger on the table. It’s in the same condition as when we gave it to him, except there’s no dirt or blood. The handle and blade are black with five symbols engraved on the handle. It’s really pretty, if I can forget the fact that it’s able to rip a witch or demon’s magic from its body. That little thing has more power than I used to have. Or have now, thanks to the ban on all things Penelope.
“You found something.” Carter says.
Poncho nods. “I’ve researched the dagger and the symbols.” He points at one of the symbols on the handle. “This symbol means ‘rebirth’, which old demons liked to consider becoming new. This one,” he points to another, “is ‘recycle.’”
“Demons, saving the world one plastic bottle at a time.”
Poncho shakes his head. Carter doesn’t laugh, either. Joke fail.
“Or re-use. This is ‘restore,’ to bring back. This is ‘redeem,’ to fulfill or exchange or gain—the exact translation wasn’t clear. And the final, is ‘release.’”
I look down at my arm. Yup, chills.
“Release what?” Carter asks. He’s in investigation mode, and his forehead has a cute little wrinkle.
Poncho shrugs. “Whatever is needed, I’d wager.”
Interesting. Rebirth, recycle, restore, release. That’s a lot of really powerful re-words. “So, what do they mean when they are used as one?”
Poncho holds the dagger out to me, and my fingers linger in the air over it before I take it from his hand. “This is the dagger from ancient times used in the Ritual Restitution—” My eyes shoot up at the phrase. “—along with another that is only prophesized about. It does indeed do what you saw it do that to that witch, releases magic, but it also severs a connection, like it did the demon Kriegen. You were right to keep it concealed.”
Geesh, Penelope. Way to state the obvious.
“In the wrong hands, and perhaps even in the right ones.”
Carter looks at me, but I’m staring down at the dagger. If Poncho’s right, then this can save me. Now more than ever. If it’s really the dagger used in the Ritual Restitution, then it’s the one I’ve needed for so long. I’ve been researching the Restitution for years, the spell that could restore my magic. Not from the void or from Carter or anyone else. I can’t believe it. I can do it. All I need is my demon.
“The question remains now, Miss Grey, what will you do with it?”
I feel Poncho’s eyes on me before I look up. I feel like there’s so much he’s not saying.
“And what do you think we should do with it?” Carter asks.
Poncho presses his eyebrows together. “I can’t advise you on that. I can only suggest you and Miss Grey keep it safely guarded until the time is right.”
“There’s going to be a right time?” I raise my eyebrow.
“No,” he says, “but there will come a time when you must embrace what is.”
“Do you think it could work on demons the same way it worked on the witch in the woods?” I ask.
“Perhaps,” he says.
“This severs magic. Maybe we can use the dagger on the Statics?”
“Just go around stabbing Statics?” Carter says, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, when you say it that way…” I start. It is a dagger. “Stabby, pointy end that leads to death is probably not a good idea.”
The WNN sounds rings out from Carter’s phone. I look at mine but I don’t have the app on my phone anymore. They took that, too.
Carter clears his throat. “We should go in a minute. I’ll be right outside.” I nod at Carter and he slips out the door. I trace my fingers over one of the trinkets on Poncho’s desk. I’m not really a fan of good-byes or see you laters or whatever this is.
“So, I probably won’t be in here anytime soon,” I say with a sigh.
“Tired of my company?”
I smile. That’s never the reason. For some reason the old guy intrigues, if not entertains, me. “Nah, I’m taking a little forced break from the Enforcers.”
Poncho looks closely at the spot where my badges used to be, and then nods. “Something happened.” I don’t recount the whole story to him—just mention that they learned my magic isn’t quite what they thought. “So, I’m not serving anymore. I’m not even allowed to use the essence, or come on the premises unless summoned or, apparently, even access the WNN.” All things witchy are no longer my concern.
With a nod, Poncho grabs my hands and pulls my wrist closely to his eyes. “Ah, you are marked. They must be fearful of what you can do.”
“Fearful?” I ask.
Poncho nods. “You are not the first, and you will not be the last.”
“They were talking about marking the Statics as well. What does it do exactly? They didn’t really explain the mark when they gave it to me.”
He doesn’t respond, merely looks me. This is a great time for him to lose his limited communication ability. Poncho holds up a finger to me and moves across the room. From his desk, he pulls out a large, round thing. I’m not quite sure what it is.
“For you,” he says, holding it out to me. I look down at the weird contraption in my hands. It’s gray and plastic, an oval shaped walkie-talky from those movies in the ’90s where they were so big and awkward they could never have been useful.
“What is it?”
“It’s a relay. It will allow you to communicate with me, directly. Or whoever has this portion,” he says. He holds up a rectangular piece that looks like it should connect to my oval one.
“So, it’s a cell phone?”
“It’s more than that.”
“Like a friendship bracelet,” I smile, but Poncho’s eye narrow. “Is it timey-wimey?” He gives me a look of confusion at my
reference. Never mind. “Why are you giving it to me?”
Poncho looks at me closely. His eyes are more human in that moment than I’ve ever seen them. “It is my destiny.”
There’s that word again. “Destiny to what?”
“Serve, assist, guide.”
“Your destiny is to help me? Why?”
Poncho’s eyes link with mine directly, and around the brown, I see some green. Demon green. But it’s not menacing—it’s soft, like Carter’s. “Some destinies are chosen for us. Others we choose. All are left up to us to interpret and develop.”
I glance from Poncho to the communicator in my hands. “Which one is yours?”
Poncho smiles. “That’s still to be decided.”
I shake my head, confused already. Carter opens the office door and pokes his head in. “We need to go, Pen.”
“See you later, Poncho.” I push the gray round thing into my bag as Carter and I turn away.
“Be wise, Miss Grey,” Poncho says.
“I’m always wise,” I say, and Poncho laughs. A real laugh. He laughs so loudly that Carter and I both stop and look back at him. I’m almost insulted. I can never make him laugh at my jokes, but when I’m not joking, apparently it’s mass hysteria.