فصل 37کتاب: تمام ارواح / مجموعه: سایه شب / فصل 37
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Chapter Thirty Seven
My father looked calm as he faced an unfamiliar, armed vampire and his own grown daughter. Only the slight tremor in his voice and his whiteknuckled grip on the stall gave him away.
“Dr. Proctor, I presume.” Matthew stepped away and sheathed his weapon.
My father straightened his serviceable brown jacket. It was all wrong. Someone—probably my mother—had tried to modify a Nehru jacket into something resembling a cleric’s cassock. And his britches were too long, more like something Ben Franklin would wear than Walter Raleigh. But his familiar voice, which I hadn’t heard for twenty-six years, was exactly right.
“You’ve grown in the past three days,” he said shakily.
“You look just as I remember,” I said, still stunned by the fact that he was standing before me. Mindful that two witches and a wearh might be too much for the St. Paul’s Churchyard crowd, and unsure what I to do in this novel situation, I fell back on social convention. “Do you want to come back to our house for a drink?” I suggested awkwardly.
“Sure, honey. That would be great,” he said with a tentative nod.
My father and I couldn’t stop looking at each other—not on our way home nor when we reached the safety of the Hart and Crown, which was, miraculously, empty. There he caught me up in a fierce hug.
“It’s really you. You sound just like your mom,” he said, holding me at arm’s length to study my features. “You look like her, too.”
“People tell me I have your eyes,” I said, studying him in turn. When you’re seven, you don’t notice such things. You only think to look for them afterward, when it’s too late.
“So you do.” Stephen laughed.
“Diana has your ears, too. And your scents are somewhat similar. It’s how I recognized you at St. Paul’s.” Matthew ran his hand nervously over his cropped hair, then stuck it out to my father. “I’m Matthew.”
My father eyed the offered hand. “No last name? Are you some sort of celebrity, like Halston or Cher?” I had a sudden, vivid image of what I’d missed by not having my father around when I was a teenager, making an ass out of himself when he met the boys I dated. My eyes filled.
“Matthew has plenty of last names. It’s just . . . complicated,” I said, sniffing back the tears. My father looked alarmed at the sudden welling up of emotion.
“Matthew Roydon will do for now,” Matthew said, capturing my father’s attention. He andmy father shook hands.
“So you’re the vampire,” my father said. “Rebecca is worried sick about the practicalities of your relationship with my daughter, and Diana can’t even ride a bicycle yet.”
“Oh, Dad.” The minute the words were out of my mouth I blushed. I sounded as if I were twelve. Matthew smiled as he moved to the table.
“Won’t you sit down and have some wine, Stephen?” Matthew handed him a cup and then pulled out a chair for me. “Seeing Diana must be something a shock.”
“You could say so. I’d love some.” My father sat, took a sip of wine, and nodded approvingly. He made a visible effort to take charge. “So,” he said briskly, “we’ve said hello, you’ve invited me back to your house, and now I’ve had a drink. These are the essential Western greeting rituals. Now we can get down to it. What are you doing here, Diana?”
“Me? What are you doing here? And where is Mom?” I pushed away the wine that Matthew poured for me. No amount of alcohol could blunt my response to my father’s sudden presence.
“Your mother is at home taking care of you.” My father shook his head, amazed. “I can’t believe it. You can’t be more than ten years younger than I am.”
“I always forget you’re so much older than Mom.”
“You’re with a vampire and you have something against our MayDecember romance?” My father’s whimsical expression invited me to laugh.
I did, while quickly doing the math. “So you’ve come from around 1980?”
“Yep. I finally got my grades turned in and headed out to do some exploring.” Stephen looked at me intently. “Is this when and where you two met?”
“No. We met in September 2009 at Oxford. In the Bodleian Library.” I looked at Matthew, who gave me an encouraging smile. I turned back to my father and took a deep breath. “I can timewalk like you. I brought Matthew with me.”
“I know you can timewalk, peanut. You scared the hell out of your mother last August when you disappeared on your third birthday. A timewalking toddler is a mother’s worst nightmare.” He looked at me shrewdly. “So you’ve got my eyes, ears, scent, and timewalking ability. Anything else?”
I nodded. “I can make up spells.”
“Oh. We hoped you would be a firewitch like your mom, but no such luck.” My father looked uncomfortable and dropped his voice. “You probably shouldn’t mention your talent in the company of other witches. And when they try to teach you their spells, just let them go in one ear and out the other. Don’t even attempt to learn them.”
“I wish you’d told me that before. It would have helped me with Sarah,” I said.
“Good old Sarah.” My father’s laugh was warm and infectious.
There was a thunder of feet on the stairs, and then a four-legged mop and a boy hurtled across the threshold, banging the door into the wall with the force of their enthusiastic entrance.
“Master Harriot said I may go out with him again and look at the stars, and he promises not to forget me this time. Master Shakespeare gave me this.” Jack waved a slip of paper in the air. “He says it is a letter of credit. And Annie kept staring at a boy in the Cardinal’s Hat while she ate her pie. Who is that?” The last was said with one grimy finger pointed in my father’s direction.
“That’s Master Proctor,” Matthew said, catching Jack around the waist. “Did you feed Mop on your way in?” There had been no way to separate boy and dog in Prague, so Mop had come to London, where his strange appearance made him something of a local curiosity.
“Of course I fed Mop. He eats my shoes if I forget, and Pierre said he would pay for one new pair without telling you about it, but not a second.” Jack clapped his hand over his mouth.
“I am sorry, Mistress Roydon. He ran down the street and I couldn’t catch him.” A frowning Annie rushed into the room, then stopped short, the color draining from her face as she stared at my father.
“It’s all right, Annie,” I said gently. She had been afraid of unfamiliar creatures ever since Greenwich. “This is Master Proctor. He’s a friend.”
“I have marbles. Do you know how to play ring taw?” Jack was eyeing my father with open speculation as he tried to determine whether the new arrival would be a useful person to have around.
“Master Proctor is here to speak with Mistress Roydon, Jack.” Matthew spun him around. “We need water, wine, and bread. You and Annie divide up the chores, and when Pierre gets back, he’ll take you to Moorfields.”
With some grumbling Jack accompanied Annie back out into the street. I met my father’s eyes at last. He had been watching Matthew and me without speaking, and the air was thick with his questions.
“Why are you here, honey?” my father repeated quietly when the children were gone.
“We thought we might find someone to help me out with some questions about magic and alchemy.” For some reason I didn’t want my father to know the details. “My teacher is called Goody Alsop. She and her coven have taken me in.”
“Nice try, Diana. I’m a witch, too, so I know when you’re skirting the truth.” My father sat back in his chair. “You’ll have to tell me eventually. I just thought this would save some time.”
“Why are you here, Stephen?” Matthew asked.
“Just hanging out. I’m an anthropologist. It’s what I do. What do you do?”
“I’m a scientist—a biochemist, based in Oxford.”
“You’re not just ‘hanging out’ in Elizabethan London, Dad. You have the page from Ashmole 782 already.” I suddenly understood why he was here. “You’re looking for the rest of the manuscript.” I lowered the wooden candle beam. Master Habermel’s astronomical compendium was nestled between two candles. We had to move it every day, because Jack found it every day.
“What page?” my father asked, sounding suspiciously innocent.
“The page with the picture of the alchemical wedding on it. It came from a Bodleian Library manuscript.” I opened the compendium. It was completely still, just as I expected. “Look, Matthew.”
“Cool,” my father said with a whistle.
“You should see her mousetrap,” Matthew said under his breath.
“What does it do?” My father reached for the compendium to take a closer look.
“It’s a mathematical instrument for telling time and tracking astronomical events like the phases of the moon. It started to move on its own when we were in Prague. I thought it meant someone was looking for Matthew and me, but now I wonder if it wasn’t picking up on you, looking for the manuscript.” It still acted up periodically, its wheels spinning without warning. Everybody in the house called it the “witch clock.”
“Maybe I should go get the book,” Matthew said, rising.
“It’s all right,” my father replied, motioning for him to sit. “There’s no rush. Rebecca isn’t expecting me for a few days.”
“So you’ll be here—in London?”
My father’s face softened. He nodded.
“Where are you staying?” Matthew asked.
“Here!” I said indignantly. “He’s staying here.”
“Your daughter has very definite opinions about her family checking into hotels,” Matthew told my father with a wry smile, remembering how I’d reacted when he’d tried to put Marcus and Miriam up in an inn in Cazenovia. “You’re welcome to stay with us, of course.”
“I’ve got rooms on the other side of town,” my father said hesitantly.
“Stay.” I pressed my lips together and blinked to keep back the tears. “Please.” I had so much I wanted to ask him, so many questions only he could answer. My father and husband exchanged a long look.
“All right,” my father said finally. “It would be great to hang out with you for a little while.”
I tried to give him our room, since Matthew wouldn’t be able to sleep with a strange person in the house and I could easily fit on the window seat, but my father refused. Pierre gave up his bed instead. I stood on the landing and listened enviously while Jack and my father chattered away like old friends.
“I think Stephen has everything he needs,” Matthew said, sliding his arms around me.
“Is he disappointed in me?” I wondered aloud.
“Your father?” Matthew sounded incredulous. “Of course not!”
“He seems a little uncomfortable.”
“When Stephen kissed you good-bye a few days ago, you were a toddler. He’s overwhelmed, that’s all.”
“Does he know what’s going to happen to him and Mom?” I whispered.
“I don’t know, mon coeur, but I think so.” Matthew drew me toward our bedchamber. “Everything will look different in the morning.”
Matthew was right: My father was a bit more relaxed the next day, though he didn’t look as if he’d slept much. Neither did Jack.
“Does the kid always have such bad nightmares?” my father asked.
“I’m sorry he kept you up,” I apologized. “Change makes him anxious. Matthew usually takes care of him.”
“I know. I saw him,” my father said, sipping at the herbal tisane that Annie prepared.
That was the problem with my father: He saw everything. His watchfulness put vampires to shame. Though I had hundreds of questions, they all seemed to dry up under his quiet regard. Occasionally he asked me about something trivial. Could I throw a baseball? Did I think Bob Dylan was a genius? Had I been taught how to pitch a tent? He asked no questions about Matthew and me, or where I went to school, or even what I did for a living. Without any expression of interest on his part, I felt awkward volunteering the information. By the end of our first day together, I was practically in tears.
“Why won’t he talk to me?” I demanded as Matthew unlaced my corset.
“Because he’s too busy listening. He’s an anthropologist—a professional watcher. You’re the historian in the family. Questions are your forte, not his.”
“I get tongue-tied around him and don’t know where to start. And when he does talk to me, it’s always about strange topics, like whether allowing designated hitters has ruined baseball.”
“That’s what a father would talk to his daughter about when he started taking her to baseball games. So Stephen does know he won’t see you grow up. He just doesn’t know how much time he has left with you. “
I sank onto the edge of the bed. “He was a huge Red Sox fan. I remember Mom saying that between getting her pregnant and Carlton Fisk hitting a home run in the sixth game of the World Series, 1975 was the best fall semester of his life, even if Cincinnati did beat Boston in the end.”
Matthew laughed softly. “I’m sure the fall semester of 1976 topped it.”
“Did the Sox actually win that year?”
“No. Your father did.” Matthew kissed me and blew out the candle.
When I came home from running errands the next day, I found my father sitting in the parlor of our empty apartments with Ashmole 782 open in front of him.
“Where did you find that?” I asked, putting my parcels on the table. “Matthew was supposed to hide it.” I had a hard enough time keeping the children away from that blasted compendium.
“Jack gave it to me. He calls it ‘Mistress Roydon’s book of monsters.’ I was understandably eager to see it once I heard that.” My father turned the page. His fingers were shorter than Matthew’s, and blunt and forceful rather than tapered and dexterous. “Is this the book the picture of the wedding came from?”
“Yes. There were two other pictures in it as well: one of a tree, another of two dragons shedding their blood.” I stopped. “I’m not sure how much more I should tell you, Dad. I know things about your relationship to this book that you don’t know—that haven’t even happened yet.”
“Then tell me what happened to you after you found it in Oxford. And I want the truth, Diana. It must have been terrible. I can see the damaged threads between you and the book, all twisted and snarled.”
Silence lay heavily in the room, and there was nowhere to hide from my father’s scrutiny. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I met his eyes.
“It was witches. Matthew fell asleep, and I went outside to get some air. It was supposed to be safe. A witch captured me.” I shifted in my seat. “End of story. Let’s talk about something else. Don’t you want to know where I went to school? I’m a historian. I have tenure. At Yale.” I would talk about anything with my father—except the chain of events that started with the delivery of an old photo to my rooms at New College and ended with the death of Juliette.
“Later. Now I need to know why another witch wanted this book so badly she was willing to kill you for it. Oh, yes,” he said at my incredulous look, “I figured that out on my own. A witch used an opening spell on your back and left a terrible scar. I can feel the wound. Matthew’s eyes linger there, and your dragon—I know about her, too—shields it with her wings.”
“Satu—the witch who captured me—isn’t the only creature who wants the book. So does Peter Knox. He’s a member of the Congregation.”
“Peter Knox,” my father said softly. “Well, well, well.”
“Have you two met?”
“Unfortunately, yes. He’s always had a thing for your mother. Happily, she loathes him.” My father looked grim and turned another page. “I sure as hell hope Peter doesn’t know about the dead witches in this. There’s some dark magic hanging around this book, and Peter has always been interested in that aspect of the craft. I know why he might want it, but why do you and Matthew need it so badly?”
“Creatures are disappearing, Dad. The daemons are getting wilder. Vampire blood is sometimes incapable of transforming a human. And witches aren’t producing as many offspring. We’re dying out. Matthew believes that this book might help us understand why,” I explained. “There’s a lot of genetic information in the book—skin, hair, even blood and bones.”
“You’ve married the creature equivalent of Charles Darwin. And is he interested in origins as well as extinction?”
“Yes. He’s been trying for a long time to figure out how daemons, witches, and vampires are related to one another and to humans. This manuscript—if we could put it back together and understand its contents— might provide important clues.”
My father’s hazel eyes met mine. “And these are simply theoretical concerns for your vampire?”
“Not anymore. I’m pregnant, Dad.” My hand settled lightly on my abdomen. It had been doing so a lot lately, without my thinking about it.
“I know.” He smiled. “I figured that out, too, but it’s good to hear you say it.”
“You’ve only been here for forty-eight hours. I don’t like to rush things any more than you do,” I said, feeling shy. My father got up and took me in his arms. He held me tight. “Besides, you should be surprised. Witches and vampires aren’t supposed to fall in love. And they’re definitely not supposed to have babies together.”
“Your mother warned me about it—she’s seen it all with that uncanny sight of hers.” He laughed. “What a worrywart. If it’s not you she’s fussing over, it’s the vampire. Congratulations, honey. Having a child is a wonderful gift.”
“I just hope we can handle it. Who knows what our child will be like?”
“You can handle more than you think.” My father kissed me on the cheek. “Come on, let’s take a walk. You can show me your favorite places in the city. I’d love to meet Shakespeare. One of my idiot colleagues actually thinks Queen Elizabeth wrote Hamlet. And speaking of colleagues: How, after years of buying you Harvard bibs and mittens, did I end up with a daughter who teaches at Yale?”
“I’m curious about something,” my father said, staring into his wine.
The two of us had enjoyed a lovely walk, we’d all finished a leisurely supper, the children had been sent to bed, and Mop was snoring by the fireplace. Thus far, it had been a perfect day.
“What’s that, Stephen?” Matthew asked, looking up from his own cup with a smile.
“How long do you two think you can keep this crazy life you’re leading under control?”
Matthew’s smile dissolved. “I’m not sure I understand your question,” he said stiffly.
“The two of you hold on to everything so damn tightly.” My father took a sip of his wine and stared pointedly at Matthew’s clenched fist over the rim of his cup. “You might inadvertently destroy what you most love with that grip, Matthew.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Matthew was controlling his temper—barely. I opened my mouth to smooth things over.
“Stop trying to fix things, honey,” my father said before I could utter a word.
“I’m not,” I said tightly.
“Yes, you are,” Stephen said. “Your mother does it all the time, and I recognize the signs. This is my one chance to talk to you as an adult, Diana, and I’m not going to mince words because they make you—or him— uncomfortable.”
My father stuck his hand in his jacket and drew out a pamphlet. “You’ve been trying to fix things, too, Matthew.”
“Newes from Scotland,” read the small print above the larger type of the headline: declaring the damnable life of doctor fian a notable sorcerer, who was burned in edenbrough in januarie last.
“The whole town is talking about the witches in Scotland,” my father said, pushing the pages toward Matthew. “But the creatures are telling a different tale than the warmbloods are. They say that the great and terrible Matthew Roydon, enemy to witches, has been defying the Congregation’s wishes and saving the accused.”
Matthew’s fingers stopped the pages’ progress. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Stephen. Londoners are fond of idle gossip.”
“For two control freaks, you certainly are stirring up a world of trouble. And the trouble won’t end here. It will follow you home, too.”
“The only thing that is going to follow us home from 1591 is Ashmole 782,” I said.
“You can’t take the book.” My father was emphatic. “It belongs here. You’ve twisted time enough, staying as long as you have.”
“We’ve been very careful, Dad.” I was stung by his criticism.
“Careful? You’ve been here for seven months. You’ve conceived a child. The longest I’ve ever spent in the past is two weeks. You aren’t timewalkers anymore. You’ve succumbed to one of the most basic transgressions of anthropological fieldwork: You’ve gone native.”
“I was here before, Stephen,” Matthew said mildly, though his fingers drummed on his thigh. That was never a good sign.
“I’m aware of that, Matthew,” my father shot back. “But you’ve introduced far too many variables for the past to remain as it was.”
“The past has changed us,” I said, facing down my father’s angry stare. “It stands to reason that we’ve changed it, too.”
“And that’s okay? Timewalking is a serious business, Diana. Even for a brief visit, you need a plan—one that includes leaving everything behind as you found it.”
I shifted in my seat. “We weren’t supposed to be here this long. One thing led to another, and now—”
“Now you’re going to leave a mess here. You’ll probably find one when you get home, too.” My father looked at us somberly.
“I get it, Dad. We screwed up.”
“You did,” he said gently. “You two might want to think about that while I go to the Cardinal’s Hat. Someone named Gallowglass introduced himself in the courtyard. He says he’s Matthew’s relative and promised to help me meet Shakespeare, since my own daughter refused.” My father gave me a peck on the cheek. There was disappointment in it, as well as forgiveness. “Don’t wait up for me.”
Matthew and I sat in silence. I took a shaky breath.
“Did we screw up, Matthew?” I reviewed the past months: meeting Philippe, breaking through Matthew’s defenses, getting to know Goody Alsop and the other witches, finding out I was a weaver, befriending Mary and the ladies of Mal? Strana, taking Jack and Annie into our home and our hearts, recovering Ashmole 782, and, yes, conceiving a child. My hand dropped to my belly in a protective gesture. There wasn’t a single thing I would change, if given the choice.
“It’s hard to know, mon coeur,” Matthew said somberly. “Time will tell.”
“I thought we could go see Goody Alsop. She’s helping me with my spell to return to the future.” I stood before my father, my spell box clutched in my hands. I was still uneasy around him after the lecture he’d given Matthew and me yesterday.
“It’s about time,” my father said, reaching for his jacket. He still wore it like a modern man, taking it off the minute he was indoors and rolling up his shirtsleeves. “I didn’t think any of my hints were getting through to you. I can’t wait to meet an expereinced weaver. And are you finally going to show me what’s in the box?”
“If you were curious about it, why didn’t you ask?”
“You’d covered it so carefully with that wispy thing of yours that I figured you didn’t want anybody to mention it,” he said as we descended the stairs.
When we arrived in the parish of St. James Garlickhythe, Goody Alsop’s fetch opened the door.
“Come in, come in,” the witch said, beckoning us toward her seat by the fire. Her eyes were bright and snapping with excitement. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
The whole coven was there, sitting on the edge of their seats.
“Goody Alsop, this is my father, Stephen Proctor.”
“The weaver.” Goody Alsop beamed with satisfaction. “You’re a watery one, like your daughter.” My father hung back as he always did, watching everybody and saying as little as possible while I made the introductions. All the women smiled and nodded, though Catherine had to repeat everything to Elizabeth Jackson because my father’s accent was so strange.
“But we are being rude. Would you care to share your creature’s name?” Goody Alsop peered at my father’s shoulders, where the faint outlines of a heron could be seen. I’d never noticed it before.
“You can see Bennu?” my father said, surprised.
“Of course. He perches, open-winged, across your shoulders. My familiar spirit does not have wings, even though I am strongly tied to the air. She was easier to tame for that reason, I suspect. When I was a girl, a weaver came to London with a harpy for a familiar. Ella was her name, and she was very difficult to train.”
Goody Alsop’s fetch wafted around my father, crooning softly to the bird as it became more visible.
“Perhaps your Bennu can coax Diana’s firedrake to give up her name. It would make it much easier for your daughter to timewalk, I think. We don’t want any trace of her familiar left here, dragging Diana back to London.”
“Wow.” My father was struggling to take it all in—the strange accent, Goody Alsop’s fetch, the fact that his secrets were on display.
“Who?” Elizabeth Jackson asked politely, assuming she’d misunderstood.
My father drew back and studied Elizabeth carefully. “Have we met?”
“No. It is the water in my veins that you recognize. We are happy to have you among us, Master Proctor. London has not had three weavers within her walls in some time. The city is abuzz.”
Goody Alsop motioned to the chair beside her. “Do sit.”
My father took the place of honor. “Nobody at home knows about this weaving business.”
“Not even Mom?” I was aghast. “Dad, you’ve got to tell her.”
“Oh, she knows. But I didn’t have to tell her. I showed her.” My father’s fingers curled and released in an instinctive gesture of command.
The world lit up in shades of blue, gray, lavender, and green as he plucked at all the hidden watery threads in the room: the willow branches in a jug by the window, the silver candlestick that Goody Alsop used for her spells, the fish that was waiting to be roasted for supper. Everyone and everything in the room was cast into those same watery hues. Bennu took flight, his silver-tipped wings stirring the air into waves. Goody Alsop’s fetch was blown this way and that in the currents, her shape shifting into a long-stemmed lily, then returning to human form and sprouting wings. It was as if the two familiars were playing. At the prospect of recreation, my firedrake flicked her tail and beat her wings against my ribs.
“Not now,” I told her tightly, gripping at my bodice. The last thing we needed was a cavorting firedrake. My control over the past might have slipped, but I knew better than to let go of a dragon in Elizabethan London.
“Let her out, Diana,” my father urged. “Ben will take care of her.”
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My father called to Bennu, who faded into his shoulders. The watery magic around me faded, too.
“Why are you so afraid?” my father asked quietly.
“I’m afraid because of this!” I waved my cords in the air. “And this!” I hit my ribs, jostling my firedrake. She belched in response. My hand slid down to where our child was growing. “And this. It’s too much. I don’t need to use showy elemental magic the way you just did. I’m happy as I am.”
“You can weave spells, command a firedrake, and bend the rules that govern life and death. You’re as volatile as creation itself, Diana. These are powers any self-respecting witch would kill for.”
I looked at him in horror. He’d brought the one thing I couldn’t face into the room: Witches had already killed for these powers. They’d killed my father, and my mother, too.
“Putting your magic into neat little boxes and keeping it separate from your craft isn’t going to keep Mom and me from our fates,” my father continued sadly.
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.”
“Really?” His eyebrows lifted. “You want to try that again, Diana?”
“Sarah says elemental magic and the craft are separate. She says—”
“Forget what Sarah says!” My father took me by the shoulders. “You aren’t Sarah. You aren’t like any other witch who has ever lived. And you don’t have to choose between spells and the power that’s right at your fingertips. We’re weavers, right?”
“Then think of elemental magic as the warp—the strong fibers that make up the world—and spells as the weft. They’re both part of a single tapestry. It’s all one big system, honey. And you can master it, if you set aside your fear.”
I could see the possibilities shimmering around me in webs of color and shadow, yet the fear remained.
“Wait. I have a connection to fire, like Mom does. We don’t know how the water and fire will react. I haven’t had those lessons yet.” Because of Prague, I thought. Because we got distracted by the hunt for Ashmole 782 and forgot to focus on the future and getting back to it.
“So you’re a switch-hitter—a witchy secret weapon.” He laughed. He laughed.
“This is serious, Dad.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” My father let that sink in, then crooked his finger, catching a single gray-green thread on the end of it.
“What are you doing?” I asked suspiciously.
“Watch,” he said in a whisper like waves against the shore. He drew his finger toward him and pursed his lips as if he were holding an invisible bubble wand. When he blew out, a ball of water formed. He flicked his fingers in the direction of the water bucket near the hearth, and the ball turned to ice, floated over, and dropped into it with a splash. “Bull’s-eye.”
Elizabeth giggled, releasing a stream of water bubbles that popped in the air, each one sending out a tiny shower of water.
“You don’t like the unknown, Diana, but sometimes you’ve got to embrace it. You were terrified when I put you on a tricycle the first time. And you threw your blocks at the wall when you couldn’t get them all to fit back in their box. We made it through those crises. I’m sure we can handle this.” My father held his hand out.
“But it’s so . . .”
“Messy? So is life. Stop trying to be perfect. Try being real for a change.” My father’s arm swept through the air, revealing all the threads that were normally hidden from view. “The whole world is in this room. Take your time and get to know it.”
I studied the patterns, saw the clumps of color around the witches that indicated their particular strengths and weaknesses. Threads of fire and water surrounded me in a mess of conflicting shades. My panic returned.
“Call the fire,” my father said, as if it were as simple as ordering a pizza.
After a moment of hesitation, I crooked my finger and wished for the fire to come to me. An orange-red thread caught on the tip, and when I let my breath out through pursed lips, dozens of tiny bubbles of light and heat flew into the air like fireflies.
“Lovely, Diana!” Catherine cried out, clapping her hands.
Between the clapping and the fire, my firedrake wanted to be released. Bennu cried out from my father’s shoulders, and the firedrake answered. “No,” I said, gritting my teeth.
“Don’t be such a spoilsport. She’s a dragon—not a goldfish. Why are you always trying to pretend that the magical is ordinary? Let her fly!”
I relaxed just a fraction, and my ribs softened, opening away from my spine like the leaves of a book. My firedrake escaped the bony confines at the first opportunity, flapping her wings as they metamorphosed from gray and insubstantial to iridescent and gleaming. Her tail curled up in a loose knot, and she soared around the room. The firedrake caught the tiny balls of light in her teeth, swallowing them down like candy. She then turned her attention to my father’s water bubbles as if they were fine champagne. When she was through with her treats, the firedrake hovered in the air before me, her tail flicking at the floor. She cocked her head as if waiting for me to ask her something.
“What are you?” I asked, wondering how she managed to absorb all the conflicting powers of water and fire.
“You, but not you.” The firedrake blinked, her glassy eyes studying me. A swirling ball of energy balanced at the end of her spade-shaped tail. The firedrake gave her tail a flick, tipping the ball of energy into my cupped hands. It looked just like the one I had given Matthew back in Madison.
“What is your name?” I whispered.
“You may call me Corra,” she said in a language of smoke and mist. Corra bobbed her head in farewell, melted into a gray shadow, and disappeared. Her weight thudded into my center, her wings curved around my back, and there was stillness. I took a deep breath.
“That was great, honey.” My father squeezed me tight. “You were thinking like fire. Empathy is the secret to most things in life—including magic. Look how bright the threads are now!”
All around us the world gleamed with possibility. And, in the corners, the steadily brightening indigo and amber weave warned that time was growing impatient.
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