The Eye had naturally heard of the attack on Sophie. The reactions were somewhat mixed as they were confused as to who could have done this and placed the blame on us. The word was that I had done it but no one here believed that because they all thought I had been out trying to figure something out with regards to the new demons so I was safe from my side at least, then again when was I ever safe from their side.
I felt bitter about attacking my own kind but at the same time, The Eye had raised me, I owed my life to them. The next nine days seemed to pass slowly or maybe I was just eager to see Sophie. The attacks were continuing, this time in Yorkshire but I was preoccupied so I was not asked to contribute in any way and my base was London although we were sometimes called to help. I was anxious about the trip, a part of me wasn't sure she would show up but at three a.m. approached I got ready to leave. I grabbed my sword, a thin golden chain and left. I didn't need to tell anyone were I went when I left, they always thought it was for some official work. I arrived at the corn mill ten minutes earlier, still feeling anxious; I waited with my head down.
"Is that really necessary?"I heard her voice and looked up feeling strangely relieved. She was truly beautiful to me, I always wanted to pull her into my arms when I saw her but that was risky now, I had a role to play. I turned back to the Itineris, crouching down to pull out the gold chain from my duffel bag.
"Never hurts to be prepared," I said.
"It just seems like overkill when you already have a dagger and I have superpowerful magic at my disposal."
"'Superpowerful? Let me remind you of two words, Mercer: Bad. Dog."
She rolled her eyes. "That was nearly a year ago. I'm way better now."
"Yeah, well, I'm not taking any chances," I said. I put the sword into the holster on my back and looked at her. "Besides," I added, "I thought you might not come. After what happened the other night…"I paused, studying her, feeling worried. "Are you all right?"
"I will be when people stop asking me that."
"You know I had nothing to do with that, right?"
"Yeah," she replied. "And if you did have something to do with it, I will vaporize you where you stand."
I smiled slightly, "Good to know."
I closed the distance between us, having to stand entirely too close to her and feeling slightly light headed. "What are you doing?" she asked, sounding just as breathless.
I gently placed the chain around her neck, tightening the clasp.
"This is the necklace one of the angels is wearing in the window at Hex Hall."
"It is indeed." I said, I took her hands, they felt wonderful to touch, and explained, "It's also a very powerful protection charm, which we're going to need."
She looked scared as we laced our fingers and stepped closer to the Itineris. "Why?"
"Because we're going a very long way."
She squeezed my fingers and that made me want to hold her tight but I had to resist.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Graymalkin Island," I answered. And then I yanked her into the doorway.
We were tossed into a thick copse of trees as we came out of the blackness, and Sophie immediately tripped over an exposed root and since the necklace still held us together I fell on top of her. It was surprisingly pleasant to be there but now was not the time for romance apparently. She grabbed my shoulders to push him away.
"Get off of me!" she mumbled against my collarbone, shoving at me. I rolled over onto my back but thanks to the necklace, that just pulled her half on top of me. She was unaware of the affect she was having on me and I couldn't stop myself from saying something.
"And here I thought you were playing hard to get," I whispered. I looked at her in the moonlight, she truly was beautiful, and I was sure I sounded a little out of breath.
She thwacked my chest with the palm of her hand, and then ducked her head underneath the necklace. She quickly moved away from me.
"Let me guess," she hissed, nodding at the chain. "Something else you stole from Hex Hall."
I pushed myself to my feet. "Guilty."
"Where the heck was I while you were playing Grand Theft Cellar?"
"I only took a few things, and most of those I grabbed during those last few weeks when you weren't talking to me." I saw something flash in her eyes and I knew she remembered it.
"Is that why you defended me in Vandy's class? Were you hoping to get cellar duty just so you could lift stuff?"
I shook my head as I dusted off my clothes. "Believe it or not, Mercer, I'm not quite that calculating. I stood up to Vandy because I felt like it. Getting to snag stuff out of the cellar ended up being a bonus."I turned my back on her and started walking away. "Now come on. It's a long walk."
"Why can't you just tell me what's going on?" she asked as we made our way out of the grove.
"Because I'm not sure you'd believe me. Easier to show you." We were reaching the beach now.
"Where are we? Like, in relation to the school."
"We're on the other side of the island," I replied.
"It looks so different."
I glanced over my shoulder. "That's because there's a spell on the school grounds. Jessica Prentiss did it when she built the house. Apparently she was homesick, because she made it look like her family's place in Louisiana, right down to the landscaping." I paused. "Seriously, Mercer, didn't you pay attention in any of our classes?"
"Sorry, I was a little distracted, what with all the people dying."
I stopped suddenly. "To be fair," I said, my voice light, but inside I felt my stomach drop, "only one person died. Elodie."
We were both frozen now, standing several feet apart on the little hill overlooking the sea. "So you do know about that."
I nodded. "Yeah. We, uh, got a report about everything a few months ago."Rubbing the back of my neck, I turned so I was facing the sea.
"I didn't…all of that was never real. Her and me. At least not on my part. And there were days when I thought if I had to spend one more second listening to her talk about beauty spells or shoes, I was going to go insane. Still, when I read the report…" I tried to laugh but it sounded sad and I put my head down. "It was like being punched in the gut, you know?"
"It's just hard to believe that someone like her could be gone", then I shook my head and carried on walking.
"So why were you with her?"
"She was my assignment." I knew this conversation had to come and I couldn't give her the true version about her part, she couldn't know my feelings.
"From The Eye?"
"No, from the Boy Scouts. That Witch Dating badge just kept eluding me."
"Well, you must have at least three Total Douchebag badges by now, so that has to count for something. What about Holly? Was that fake, too?"
My head was down as I walked. "You know, these were all things I was willing
to tell you several weeks ago. Too bad you decided to stand me up."
She caught my elbow and I felt an explosive feeling go through me.
"How is that you can go from decent human being to complete jackass in zero-point-two seconds? Do they teach you that in The Eye?"
I stopped, feeling jittery, my eyes glided over her lips. "Actually, I'm just trying to see if I can make you mad enough to kiss me again."
She immediately dropped my arm and moved ahead of me. "I don't want to talk about that," she said as she walked quickly down the beach.
I caught up with her, but she kept looking straight ahead.
"Mercer—" I said wanting to say something, anything to make her feel better.
"Look, forget it," I said. "Just show me whatever it was you dragged me out here to see."
"Fine," I replied, my voice clipped. I was slightly annoyed at her manner.
We walked down the beach in total silence. In the moonlight, our shadows stretched out before us, almost touching. Finally we reached a small cove, and I turned right, back up the hill and into the forest again. We were only a few feet into the woods when I said, "I just thought we should talk about it. Isn't that what you were getting at?"
She turned towards me and I could practically feel the anger radiating off her.
"No, Cross, it wasn't. Okay, so we kissed for, like, three minutes. I knew you for
months before that. We—we were friends. I asked you all that stuff about demons, and you knew what I was. Don't you get why that might be a little upsetting?"
I didn't reply, but then, she didn't really give me a chance to. "All that time we were down there in the cellar, and I was telling you stuff—real stuff—about me, you were just, what? Lying? Casing the joint? Taking mental notes for your bosses? Is there any part of the Archer I knew that actually exists?"
She stared at me, breathing hard, her tantrum finally over. I had the feeling she felt the same about me but that couldn't be true, not after everything that I did to her. I didn't move, studying her then I blew out a long breath and said, "Okay. I've lived with The Eye for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was about two or three."
"What about your parents?"
I moved past her, this was not my favorite topic but I felt the need to tell her everything. "Killed, but no one knew by what. Whatever it was, it drew the attention of The Eye. They got word of a dead witch and warlock, and went to investigate. Found my parents' bodies, and then when they were searching the house, me. I guess no
one felt comfortable about killing a toddler, so the team took me back to La Reina. That's what they call the leader of L'Occhio di Dio. Well, when it's a woman, at least. She saw the potential in raising a warlock as an Eye."
"Where did all this happen?"
I shrugged. "Don't know. They never told me."
"So you don't know where you're from?"
"I don't even know what my real name is, Mercer. La Reina was the one who called me Archer, after an Eye who'd just been killed in battle. Anyway, she let me live, and gave me to a warlock she'd recruited, Simon Cross. He was the one who decided I should infiltrate Hecate, and—what are you doing?"
She stopped mobbing standing perfectly still as soon as I'd said "warlock she'd recruited."
"There are other Prodigium who work with The Eye?"
I suddenly went very still, wondering if I had said too much. "Why? You planning on telling Daddy?"
"No, the cone of silence has firmly descended over this entire night. I just…they think you're the only one. That's why they're so gung ho about killing you."
"There aren't many, but they're out there. Who do you think told us you were at Shelley's that night?"
"Keep going," she said.
I started walking again, holding a branch out of the way so she could duck under it. I felt like such a gentleman. "Simon trained me as a warlock and as an Eye, and I spent
summers in Rome with L'Occhio di Dio, learning sword fighting, attack maneuvers, that kind of thing."
"No wonder you always kicked my ass in Defense," she muttered.
"The Eye had been looking for ways to get into Hex Hall for years, but the screening process for teachers was too intense, and they didn't have any
Eyes young enough to get in as students. Until me. When I was fourteen, I turned my middle school gym invisible. Bam, instant ticket to Hecate."
"What did they want you to do there?"
"Nothing as awful as you're probably thinking. Listen, mostly. Observe and report back." I stopped and turned around. I was feeling weird, studying her then I decided to tell her. I always felt compelled to tell her. "This is weird," I said. "I've never said this stuff out loud to anyone before."
"That's because I'm using a demon compulsion spell on you."
"Seriously?" I was stunned, I knew she was good at magic but that was a whole other level!
"No, you dork. So keep going. What about Holly and Elodie?" I could feel that she wanted to ask about herself also but she didn't.
"The betrothal with Holly was all aboveboard. Simon and her father arranged it." It was part of my cover, but I liked her. She was sweet. Quiet. It's not like we had this great love or anything, and I obviously had no intention of actually marrying her, but…I don't know. It wasn't hard spending time with her. Elodie was a different story, especially
after what she did to Holly."
"So when you left Hex Hall after Holly died, that wasn't because you were the grief-stricken fiancé. You were going back to The Eye."
"Yeah. I told them that I thought Elodie and her coven had raised a demon, so we decided I should get close to her; see what was really going on."
"And you decided to get really close to her."
I laughed softly. She sounded so adorable at that moment I couldn't help it. It also made me surer as well as more confused about her feeling. "I can't see you, but I have a feeling you're cute when you're jealous, Mercer."
"It's not jealousy you're hearing, its disgust. You dated a girl you didn't even like just to get information out of her."
My laughter died as I sadly said my next words. "Trust me; a lot of my brothers have done much worse."
"So did The Eye tell you to get all Mata Hari on me too?"
The moment of truth or lies. I kept quiet for a while, carefully choosing my words then I told her part truth and part lies. First came the truth. "I was supposed to watch you, yeah. They thought it was weird that Atherton would send his own kid to Hecate, so we wanted to keep an eye on you. No pun intended."
And now the lies. "So yeah, you were part of the job. Don't get me wrong, Mercer, I like you. You're smart, fluent in sarcasm, and, Bad Dog incident aside, pretty kick-ass at magic. And it's not like you're hard to look at. But to answer your question, no part of the Archer Cross you knew at Hecate exists. That day in the cellar, I kissed you back because it was my job to stay close to you. If that's where you wanted to take things, then that's where I was going to go. I kissed you because I had to. Not exactly the
hardest assignment I've ever had, but an assignment nonetheless." My heart broke as I said the words, I didn't want to push her away but I had no choice and it hurt so much but she had to hear this version, it was better for her.
I could tell I had hurt her with what I said but there was also a different look in her eyes, almost as if she could tell I was lying.
"Okay, then. Yay for honesty. Now that we're done with the confessional part of
the evening, why don't you tell me why we're here."
I looked at her once again, debating whether or not to take back what I said but I stayed silent and started walking again. "Like I said, Hecate Hall has always made The Eye nervous."
"Why? Are they allergic to plaid?"
I loved her sarcasm; it felt good to hear it. "Think about it, Mercer. One place where Prodigium round up their most powerful members? Don't tell me that's not suspicious."
"Hecate isn't like that," she said weakly.
"Isn't it? Do some kind of illumination spell."
I saw her studying the area. I could feel the dark magic in the place and I knew she could feel it too.
"Now you see why I wanted to show you this," I said quietly. "Whoever is raising demons is doing it here. At Hecate."
"This is bad," was all I could manage to say.
"Yeah, I kind of picked up on that too."
"No, I mean really bad. Like, to a level I didn't know badness could reach."
I crouched down to look into her eyes. "It gets worse."
"What, does this pit also eat kittens? How much worse can it be?" She stared at the flat rock, blinking at the power radiating off the markings.
"Ever since I left Hex Hall, I've been looking into the history of the place. In the past eighteen years, six students have disappeared from the school."
"That's not that many. Have you ever been to a big human school, Cross? Some of those places lose six kids in, like, a week."
"Sophie, two of those kids were Anna and Chaston." This was serious and I needed her to understand so I used her first name. her knees gave out as she realized what I was saying, I wanted to get closer but there was more at stake now than what I wanted.
"After the attacks, they both vanished," Archer said.
"No," she said. "No, their parents came to get them."
I stood up and moved closer to her. "Did you ever see them?" I asked quietly. "Did any of us?" She was silent and I could see she was thinking hard about this whole mess.
"I visited their parents," I continued. "All four of them were under some heavy spells, Mercer. They were convinced their daughters were spending the summer at Hecate. Said they talk to them once a week. But none of our guys have been able to locate either Chaston or Anna anywhere."
"Okay, but that would mean…" I could see her struggling to say the words and my heart went out to her. "That would mean Mrs. Casnoff is in on it, and if that is the case, my dad would know something about it."
"Not necessarily," I said. "Hecate Hall and Graymalkin Island are completely Mrs. Casnoff's domain. Your dad signs off on all the kids who're sentenced here, but past that, he leaves it all to her."
She stood up and started pacing. "So you think Chaston and Anna were taken so they could be made into demons?"
"It seems to fit. Daisy and Nick are both teenagers; so was Alice back in the day. Maybe Mrs. Casnoff figured they'd be easier to turn because they'd already been up close and personal with the dark side."
"Why, though? Why would Mrs. Casnoff, of all people, be raising demons?"
"It might not be just her," I suggested. "After all, her sister works for the Council. Their father used to be the head. I think this goes way deeper than we can even guess."
"Cross, my dad thinks if he can catch the people who changed Nick and Daisy, he can get them to reverse it, and stop a war between The Eye and Prodigium. But if it's the Casnoffs who are doing this?"
I stood up, dusting my hands on my pants. "Yeah. As we've established, it's bad."
"So…why did you want to show me this? You guys could handle this on your own. Why risk getting kicked out of your He-Man Monster-Haters Club?"
"Because we can't handle this on our own. At least I don't think we can." And I want to help you and work with you I added silently in my head.
"You said yourself you already have some Prodigium working with you. Why not go to them?"
"We have a handful," I said, I was beginning to feel frustrated because there was so much I could not tell her yet so much was waiting to spill out. "And most of them suck. Look, just consider it a peace offering, okay? My way of saying I'm sorry for lying to you. And pulling a knife in your presence, even if it was just to open a damn window to get out before you vaporized me."
"Thanks," I replied. "But don't you want in on this?"
I looked at her, studying her as she studied me as well. "That's up to you," I said. I wanted her to say yes but at the same time I hoped she wouldn't. My feelings for her were already so strong, what would happen if they grew even stronger. I would have no control over myself then, as it is I was slowly losing more and more control standing here and talking to her.
"It's too much of a risk, Cross. Maybe one day when I'm head of the Council and you're…well, whatever you're going to be for L'Occhio di Dio, we
could work on some kind of collaboration." But for now, it's too dangerous."
My heart sank into the deepest pit of my stomach but I kept face was blank as I said, "Cool. Got it."
"Cross," she started to say, but then my eyes slid past her and went wide with horror. Crawling out of the crater behind her were ghastly creatures made of many human parts. I looked at Sophie and saw the horror on her face and remembered she knew nothing about this part of her world.
"Ghouls," I explained to her. "Reanimated human flesh, used as guardians. Seriously dark magic. Someone obviously didn't want us finding—"
"Oh my God, less talking, more stabbing, please." Her voice was squeaky with fear and as she turned to look at me I saw how afraid she really was and that made me want to protect her from all harm she ever came across in her entire lifetime but this was something only she could do, I didn't have the power to do it.
I already had the sword in my hand, and I was crouching slightly. "I can slow them down, but ghouls can't be killed by blades. You're the one who has to stop them."
"Come again?" she squeaked.
"You're a necromancer," I said. "They're dead."
"I don't know what to do," she sounded panicky and I had to do something to slow them down.
"Well, think of something fast," I replied. Then I raced off into the midst of the ghouls to fight them off and keep her safe until she figured something out. I would die if I had to, as long as I knew she was safe a little longer. I caught one of the ghouls under the chin with the point of my blade, but there was no blood. The thing stopped moving, but it didn't fall. Instead, it swept a hand at me; I ducked and swung again,
piercing the side of the second ghoul. This time, a thick black substance poured from the wound. I kept stabbing at them but they didn't seem to feel any pain and their anger was getting worse as I ducked and dived and they couldn't catch me.
I was giving out the best that I had learned with the eye but nothing seemed to be working. Sophie looked as if she were thinking hard about what to do but nothing came yet and only she could save us. If I died tonight, I wouldn't want that beautiful face to be covered with the fear I had seen just now to be the last image I saw. I wanted to see her smiling face last.
I suddenly felt a sharp tug on my head and winced in pain as one of the ghouls caught a hold of my hair and pulled. Now I was in trouble and so was she. "Could we start with the necromancing now?" I shouted at her, hoping to get some reaction.
"Let him go!" she commanded. Unfortunately that wasn't what she had to do. The ghouls got startled and the one holding on to me pulled back harder making me almost scream from the force of it.
"Think, Sophie," I heard her say. I was starting to panic now but I had full faith in her. The ghoul was strangling me now and I needed her help.
"Yeah, please do that," I replied, panicking as my air supply was being cut off by the filthy creature. I love you Sophie, I muttered in my head, unable to say it out loud and now I may never get a chance to say it. Then I heard her voice, "Release him," she said again, quietly this time.
I could feel her power as the ghoul dropped me to turn and stare at her, under her command. I got up slowly and went to stand next to her, wanting to take her into my arms so desperately, especially after this.
"What do I do now?" she asked. There was so much she didn't know, so much I wanted to teach her.
"You can put them back," I said quietly. "Or you could let them go."
"What, like set them free to roam around the island? I don't think so."
I shook my head, it was difficult to breathe after the incident and also getting harder because I knew our time together was almost up. "No, draw the magic out of them and let them be dead. Really dead."
"Okay," she said, sounding scared and confident at the same time. That was what I truly loved about her, her bravery. The ghouls slumped to the ground. She stared at them and said, "They look kind of pitiful."
I snorted, "Forgive me for not feeling too sympathetic, Mercer."
We suddenly became aware of something bobbing in the distance. A light.
She extinguished the blue orb. We moved quickly to hide in the shelter of the trees and quickly walked away from the place. Being extremely quiet and cautious until we reached the beach, then we started running.
I braced his hands on his knees, out of breath, leaning over and taking deep breaths. "I never thought I'd have to make that run again," I said feeling a sense of déjà vu.
"You used the Itineris to get off Graymalkin," she said, I nodded and pulled the necklace out of my bag and placed it around our necks again. "You ready?" I asked, holding onto her hands and feeling her warmth spread through me again.
"As I'll ever be," she muttered before we stepped into the doorway.
When we reached the end of our journey I felt tired but more than that, I felt incredibly sad and depressed. This was the end for us, I would never see her again and she would never know that she was the only one who knew the real Archer Cross, the only one who made me feel. She would never know that she is the love of my life and there could never be anyone else for me, I would never feel all this for anyone but her. I could feel the burning in my throat from the tears that wanted to spill out but I held back, I couldn't help my hands from shaking as I took the chain of us though.
Even thugh she was covered in dirt, she still looked so amazing to me as the light set in, I could have stared at her forever.
"Well," I said at last, my voice slightly hoarse as I struggled to keep my emotions in. "That was the worst first date I've ever been on." Then we started laughing, her laugh was like music to my ears, the beauty of it encasing me in a warm glow, willing me to stay with her forever and to keep that smile and happiness on her face but then I realized she was better off without me and I stopped laughing. Not sure what to do but feeling a mixture of emotions.
"I need to get back," she said.
"Right," I replied. "So this is it. We're done."
"Yeah," she said, she sounded as if she wanted to cry. "And I have to say, the world's first and last Eye-demon reconnaissance mission went pretty well." I made myself look into her eyes memorizing them for my memories and feeling as if I should say something more. "Thank you." It was so sincere and so true the way she said it.
I shrugged; my heart began to flutter as I thought about everything about her. "We were a good team."
"We were. Anyway, I should go. See ya, Cross." She let out what I thought was a sob. "Except I won't, will I? So I guess I should say goodbye. Okay, well, best of luck
with the whole Eye thing, then. Try not to kill anyone I know."
My soul was shattering as she said the words and I realized just how true this love really was. I can't live without her, I would never be able to after all the moments we spent together, after all the love we shared. I couldn't let her go, there had to be something more for us. She turned away, but I reached out and caught her wrist.
She had to know the truth. "Mercer, that day in the cellar…" I searched her face longingly, hoping against all hope that she wanted this too, "I didn't kiss you back because I had to. I kissed you because I wanted to." I looked at her lips remembering how it has felt the last time they touched mine. "I still want to," I said quietly. Then I pulled her into my arms and kissed her. I dropped the sword and put my hand behind her neck. This was what was true, this was what was real. I could feel her kiss reaching into my soul, joining me to her so completely and truly as if nothing else mattered.
As the kiss deepened, we held each other tighter, I could feel her heartbeat against mine, pounding in harmony. I couldn't ever leave her; she is my life and always will be. And I am hers and always will be.
"Oh, Mercer," I murmured basking in the glorious feeling of her in my arms, "we are so screwed."
She pressed her face against my neck. "I know."
"So what do we do?"
"If we were good people, we'd never see each other again." She tried to move away from me but I wasn't ready to let her go yet and pulled her back.
"Okay, well, that's not happening. Plan B?"
She smiled that gorgeous smile at me and I fell more in love with her just looking at that smile. "I don't have one. You?"
I shook my head. "Nothing. But…look. I've spent basically my whole life pretending to be someone I'm not, faking some feelings, hiding others."Reaching down, I clasped my hand and lifted it so that our joined hands were trapped between our chests. "This thing with us is the only real thing I've had in a long time. You're the only real thing."I raised our hands and kissed her knuckles, feeling so good to finally tell her the truth. "And I'm done pretending I don't want you."
"Wow, Cross. I think you missed your calling. Screw demon hunting: you should clearly be writing Hallmark cards." She still had that gorgeous smile on and I felt myself start smiling too. "Shut up," I muttered before lowering my head and kissing her again.
"Why is it," she said when we broke apart again, "that we're always kissing in gross, dirty places like cellars and abandoned mills?"
I laughed, pressing kisses to her jaw and neck, loving the way her skin felt against my lips. "Next time it'll be a castle, I promise. This is England, after all. Can't be too hard to find one."
We didn't talk for a long time after that, and when we finally managed to break apart, the light in the mill was slightly brighter.
"I have to go," she said, resting her head against my chest. Suddenly she lifted her head and pulled at my t shirt to see my tattoo. She put her hand on it and our eyes met. "It doesn't burn this time," she whispered.
The feel of her magic and her skin was making mine burn this time. "Beg to differ, Mercer."
I pulled her hand of my chest and put them on her shoulders pushing her away slightly. "Okay," I said, closing my eyes. "If you don't go now, we're…You should go
Once we were several feet apart, the lust-fog cleared a little. "We still have no idea what we're going to do." She said it with a slight air of amusement.
I opened my eyes and took a couple of steps backward. "Right now, you're going to go back to Thorne and check in with your dad. I'm going to go back to my people and do the same. Then tomorrow night, we'll meet here. You'll stand over there"—i pointed at a corner—"and I'll stand over there"—the complete opposite corner—"and there will be no physical contact until we've figured something out. Deal?"
"Deal. Midnight?" she smiled at me and I grinned back at her.
"Perfect. So. See ya, Mercer."
"See ya, Cross." I smiled as I turned and walked away. We were definitely screwed but we were together, there was no more pretending to be done with her now that she knew how I really felt about her.