My insides twist as I stare at the word written on the page. Revane Cottage - the Otherworld - Professor Grabiner must think I've been taken there. But why?
Well, the why doesn't matter. I'd better get there myself, and quickly - Professor Grabiner's clearly been lured there for some nefarious purpose, and I certainly can't stay here with Mr. Lewis. The only problem is how to get there.
I try to think back to my white magic courses. Professor Potsdam said that if we had enough white magic, we could travel through the something gate... the spiral gate? - into the Otherworld. But I don't know how much is enough, only that as a first year student, I probably don't have enough yet. But then another memory surfaces, bobbing in my head as I try to seize it. I can't get to the Otherworld with the amount of magic I have, especially now that I've depleted it, but there was something about Revane Cottage that-
use it for the honeymoon
Of course - the key! That little wooden box was a key to Revane Cottage, and Professor Grabiner had snatched it out of my hands as though... as though he were afraid of what would happen to me if I'd touched it. As though I could be taken to the Otherworld just by handling it. And it's in Professor Grabiner's suitcase!
I turn and run into the hallway and down the stairs again, only because that's where Professor Grabiner's shade had gone. But I don't know where he's been staying, or where he's been keeping his things, and time is running out. I stop, listening for any noise, but the pounding of my heart is too loud for me to possibly hear any sounds from the first floor.
The hall of spare bedrooms - try that first, I think. Maybe he's taken one of the rooms but cast an illusion on it to make it seem unoccupied. If so, it would be a good place to work whatever spell he needed to in order to get to the Otherworld without interruption - at least, I hope so. And I hope he hasn't used the key himself and taken it to the Otherworld with him.
When I get to the turn in the hallway with the spare bedrooms, I skid to a halt. I'm too worried about my dwindling supply of magic to cast spirit echoes again, but I realize - remembering a long ago examination from school - that I have enough to cast a track scent spell. I do, and am immediately hit by a scent that's obviously Professor Grabiner leading into the hallway. The smell is a rather heady mix of leather book bindings, paper, and a hint of ink. I almost stop just to breathe it in, but the thought of Mr. Lewis possibly ascending the stairs behind me spurs me onward in the direction of the smell.
Almost as soon as I start running, it's gone, and I have to stop again. Turning back, the smell is a bit stronger, but it's leading into the first room in this hallway - not a bedroom, but the music room. Cautiously I enter the room. The scent is much stronger. I flip on the lamp, surveying the contents of the room - the piano, the shelf of music.
I close the door and lock it, knowing that won't keep Mr. Lewis out, but deciding that if I can delay him for even a moment, it might be worth it. Once I'm locked in, I cast a truesight spell. The shelf and instrument vanish and are replaced by the furnishings of a small bedroom - spartan, but comfortable. There's a bed in place of the piano, and the music shelf has become a dresser. And when I open the top drawer, the box is there, nestled in a pile of folded clothes.
I open the box and lay the small objects on the surface of the dresser, cupping my hand to keep the beads from rolling away. I recognize them from that morning in March when I'd received the package - the jewel on its Y-shaped post, the crystal disc with symbols, and the faceted stone on a gold post. They all must go together somehow.
I start playing with the objects, first sticking the gold post through the hole in the crystal disc. They fit together with a satisfying click, but I can't see any obvious way to put the rest of the objects together. I look into the box to see if there were any objects I missed - vainly, I know - but then something catches my eye. There are several small depressions at the bottom of the box's interior, forming a circle with one, smaller depression in the center. I push the pin point of the gold post into the center depression. The point fits, supporting the gold post and the crystal disk that's threaded onto it, so the whole thing stands upright, within the box.
My hands shake as I start placing the small beads into the surrounding depressions, creating a dotted circle inside the wood of the box's interior. I nearly drop half of the beads once when I hear a soft sound - a footstep? - that seems to come outside of the hall, and I'm positive that Mr. Lewis has caught up with me. But after a frozen moment, nothing happens, and I carefully continue, holding my breath. When the last bead is placed, they've filled all the depressions to form a complete circle.
Okay - now the jewel. I pick up the Y-shape and hold it so that the jewel dangles, tapping it once with my finger so that it spins around its horizontal post. It looks as though it needs to hang, but on what?
There's another small sound outside the closed door and I jump, nearly knocking the whole box over, but grabbing it and saving it at the last minute. This causes the lid of the box to nearly swing shut, and I stop it with my thumb, pinching it. I wince at the pain, but don't let go of the box - and then I notice that the lid falling caused the largest hook to swing down. It's worth a shot, I suppose - so I hang the end of the Y-shape onto the hook. If I move some of the other latches here... and then there... and this way... the lid stands up on its own, dangling the jewel above the red stone. Every piece is in place, and then I see the crystal disc start to spin - very slowly at first, and then faster. The jewel in its post above starts spinning too, and both of them flash in the light of the lamp.
I step back, waiting for something to happen, but nothing does - only the soft whir of the disc and jewel as they continue to spin.
"Come on," I say to them, teeth clenched. "What are you waiting for?" There's another sound - louder this time - in the hall, and I step forward again to grip the edge of the dresser. "Come on!"
Is there something else I need to do - another spell? I go through the spells I've learned in the last year, tallying them up, but none seem to be right.
"What do I do?" I ask the box, "Just take me there, please - please - please!" And suddenly my mom's voice comes back to me, from back when I was a kid learning how to say 'please.' What do we say? Say the magic word.
Not please, but-
I bring my face close to the whirring objects and ask "Revane?"
And then everything shifts.
I feel as though I'm getting sucked through the eye of a needle, insides-first. I can't breathe, can't move, can't think - until I'm cast out onto a flat surface, heaving.
For a long time I have to crouch on all fours, fighting nausea, retching and coughing until I finally catch my breath. I keep my eyes closed for a minute, sucking in deep gulps of air. My stomach is roiling, but as it begins to settle, I feel something even worse deep inside me, somewhere. It's a sense of strange emptiness in a place that shouldn't feel empty.
My magic is used up - I'm completely tapped out.
Panicking, I try to think of what to do. I know there's a way to suck magical power from the Otherworld, or to convert a bit of my physical health into magic, but both of those spells need magic to be able to work - and I don't have anything left. My journey through the spiral gate must have taken up the last of my reserve. And now I'm in the Otherworld without any way to protect myself.
When I open my eyes, I half expect to be surrounded by a ring of slavering red goblins, their gold claws prepared to rip me open from stem to sternum. But there are no goblins, no manuses, and no hodags waiting for me. There's just the room.
The walls and ceiling are entirely formed of huge panes of what looks like glass - clear glass on the sloped ceiling, and smoked glass for the walls. They let in a rich, golden light - a warm, sunset light with a tinge of mauve - with no visible source. Between the glass are slabs of polished wood, caramel-colored, with ripples of chestnut in the grain. The floor is the same type of wood, though there are no joints in it, as though the entire thing had been carved out of one staggeringly enormous tree. There's a stone fireplace in one corner, cold and clean, with a set of steps leading down toward it, forming one large square.
I can instinctively see, now, why Lord Montague doesn't choose to make a home here, but praises his son's taste in loving it at the same time. Lord Montague's home is huge and imposing, designed to intimidate. This room, in contrast, seems to fit itself around me, seems to be a place to call home. I feel a fierce pride well up in me, that Professor Grabiner is the one who can appreciate that a home should fit the people inside it. It's easily the most beautiful room I've ever seen.
Well - it would be, except for the corpses littering the floor.
I don't recognize them as corpses - or even as people - at first. They're just objects scattered on the floor around me. They seem half-familiar, something I should understand, but don't, until I see the kilt.
I stare at it for a minute, squinting, wondering where I'd seen it before, wondering why there seem to be legs protruding from it on one end, and a large belly in a black jacket on the other. I step closer, and - how strange - the belly seems to be covered in a bushy beard that reaches up to a face wearing a gold pinz-nez with shattered lenses. Behind the lenses are a pair of eyes open wide and protruding as if in horror.
Then everything snaps into focus and I stagger, realizing - it's Beardy McHaggis - Mr. Duncan - dead.
I whip my head to one side, then the other, registering the bodies piled around me. There's round, red-faced Mr. Musgrove, who teased Professor Grabiner that first night - there's the man with the clipped goatee who bored me during last night's dinner. In the corner, looking like a sparrow frozen on a sidewalk, is tiny Dame Sutworth, her spangled dress hiked too far up, showing her spindly thighs. And there, by the steps leading to the fireplace, is Mrs. Craft.
I run to her then, practically tripping over a man whose name I can't remember to kneel beside her, grabbing her face in both of my hands. Her eyes are open too, bulging outward. Bright, clear, blue eyes - how had I never noticed that she had blue eyes? The fiery color of her dyed hair looks too alive for her to be dead.
"No," says someone from far away, who I vaguely recognize as me. "No, no, no, no, no."
She can't be dead, not Mrs. Craft who loved Errol Flynn and tarot cards, who could tell stories from history and make them sound like an exciting television program. Not Mrs. Craft who defused a bomb with her brain to save her little brother, and who told me that even happy endings end in death.
Not Mrs. Craft, who hugged me, and told me that everything was going to be all right.
I stay there for a long time waiting to cry, but the tears don't come. I can feel them inside me, weighing me down like a bag of pebbles, but they won't come out.
I stroke her hair once, twice. But I can't stay, much as I want to - I have to find Professor Grabiner no matter what, because I can't stay here without any magic. I just have to pray that he's all right and can take me - and Mrs. Craft - home.
"I'll come back, I promise," I say to Mrs. Craft. "I'm not going to leave you here."
I stand. I can see one single door, large and rounded at the top, leading out of the room. I take a deep breath and hold it, willing that it won't lead outside and away from what I hope are the wards protecting the building - the only thing separating me from any creatures out there who would eat my soul given a fraction of a chance.
But when I open the door, it only leads to a narrow, twisting hallway studded with doors that look almost identical to the one I've just opened. How am I going to find Professor Grabiner in time if I have to search every room? And what if they only lead to more hallways?
No - I can't think about that now. I just have to go on and hope for the best. I take off down the hallway, opening doors at random. The rooms behind them are just as beautiful as the room I've come from - and even more empty. There's no furniture, no people, no goblins and - thankfully - no corpses. Just room after room, each with a different shape or design, and I continue until I feel as though I've nearly run for a mile without any success.
I stop, leaning forward and gripping my knees, trying to catch my breath. The hall is so quiet - far too quiet - and far too long. Just how big is this house?
I try to think back to what I know about Revane Cottage - precious little, other than the fact that Violet met her end here - and then what I know about the Otherworld. I think back to Professor Potsdam's lecture about how we should never come here, that there would be no punishment, because we would be gone. I shiver at that, but it's not helping me now. And then there was what Lord Montague told me this afternoon, about how I could travel here without fear in a year or two - fat lot of good that does me. But then I remember something else he said.
"Many of the constraints to using magic that we experience here simply don't exist there... The concept of space is nearly meaningless."
If that's the case, then maybe it's me, my confused mind, that's causing these long twisting hallways. And there's no reason why I shouldn't be one step - or a thousand - from Professor Grabiner if I want to be, with or without a reserve of magic.
I square myself in front of the next door, trying to ignore the little voice inside me that's saying "this is stupid, what on earth do you think you're doing?"
I have no idea what to do, so I just follow my instinct. I press both palms against the door - noticing, as I do, that the stone of my ourobouros ring, which had seemed to contain a subtle luster before, is now positively glowing - emitting a rich, steady red light, like that of a burning piece of coal. I stare at it for a moment, but the ring doesn't do anything besides glow.
Fine, I think, useless thing. I close my eyes, concentrating on the door before me.
"Okay, door," I say out loud. "You're the door I've picked, so listen up. I'm going to open you in a minute, and I'm going to find Prof - Hieronymous - in there. And alive," I add, hurriedly, even though I know the door won't have much say in the matter. "So get ready. I'm opening you. Right now." And without opening my eyes, I turn the knob and push the door inward.
Immediately I both hear and feel a whoosh-the rush of a magic spell being cast right in front of me. I open my eyes eagerly, starting to smile, but then freeze.
The room I've opened into is huge, practically an auditorium, with row after row of low stone benches, almost like pews in a church or seats in a lecture hall. A set of steps leads from the door into the center of the room where a huge, rough stone slab sits alone like an altar. And there I see Lord Montague, standing still and erect, behind the stone. As I watch, he rears back and hurls a spell, and as I watch it arc across the room, I see what it's aimed at - it's Professor Grabiner, who's standing on a bench a few rows away.
I nearly scream but then Professor Grabiner dodges the spell, diving under one of the stone benches, and re-emerging three rows down to throw some sort of lighting spell at his father. He doesn't pause to see whether it lands, but jumps onto another bench, racing along its length, and flinging a series of bolts one after the other. He's going so fast that I can tell he's augmented his speed, but at the same time, he's incredibly graceful - his body moving in fluid motions as he dodges another spell, and then another.
But when I look back at Lord Montague, he hasn't moved - he's standing stock-still behind the stone, blocking each of Professor Grabiner's spells with a single flick. He aims a spell at Professor Grabiner only when he seems particularly vulnerable - and although Professor Grabiner is still dodging, it seems as though each spell gets closer to its mark every time. Lord Montague looks almost bored with the whole thing, and with horror, I realize that he's so powerful that he doesn't even need to move to win this fight - he's trying to wear Professor Grabiner out. And it's working.
I have to do something - but what can I do? Without magic, I'm as helpless as I was back at the Weis' office, when I had to be rescued from a cockroach by a pregnant receptionist. I cast off ideas as quickly as they come into my head - I could try to sneak up on Lord Montague and knock him down? He'd see me before I took ten steps! I could distract him by running down the stairs? I'd take the full force of a spell without magically augmented speed, and then I'd be as dead as Mrs. Cr - no, no, don't think about that now. I could-
But then Lord Montague turns and sees me. Our eyes lock, and I can't move, can't think of anything to do except stand there. His eyes narrow and he smiles at me - the same sly, malevolent smile he'd given me right before he'd sunk his fingers into my cheeks this afternoon.
"We-e-ell, Hieronymous," he says slowly, drawing out the words while deflecting another of Professor Grabiner's spells with one flick of a finger. "It seems that your wife has decided to join us after all. Isn't that sweet?"
Professor Grabiner stops, mid-stride, and whips his head around to see me standing in the doorway, the expression on his face anguished. He whirls around again but it's too late - Lord Montague's next spell catches him square in the chest and flings him across the room to the stone wall behind him. Something inside him breaks with a crack, and he crumples to the ground.