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Authors: Richelle Mead

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I glanced back up. “She’s related to you.”

“She’s my older sister,” Ms. Terwilliger confirmed, her voice remarkably flat. Older?
I would’ve guessed this woman was at least ten years younger.

“Is she missing?” I asked. When I’d scried before, it had been to find a kidnapped
friend.

Ms. Terwilliger’s lips twitched. “Not in the way you’re thinking.” From the never-ending
duffel bag, she produced a small leather book and opened it to a marked page. Squinting
at where she indicated, I could make out handwritten Latin words describing the mirror
and herbal concoction she’d dumped on me. Following that were directions on how to
use the spell. No bloodletting, thankfully.

“It sounds too simple,” I said suspiciously. I’d learned that spells that only had
a few steps and components usually required a lot of mental energy. I’d passed out
from the other scrying spell.

She nodded, guessing my thoughts. “It takes a lot of focus—more than the last one.
But, as much as you don’t want to hear this, your strength has grown enough that you’ll
probably have an easier time than before.”

I scowled. She was right. I didn’t want to hear that.

Or did I?

Part of me knew I should refuse to go along with this madness. Another part of me
worried she’d abandon me in the desert if I didn’t help. And still another part was
insanely curious to see how this would all work.

Taking a deep breath, I recited the book’s incantation and then set the picture in
the middle of the mirror. I repeated the incantation and removed the picture. Leaning
forward, I stared into the shining surface, trying to clear my mind and let myself
become one with the darkness and moonlight. A hum of energy coursed through me, much
more quickly than I expected. Nothing changed in the mirror right away, though. Only
my reflection peered back at me, the poor lighting dulling my blond hair, which looked
terrible both from sleeping on it and having a bunch of dried plants hanging in its
strands.

The energy continued to build in me, growing surprisingly warm and exhilarating. I
closed my eyes and sank into it. I felt like I was floating in the moonlight, like
I
was
the moonlight. I could’ve stayed that way forever.

“Do you see anything?”

Ms. Terwilliger’s voice was an unwelcome interruption to my blissful state, but I
obediently opened my eyes and looked into the mirror. My reflection was gone. A silvery
gray mist hung in front of a building, but I knew the mist wasn’t physical. It was
magically produced, a mental barrier to keep me from seeing the image that lay beyond
it. Strengthening my will, I pushed my mind passed that barrier, and after a few moments,
the mist shattered.

“I see a building.” My voice echoed oddly in the night. “An old Victorian house. Dark
red, with a traditional covered porch. There are hydrangea bushes in front of it.
There’s a sign too, but I can’t read it.”

“Can you tell where the house is?” My teacher’s voice seemed very far away. “Look
around it.”

I tried to pull back, to extend my vision beyond the house. It took a few moments,
but slowly, the image panned out as though I were watching a movie, revealing a neighborhood
of similar houses, all Victorian with wide porches and creeping vines. They were a
beautiful, perfect piece of history set in the modern world.

“Nothing exact,” I told her. “Just some quaint residential street.”

“Go back further. See the larger picture.”

I did, and it was like I drifted up into the sky, looking down upon the neighborhood
the way some soaring bird would. The houses extended into more neighborhoods, which
eventually gave way to industrial and commercial areas. I continued moving back. The
businesses became more and more densely packed. More streets crisscrossed between
them. The buildings grew taller and taller, eventually materializing into a familiar
skyline.

“Los Angeles,” I said. “The house is on the outskirts of Los Angeles.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by: “Thank you, Miss Melbourne. That will
be all.”

A hand suddenly waved across my field of vision, shattering the city image. Also shattered
was that state of euphoria. I was no longer floating, no longer made of light. I came
crashing down to reality, down to the rocky desert landscape and my stuffy pajamas.
I felt exhausted and shaky, like I might faint. Ms. Terwilliger handed me a thermos
full of orange juice, which I drank greedily. As the nutrients hit my system and strengthened
me, I began to feel a little better. Intense magic use depleted blood sugar.

“Does that help?” I asked, once I’d downed the thermos. A nagging voice inside me
started to chastise about how many calories were in orange juice, but I ignored it.
“Was that what you wanted to know?”

Ms. Terwilliger gave me a smile that didn’t extend to her eyes. “It helps, yes. Was
it what I wanted?” She stared off into the distance. “No, not exactly. I was hoping
you’d name some other city. Some city far, far away.”

I picked up my cross and refastened it around my neck. The familiar object brought
on a sense of normality after what I’d just done. It also made me feel guilty, looking
back on the euphoric high the magic had given me. Humans weren’t supposed to wield
magic—and they certainly weren’t supposed to enjoy it. Running my fingers over the
cross’s surface, I found myself thinking of Adrian again. Had he ever worn it? Or
had he just kept it around for luck? Had his fingers traced the cross’s shape like
mine often did?

Ms. Terwilliger began gathering her things. When she stood up, I followed suit. “What
does it mean exactly, ma’am?” I asked. “That I saw Los Angeles?”

I followed her back toward the car, and she didn’t answer right away. When she did,
her voice was uncharacteristically grim. “It means that she’s much closer than I would
like. It also means, whether you want to or not, you’re going to have to work on improving
your magical skills very, very quickly.”

I came to a halt. Suddenly, I felt angry. Enough was enough. I was exhausted and ached
all over. She’d dragged me out here in the middle of the night and now had the presumption
to make a statement like that when she knew how I felt about magic? Worse, her words
frightened me. What did I have to do with this? This was her spell, her cause. Yet,
she’d given the directive with such force, such certainty, that it almost seemed as
though
I
was the reason we’d come out here to this wasteland.

“Ma’am—” I began.

Ms. Terwilliger spun around and leaned toward me so that there were only a few inches
between us. I gulped, swallowing whatever outraged words I’d been about to utter.
I’d never seen her look like this. She wasn’t scary, not exactly, but there was an
intensity I’d never seen before, far different from the usual scattered teacher I
knew. She also looked . . . frightened.
Life or death
.

“Sydney,” she said, in a rare use of my first name. “Let me assure you that this is
not some trick on my part. You will improve upon your skills, whether you like it
or not. And it’s not because I’m cruel, not because I’m trying to fulfill some selfish
desire. It’s not even because I hate seeing you waste your ability.”

“Then why?” I asked in a small voice. “Why do I need to learn more?”

The wind whispered around us, blowing some of the dried leaves and flowers from my
hair. The shadows we cast took on an ominous feel, and the moonlight and starlight
that had seemed so divine earlier now felt cold and harsh.

“Because,” Ms. Terwilliger said. “It’s for your own protection.”

CHAPTER 2

MS. TERWILLIGER REFUSED
to say much more after that. She drove us back to Amberwood and hardly seemed to
know I was there. She just kept muttering things to herself like, “Not enough time”
and “Need more proof.” When she finally dropped me off, I tried pressing her for more
information.

“What was all that about protecting myself?” I asked. “Protection from what?”

We were parked in the fire lane again, and she still wore that distracted look. “I’ll
explain later, in our session tomorrow.”

“I can’t,” I reminded her. “I’m leaving right after my regular classes. Remember?
I have a flight to catch. I told you about it last week. And yesterday. And earlier
today.”

That brought her back to attention. “Did you? Well, then. I suppose we’ll make do
with what we must. I’ll see what I can have for you in the morning.”

I left her for my bed after that, not that I could get much sleep. And when I showed
up to her history class the next morning, she was true to her word. Before the bell
rang, she walked up to my desk and handed me an old book with a cracked red leather
cover. The title was in Latin and translated to
Elements of Battle
, which sent a chill down my spine. Spells to create light and invisibility were one
thing. There was a practicality to them that I could almost rationalize. But battle
spells? Something told me I might have a little trouble with those.

“Reading material for the plane,” she said. She spoke in her usual, addled scholar
voice, but I could see a glint of that anxiety from last night in her eyes. “Focus
only on the first section. I trust you’ll do your usual thorough job—and then some.”

None of the other arriving students paid any attention to us. My last class of the
day was an independent study session on late-antique history, which she served as
my mentor for. More often than not, she used the session as a passive-aggressive way
to teach me magic. So, her giving me books like this was nothing out of the ordinary.

“And,” she added, “if you could find out where that neighborhood is, it would be extremely
useful.”

I was speechless for a few moments. Locate one neighborhood in the greater Los Angeles
metropolitan area? “That’s . . . a very large area to cover,” I said at last, choosing
my words carefully with witnesses around.

She nodded and pushed her glasses up her nose. “I know. Most people probably couldn’t
do it.” And on that semi-complimentary note, she returned to her desk at the front
of the classroom.

“What neighborhood?” asked a new voice.

Eddie Castile had just arrived and slid into a neighboring desk. Eddie was a dhampir—possessing
a mix of human and vampire DNA that had been passed down from days when the two races
mixed. For all intents and purposes, though, he was indistinguishable from an ordinary
human. With his sandy-colored hair and brown eyes, he also bore enough resemblance
to me to support our cover story that we were twins. In reality, Eddie was here at
Amberwood as a bodyguard for Jill. Dissidents among her own kind, the Moroi, were
hunting her, and even though we’d seen no sign of them since coming to Palm Springs,
Eddie was always vigilant and ready to pounce.

I slipped the red leather book into my messenger bag. “Don’t ask. Another of her wacky
assignments.” None of my friends—save Adrian—knew about my involvement with Ms. Terwilliger’s
magic use. Well, and Jill by default. All Moroi possessed some sort of elemental magic.
Adrian’s was a rare and powerful one called spirit, which could work miracles of healing.
He’d used that magic to bring Jill back from the dead when assassins had killed her.
Doing so had made Jill “shadow-kissed”—that is, it created a psychic bond between
them, one that allowed Jill to feel his emotions and sometimes see through his eyes.
As a result, Jill knew more about what went on between Adrian and me than I liked.

I took my car keys out of my bag and reluctantly handed them over to Eddie. He was
the only one I trusted to drive my car, and I always let him borrow it when I left
town, in case he needed to run errands for our group. “Here you go. I better get it
back in one piece. Do
not
let Angeline near the driver’s seat.”

He grinned. “Do I look suicidal? I probably won’t even use it. Are you sure you don’t
want me to drive you to the airport later?”

“You’d miss class,” I said. The only reason I was able to cut school early was because
of the unusual nature of my independent study.

“I wouldn’t mind, believe me. I’ve got a science test.” He grimaced and lowered his
voice. “I hated physics the first time, you know.”

I couldn’t help a smile. Both Eddie and I were eighteen and had graduated high school,
me through homeschooling and him through an elite Moroi and dhampir academy. We couldn’t
pose as students without going through the motions of class, however. While I didn’t
mind the extra work, Eddie wasn’t as taken with a love of learning as I was.

“No thanks,” I told him. “A cab will be fine.”

The bell rang, and Eddie straightened up in his desk. As Ms. Terwilliger called the
class to order, he whispered to me, “Jill’s really bummed she can’t go.”

“I know,” I murmured back. “But we all know why she can’t.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “What I don’t know is why she’s mad at you.”

I turned toward the front of the classroom and pointedly ignored him. Jill was the
only one who knew about Adrian’s declaration of love, thanks to that bond. It was
another one of those things I wished hadn’t been shared, but Adrian couldn’t help
it. Although Jill knew vampire-human romances were wrong, she couldn’t forgive me
for hurting Adrian so badly. To make things worse, she was probably personally experiencing
some of his pain.

Even if our other friends didn’t know what had occurred, it was obvious that something
wasn’t right with Jill and me. Eddie had picked up on it right away and immediately
interrogated me. I’d given him a vague excuse about Jill not liking some rules I’d
instated for her here at school. Eddie hadn’t bought that, but Jill had been just
as close-mouthed on the matter, leaving him clueless and frustrated.

The school day zipped by, and before long, I was in a taxi and on my way to the airport.
I’d packed light and only had one small suitcase and my messenger bag, both of which
could be carried on. For what seemed like the hundredth time, I took out a small silver
and white gift bag and examined its contents. Inside was an expensive crystal sun
catcher, the kind meant to be hung on a porch or in a window. It depicted two doves
in flight, facing each other. Wrapping it back in its tissue paper, I returned it
to its gift bag and then my own bag. I hoped it would be an acceptable gift for the
upcoming event.

I was going to a vampire wedding.

I’d never been to one before. Probably no Alchemist had. Although we worked with the
Moroi to protect their existence, the Alchemists made it clear they wanted no involvement
that went beyond business contact. After recent events, however, both groups had decided
it would be good to improve our professional relations. Since this wedding was a big
deal, a few other Alchemists and I had been invited.

I knew the couple, and in theory, I was excited to see them married. It was the rest
of the event that made me nervous: a huge social gathering of Moroi and dhampirs.
Even with other Alchemists there, we’d be hopelessly outnumbered. Being in Palm Springs
with Eddie, Jill, and the others had gone a long way in improving my feelings toward
their kind. I got along with that little group well and now considered them friends.
But even as liberal as I was in such matters, I still possessed a lot of the anxiety
other Alchemists had inside the vampiric world. Maybe Moroi and dhampirs weren’t creatures
of evil, like I’d once believed, but they certainly weren’t human.

I kind of wished my Palm Springs friends were coming with me, but that had been out
of the question. The whole point of Jill and the rest of us being in Palm Springs
was to hide her away and keep her safe from those trying to kill her. Both Moroi and
Strigoi tended to avoid sunny, desert regions. If she suddenly showed up at a major
Moroi function, it would defeat the whole purpose. Eddie and Angeline, another dhampir
protecting her at Amberwood, had to stay behind as well. Only Adrian and I had been
invited to the wedding, and we were thankfully on separate flights. If anyone had
noticed that he and I were traveling together, it could attract attention back in
Palm Springs, which could then expose Jill. Adrian’s flight wasn’t even leaving from
Palm Springs. He was flying out by way of Los Angeles, two hours west, just to make
sure we weren’t linked together.

I had to connect through a different flight in Los Angeles, which reminded me of Ms.
Terwilliger’s task. Find one neighborhood in all of Los Angeles’s greater metropolitan
area. Sure, no problem. The only thing I had going for me was that the Victorian houses
were so distinct. If I could find some historical society, there was a good chance
they could direct me toward areas matching that description. It would narrow my search
considerably.

I reached my gate at LAX an hour before the scheduled flight. I’d just gotten cozy
with Ms. Terwilliger’s book when an overhead announcement declared, “Paging passenger
Melrose. Please come see a customer service agent.”

I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Gathering up my things, I approached
the desk and was greeted by a cheery airline representative.

“I’m sad to tell you this flight has been overbooked,” she said. From her peppy voice
and big smile, she didn’t seem sad at all.

“What’s that mean for me, exactly?” I asked, my dread growing. “I have a confirmed
seat.” I dealt with bureaucracy and red tape all the time, but overbooking flights
was something I’d never understood. How did that even happen? It wasn’t like the number
of seats was a surprise to them.

“It means that you’re no longer on the flight,” she explained. “You and a couple other
volunteers gave up your seats to accommodate that family. Otherwise, they would’ve
had to be split up.”

“Volunteers?” I repeated, following her gesture. Off to the side of the seating area,
a family with seven children smiled back at me. The children were tiny and adorable,
with big eyes and the kind of cuteness you saw in musicals about orphans finding new
homes. Outraged, I turned back toward the agent. “How can you do that? I checked in
way ahead of time! I have a wedding to get to. I can’t miss it.”

The woman produced a boarding pass. “We’ve more than made up for it. We’ve booked
you on another flight, to Philadelphia—one that’s leaving sooner. And you’ve even
been upgraded to first class for your inconvenience.”

“That’s something,” I said. I was still annoyed at this, simply out of principle.
I liked order and procedure. Altering those threw off my world. I looked down at the
boarding pass and then did a double take. “It’s leaving now!”

She nodded. “Like I said, sooner. I’d hurry up if I were you.”

Then, on cue, I heard a last-call announcement for my new flight, saying all passengers
need to be on board now, as they were about to shut the cabin doors. I wasn’t the
swearing type, but I almost was then—especially when I saw that my new gate was on
the opposite side of the terminal. Without another word, I grabbed my things and sprinted
toward the gate as quickly as I could, making a mental note to write a letter of complaint
to the airline. Through some miracle, I made it just before my new flight was closed
to passengers, though the agent working that gate sternly told me that next time,
I should plan ahead and allow more time.

I ignored her and headed into the airplane, where I was greeted by a much nicer flight
attendant—especially when she saw my first class ticket. “You’re right here, Miss
Melrose,” she said, pointing to the third row of the cabin. “We’re so glad you could
join us.”

She helped me put my suitcase in the overhead bin, which proved to be pretty difficult
since other, earlier passengers had taken up most of the space. It required some creative
knowledge of spatial relations, and when we finally managed it, I practically passed
out into my seat, exhausted from this unexpected flurry of excitement. So much for
a relaxing trip. I had just enough time to fasten my seat belt before the plane began
backing up. Feeling a little steadier, I plucked the safety card from its pocket so
that I could follow along with the attendant’s presentation. No matter how many times
I flew, I always thought it was important to be up to speed on procedures. I was watching
the attendant fasten an oxygen mask when a familiar and intoxicating scent washed
over me. In all of the chaos of making this flight, I hadn’t even bothered to pay
attention to my seatmate.

Adrian.

I stared in disbelief. He was watching me with amusement and had no doubt been waiting
to see how long it would take me to notice him. I didn’t even bother asking what he
was doing here. I’d known he was flying out of LAX, and through some wacky twist of
happenstance, I’d been bumped to his flight.

“This is impossible,” I exclaimed. The scientist in me was too amazed to fully realize
the uncomfortable nature of the situation I now found myself in. “It’s one thing for
me to get moved to a new flight. But to end up next to you? Do you know what the odds
of that are? It’s incredible.”

“Some might call it fate,” he said. “Or maybe there just aren’t that many flights
to Philadelphia.” He raised a glass of clear liquid to me in a toast. Since I’d never
seen Adrian drink water, I had to assume it was vodka. “Nice to see you, by the way.”

“Um, you too.”

The engines roared to life around us, momentarily sparing me from conversation. Reality
began sinking in. I was trapped on a five-hour flight with Adrian Ivashkov.
Five hours
. Five hours sitting only a few inches from him, smelling his overpriced cologne and
looking into those knowing eyes. What was I going to do? Nothing, of course. There
was nowhere to go, nowhere to escape since even first-class passengers weren’t allowed
parachutes. My heart began to race as I frantically groped for something to say. He
was watching me in silence, still with that small smirk, waiting for me to lead the
conversation.

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