"All right. I'll help you hunt for her." 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.
"There's more," added Ms. Terwilliger.
"More than hunting an evil witch who wants to drain me of my life and power?"
"If we can stop Veronica from finding less powerful victims, we can save their lives and limit her ability to find you." She produced a small velvet bag and emptied it out onto the table. Several small agate circles fell out. "These are charms that have some ability to mask magic. Not as strong as the garnet - that would take too long. But they're a quick fix that might save some of these other girls' lives."
I knew where this was going. "And you want me to deliver them."
"I'm sorry. I know I'm giving you some very difficult tasks here."
This was getting worse and worse. "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."
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.
"Where do I start?" I asked finally. "Finding that neighborhood is part of it, right?"
"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 . . ." Ms. Terwilliger's eyes hardened. "Well, then. That's when I'll step in."
Once more, I wondered if I really wanted to know what that entailed.
A moment later, she added, "Oh, and I thought it would be a good idea to obscure your appearance as well."
I brightened. I couldn't explain it, but somehow, that made me feel immensely better. "There are a lot of spells for that, right?" 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.
"Yes. . . ." She drummed her fingers against the table. "But the amulet might not be able to hide you wearing an 'active' spell, which would then defeat the whole purpose. What I was actually hoping was that your 'brother' Adrian might be able to help."
My legs felt weak, and I sat back down. "Why on earth should Adrian be involved in this?"
"Well, he seems like he'd do anything for you." 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. "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?"
"Yes. . . ."
She focused on me again, nodding in satisfaction. "If he could accompany you, help muddle whoever meets you . . . well, that would offer an extra level of protection."
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 "loving from afar." 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.
"Do you realize what you're asking?" I said quietly. I touched the garnet again. "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."
Ms. Terwilliger snorted, and for the first time tonight, I saw a return of her usual amused attitude. "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." She paused meaningfully. "If anything, it seems like it goes against the Alchemists' beliefs."
"The Alchemists' beliefs are my beliefs," I said quickly.
She arched an eyebrow. "Are they? I would hope your beliefs would be your beliefs."
I'd never thought about it that way before, but I suddenly hoped desperately that her words were true.
I FOLLOWED MS. TERWILLIGER'S instructions diligently. I never took the garnet off, not even when I slept or showered. When school started the next morning, I wore it under my shirt to avoid any questions. It didn't exactly scream "magical amulet," but it was certainly conspicuous. To my surprise, Ms. Terwilliger wasn't in her first-period history class, making me wonder if she was doing some investigating of her own.
"Ms. T on some secret mission?"
I flinched and realized I'd been lost in my own thoughts. I turned and found Trey Juarez kneeling by my desk. Class hadn't started yet, and a confused-looking substitute teacher was trying to make sense of the chaos of Ms. Terwilliger's desk. Trey grinned at my surprise.
"Wh-what?" I asked. Had he somehow found out about Veronica? I tried to keep cool. "What makes you say that?"
"I was just joking," he said. "This is the second year I've had her, and she's never missed a day." He gave me a puzzled look. "Unless you really do know something I don't?"
"No," I said quickly. "I'm just as surprised as you are."
Trey scrutinized me a few moments. We were good friends here at Amberwood, with only one teeny-tiny problem hanging between us.
His family was tied to the Warriors of Light.
Last month, the Warriors had tried to kill Sonya in a barbaric execution ritual. Trey had been one of the contenders for the "honor" of killing her, though he'd thrown the match at the last minute. I'd tried to appeal to the Warriors to release Sonya, but they hadn't listened. She and I were both saved when a raiding party of dhampirs showed up and defeated the Warriors. Stanton had helped orchestrate that raid - but hadn't bothered to fill me in that I was being used as a distraction. It was part of what had fueled my distrust of her and the Alchemists.
Trey had been blamed for getting me involved with the ritual, and the Warriors had ostracized his father and him. Just as I had been pressured by the Alchemists, Trey had had Warrior doctrine drilled into him his whole life. His father was so ashamed of the fallout that he would barely speak to Trey now. I knew how much Trey wanted his father's approval, so this silence was more painful to him than the Warriors' treatment.