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.” He looks around.I can see the mental checklist running behind his stare.“What were you guys doing up there, anyway?”“That’s where we’ll do the binding from,” he says, nodding toward the second level.“And it’s our line of defense.We’re going to seal the entire upper floor.Worse comes to worst, we regroup there.He won’t be able to get near us.” He sighs.“So I suppose I’d better go start pentagram-ing windows.”The second front is making a clatter in the kitchen.That would be my mom, Carmel, and Anna.Anna’s helping Mom find her way around a wood stove as she tries to brew protection potions.I also catch a whiff of rosemary and lavender healing waters.My mother is a “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” type person.It’s up to her to cast something to lure him here—aside from my rope-a-dope, that is.I don’t know why I’m thinking in code.All of this “rope-a-dope” business.Even I’m starting to wonder what I’m referring to.A rope-a-dope is a fake-out.It’s a boxing strategy made famous by Ali.Make them think you’re losing.Get them where you want them.And take them out.So what’s my rope-a-dope? Killing Anna.I suppose I should go tell her.In the kitchen, my mother is chopping some kind of leafy herb.There’s an open jar of green liquid on the counter that smells like a mixture of pickles and tree bark.Anna is stirring a pot on the stove.Carmel is poking around near the basement door.“What’s down here?” she asks, and opens it up.Anna tenses and looks at me.What would Carmel find down there, if she went? Confused, shuffling corpses?Probably not.The haunting seems to be a manifestation of Anna’s own guilt.If Carmel encountered anything, it would probably be some weak cold spots and the occasional mysterious door shutting.“Nothing we need to worry about,” I say, walking over to close it.“Things are going pretty well upstairs.How are they in here?”Carmel shrugs.“I’m not much use.It’s sort of like cooking, and I can’t cook.But they seem to be doing okay.” She crinkles her nose.“It’s kinda slow.”“Never rush a good potion.” My mother smiles.“It’ll go all wonky on you.And you’ve been a big help, Carmel.She cleaned the crystals.”Carmel smiles at her, but gives me the eye.“I think I’ll go help Thomas and Morfran.”After she goes, I wish she hadn’t left.With just me, Anna, and my mom in here, the room feels strangely stuffed.There are things that need to be said, but not in front of my mother.Anna clears her throat.“I think this is coming together, Mrs.Lowood,” she says.“Do you need me to do anything else?”My mom glances at me.“Not just now, dear.Thank you.”As we walk through the living room toward the foyer, Anna tilts her head upward to catch a glimpse of the happenings upstairs.“You have no idea how strange it is,” she says.“Having people in my house, and not wanting to break them into tiny little pieces.”“But that’s an improvement, right?”She crinkles her nose.“You’re … what was it Carmel said earlier?” She looks down, then back at me.“An ass.”I laugh.“You’re catching on.”We walk out onto the porch.I pull my jacket closed.I never took it off; the house hasn’t seen heat in half a century.“I like Carmel,” says Anna.“I didn’t at first.”“Why not?”She shrugs.“I thought she was your girlfriend.” She smiles.“But that’s a silly reason to dislike someone.”“Yeah, well.I think Carmel and Thomas are on a collision course.” We lean against the house, and I feel the rot in the boards behind me.They don’t feel secure; the minute I lean back it’s like I’m the one holding them up instead of the other way around.The pain in my head is more insistent.I’m getting what feels like the start of a runner’s side ache.I should see if anybody has any Advil.But that’s dumb.If this is mystical, what the heck is Advil going to do about it?“It’s starting to hurt, isn’t it?”She’s looking at me with concern.I guess I didn’t realize I was rubbing my eyes.“I’m okay.”“We have to get him here, and soon.” She paces to the railing and comes back.“How are you going to get him here? Tell me.”“I’m going to do what you’ve always wanted,” I say.It takes her a moment.If it’s possible for a person to look hurt and grateful at once, that’s the face she makes.“Don’t get so excited.I’m only going to kill you a little bit.It’ll be more like a ritual bloodletting.”She frowns.“Will that work?”“With all of the extra summoning spells going on in that kitchen, I think so.He should be like a cartoon dog floating after the scent of a hot-dog truck.”“It will weaken me.”“How much?”“I don’t know.”Dammit.The truth is, I don’t know either.I don’t want to hurt her.But the blood is the key.The flow of energy moving through my blade to where-the-heck-ever should draw him like an alpha wolf’s howl.I close my eyes.A million things could go wrong, but it’s too late to think of anything else.The pain between my eyes is making me blink a lot.It’s sapping my focus.I don’t even know if I’ll be well enough to make the cuts if the preparation takes much longer.“Cassio.I’m afraid for you.”I chuckle.“That’s probably wise.” I squeeze my eyes shut.It isn’t even a stabbing pain.That would be better, something with ebbs and flows so I could recover in between.This is constant and maddening.There’s no relief.Something cool touches my cheek.Soft fingers slide into the hair at my temples, pushing it back.Then I feel her brush against my mouth, so carefully, and when I open my eyes I’m staring into her eyes.I close them again and kiss her.When it’s over—and it isn’t over for a while—we rest against the house with our foreheads together.My hands are on the small of her back.She’s still stroking my temples.“I never thought I’d get to do that,” she whispers.“Me neither.I thought I was going to kill you.”Anna smirks.She thinks that nothing’s changed.She’s wrong.Everything’s changed.Everything, since I came to this town.And I know now that I was supposed to come here.That the moment I heard her story—that connection I felt, that interest—it had a purpose.I’m not afraid.Despite the searing between my eyes and the knowledge that something is coming for me, something that could easily rip out my spleen and pop it like a water balloon, I am not afraid.She’s with me.She’s my purpose and we’re going to save each other.We’re going to save everyone [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]