Some hours later, I awoke to a knock at my door. Was this the something else? I rubbed the remnants of sleep from my eyes and stood with a stretch, shivering at the damp chill that hung in the air.
Wrapping a worn knit shawl around my shoulders, I opened the door to meet the dark, attentive gaze of Quinn D’Arturio. I had not seen him in some time, yet it didn’t surprise me the man at my door no longer matched the memory of the boy I once knew.
Quinn had grown.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Reina,” he said, hardly seeming sincerely apologetic as he bent in a half bow and a lock of nearly black hair fell across his brow. “My father requests your presence.”
My ability to function on little sleep was no less appreciated now than it had been last night. I estimated I had slept maybe three hours. It felt like seven.
With a nod, I assured him, “Let him know I’ll come right away.” I needed time to dress and since it clearly wasn’t an emergency, I figured I might appease my rumbling stomach with a quick snack before heading out once again.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait,” he said.
“Ah—” I hesitated, now wondering at the reason for my summoning. “All right, I’ll just be a minute.” No snack for me.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Quinn turned from me as I closed the door. I dressed simply, fastening my apron over my skirts and wishing now I’d had a chance to wash it of the Larkspur stains it carried. I stole a peek at Quinn through the condensation on my window, observing him as he surveyed my farm for some imperceptible danger only he might know.
There was a time when I had known much about Quinn and many of my former schoolmates, but past the days of school and childhood games, I had hardly spoken more than a dozen words to him since his return to Barnham.
I backed away from the window and fastened my hair into another knot, tucking the stray strands behind my ears. I pulled on my boots once more, flinching at the wetness still inside. Bag in hand, I opened the door and stepped outside once again.
Though still cool, the afternoon had pleasantly warmed despite the occasional gust of wind, and an earthy dampness permeated the air. I stepped onto the well-worn walk beyond the cottage door and inhaled the familiar sweet scent of the violet and red kissing blooms that greeted me. The few tiny petal chalices that hadn’t been blown off their vine by the storm harbored droplets of rain, but the majority of the flowers lay flattened on the ground, a stark reminder summer was gone. As was tradition on any farmstead in Castilles, my mother planted kissing blooms at the door of our tiny cottage, and they grew in vine-like abundance along a supporting trellis to remind our home’s occupants never to leave without a parting kiss to the loved ones left behind—a custom I currently never needed to concern myself with.
I fell into step quickly and wordlessly beside Quinn as we made our way to his father’s home. Stealing a sideways glance at Quinn as we walked, I studied the seriousness on his face. I tried to remember if I’d ever seen him smile in the time since our childhood days. He might be attractive if he did. His hair was shorter than the current style and the bottom half of his face seemed perpetually shadowed with the hint of a beard men twice his age would covet. His hawk-like eyes were always in motion and I forever had the distinct impression there wasn’t much they missed…including my current observations.
I turned my eyes forward as we entered the village proper. “Is the governor well, Quinn?” I asked, attempting a chat despite knowing where it would get me.
“Aye, he’s fine.”
“Good,” he responded, effectively ending our conversation. As I’d expected. I fought the urge to roll my eyes.
Where did you disappear to for the last two years? Why won’t you speak to me? Do you remember me at all? There were so many questions I wanted to ask him. Instead, I nodded and let my gaze roam the town as we walked.
“Well?” one of the girls asked as Niles peered into the darkness. The single word echoed throughout the cavern.
“Can’t tell,” he said, as he repositioned himself. Carefully, he reached into the dark space and felt around.
He stilled and the expression on his face revealed all we needed to know. Slowly, he pulled the talisman from its thousand-year hiding place. It dangled from the chain, a teardrop shape glittering in the torchlight, as he held it out for all to see. The color wasn’t visible by our meager light, but I knew the exact aqua hue it possessed. The pendant sparked—a quick brilliant flash—with my thought.
At that moment, everything became a blur of motion. Niles’s foot slipped. He scrabbled at the rock to regain his balance. The talisman glinted in the torchlight, falling toward us. Several of the girls shot forward to grab it as it clattered to the ground. It flew from hand to hand, was lost in the shuffle as they argued, then reappeared briefly in the air as it was grabbed by another hand.
It all happened within seconds, but for a moment it seemed time itself stopped. My eyes widened as someone screamed and the pendant flew through the air at my face. I raised a hand to protect myself, squeezing my eyes shut and turning my head away…and felt it land squarely in my palm, an electric current shooting through my arm with the contact. When I opened my eyes, the pendant swung gently from the cool chain wrapped between my fingers.
In the dead silence, no one dared move a muscle. Slowly, I relaxed my arm, lowering it to examine the teardrop shaped tourmaline in my hand, flexing my fingers to coax feeling back into them after being shocked. What was that? Was that why no one had been able to hold it? Though the initial shock had dissipated, it vibrated on my skin.
I looked up and still no one moved, as though they were afraid to breathe. “What now?” I asked.
Wide eyes continued to stare. The only sound was the flickering whoosh of the torches and the click of Niles’s boots on stone as he jumped the last few feet to the floor.
“You’re it,” Selena whispered. “You’re the White Sorceress.”