Magic Currents (Cursed Angel Collection), page 12
I wanted to return his smile. I tried. I wanted to feel the joy and hope I saw on his face. But I felt my expression faltering.
“I wish that were true, Eduardo,” I whispered. “But when we break the curse, everyone within the Watchtower will perish. Lorenzo says that’s the only way. I don’t think I can do it. I can’t follow through with it knowing that it will kill my mother. And Armand. And all the other witches and warlocks. It’s too high a price. I’d rather let them live and find some other way to free them. You’re living proof that the Underground has already found a way to reclaim Hunters.”
I could feel desperation welling up inside me. I just wanted my loved ones back. In that moment, I didn’t even care about breaking the curse. My mother was still alive. So was Armand. I could accept living under the Watchtower’s curse if I could just free them. That was all I really wanted.
Eduardo’s smile had fallen as I spoke. “No, you can’t go forward with Lorenzo if it will kill all of them,” he agreed. “You’ll simply have to find another way to break the curse. One that will spare all the innocent lives inside the Watchtower.”
“I couldn’t live with myself if breaking the curse meant killing my mother and Armand. And besides, Lorenzo hasn’t even revealed the final steps for breaking the curse. He absolutely refuses to tell me everything because he doesn’t trust witches, and his grudge runs as deep as the great trench. I couldn’t find a different way to break the curse even if I wanted to. Lorenzo won’t give me that opportunity.”
He gave me a determined look. “We will figure out something.”
I didn’t truly believe him. Lorenzo had been clear—breaking the curse would decimate the Watchtower and everyone inside, and that was his goal. He didn’t care about sacrificing a bunch of witches and warlocks if it meant he could finally escape The Colony.
Still, I felt a swell of gratitude for Eduardo’s determination. I took one of his callused hands in both of mine.
“Thank you,” I said. I wasn’t even entirely sure what I was thanking him for, but it felt like the right thing to say.
“We’ll find a way,” Eduardo said again.
Too tired to debate with him, I only nodded and then trudged up to my flat.
I didn’t think I was going to be able to sleep at all that night, but exhaustion claimed me minutes after my head touched the pillow. The next morning, the noise of the girls getting ready for the day slowly broke through my deep sleep. There was a tap at my door.
I sat up. “Come in,” I called, rubbing my eyes and pushing my tangled hair back from my face.
The door to my tiny closet room slid aside.
It was Karen. “Victoria, it’s Chelle. She just woke up, and I don’t think she’s doing so well.” She cast a worried look over her shoulder to where Chelle slept on the floor.
I pushed back the covers and hurried over to her.
“Chelle?” I placed my hand on her forehead. It was much too hot. “How are you feeling?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but a hoarse cough came out. She curled into a ball as the cough deepened.
“Karen, get some water,” I said.
Chelle kept coughing. She couldn’t catch her breath, her face was turning a dark shade of red, and she was starting to gag.
“Help me sit her up,” I said to Kira, who was hovering nearby. She quickly knelt behind Chelle and acted as a support for her back.
I grabbed Chelle’s wrists and lifted her hands over her head. Her coughing began to calm, and after a moment it stopped. But then I saw blood flecking her lips and the front of her nightgown. My heart clenched.
“Give her some water,” I said to Karen. “Just small sips.”
Chelle looked up at me miserably, her eyes filling with tears as she took a drink from the cup Karen offered. My breath hitched in my chest as I pulled the sick girl to me. It was bad, very bad, if Chelle was crying.
Voni, the youngest, was watching from the other side of the room with her fingers over her mouth and tears leaking down her cheeks. Stoic Sang-Hee was doing her best to comfort Voni.
I’d been worried about Chelle’s magic coming in before she was strong enough to handle it, but now I was starting to fear that she wouldn’t survive even that long. I gave her the last of the medicine, some more water, and then held her. Her head dropped to my shoulder. The rest of the girls quietly crept out to go to breakfast and then on to school. After a while, Chelle fell asleep. I laid her down, propped up with a couple of pillows to help keep her airways clear, and watched her for several minutes.
What was I going to do? I was afraid to leave her, but I needed to get more medicine. Not to mention that the Underground was giving me and Lorenzo a very short time line to break the curse on the Watchtower. Only now, of course, I didn’t want to go through with it. Not if it meant murdering my own mother.
With one last glance at Chelle to reassure myself that she was breathing easily, I jumped up and ran down to the dining room. I caught the girls just as they were getting ready to head out.
I took Nadia aside and told the others to go on to school.
“You know I think school is important and I normally wouldn’t ask you to miss your classes,” I said. “But I need help today. I need you to stay with Chelle so I can go out for her medicine. I don’t have enough money for it, so I’m going to have to quickly figure out something to sell to raise the money. I try to keep money worries from you girls so you can focus on your studies, but you’re old enough to know some of these things now.”
She stood straighter, and I could see that she was proud I trusted her with the responsibility and with information that I told only to her and not to the other girls.
“Of course I’ll stay,” she said. “But how are you going to raise the money?”
My first thought was that I’d go to Amy for ideas. But then her capture hit me all over again.
I shook my head. “I’m not sure yet.”
Nadia and I went back up to the flat, where I quickly bathed and dressed. I gave her instructions for what to do if Chelle had another attack, and then went out. Fortunately, it was my day off from the Lead Feather. That felt like the only tiny bit of luck I had working in my favor.
Not wanting to stand idly, I began walking.
What to do for money?
I couldn’t go diving for oysters in the estuary. It was too late in the morning to make it there without being seen, and it would take too long anyway. Perhaps a loan from Peter, or even from Lorenzo? Peter would probably give me the money. I hated to ask, but it was starting to look like that was the easiest way. He could take it out of my paychecks. I couldn’t spare the income, but I’d worry about that later.
I switched direction and headed toward the Lead Feather. When I stepped into the pub, I squinted around the dim interior, looking for Peter. I started to walk toward the hallway that led to the back office when I realized how quiet it was. And the usual aroma of coffee was missing.
Theodore, the bartender, was standing in a tight group with the cook and two servers. With my heart tapping a nervous rhythm, I hurried toward them.
“Theo?” I said. “What’s going on? Where’s Peter?”
The lanky bartender looked up, and his big hound-like eyes were even more forlorn than usual.
“He’s gone,” he said quietly.
I sucked in a gasp. “The vapor?” I wrapped my arms around my stomach and squeezed, as if that would give me strength.
He shook his head. “The Hunters took him away.”
I glanced around at the others, confused. “Hunters?”
“They recruited him, Victoria,” said one of the servers, a thin redhead named Sondra.
Theodore was staring at me intently. “Could I speak to you alone, Vicki?”
My frown deepened as I followed him back to the kitchen.
“He was one of the Underground’s leadership,” Theodore whispered.
All I could do was stand there and blink stupidly. “He was. .
I’d been working with Peter for years and all this time, I’d had no idea that he was a warlock. I wasn’t sure why the surprise hit me so hard. There were many hidden witches and warlocks around The Colony. Isolating groups of us from each other was part of our protection.
I looked up at Theodore. “Wait, so that means you’re—”
He nodded. “I’ve taken his place, both here in the pub and in the leadership.”
“Wow. Okay. So, you know about Eduardo’s return. And about my, uh . . .” I suddenly wasn’t sure if I should be talking about Lorenzo and breaking the curse. I didn’t really know anything about how the two branches of Underground leadership communicated or worked together.
“Yes,” he said, laying a reassuring hand on my upper arm. “But what are you doing here, Vicki? It’s your day off, and you have much more important things to attend to.”
I let out a heavy breath and looked at the floor. “It’s one of my girls. She’s taken a turn for the worse, and I need to get more medicine for her but can’t afford it. I came to see if I could borrow money from Peter, get an advance on my paychecks. Everything is happening so fast. I need to find Lorenzo and get on with our work. But Chelle is in bad shape, and I need to help her. Amy was captured yesterday, and now Peter is gone, too.” I shoved my hands into my hair and yanked.
Without a word, Theo went to the cash register and hit a button to open the drawer. He pulled out several bills and returned to me.
“Here,” he said. “I know this is what Peter would do.”
He folded the bills and placed them in my hand. I glanced down at them, doing a quick count. It appeared they were all tens. It was more than I’d make in a week, even with tips.
My eyes misted with gratitude, and for sadness that Peter wasn’t there. “I don’t need this much. Let me—”
He shook his head. “Keep it just in case. You can always give back what you don’t use.”
“Thank you,” I said, and quickly tucked the money into the pouch sewn into my dress.
“Break the curse,” he whispered. “Godspeed, Victoria.”
I saw in his eyes that he had hope. He believed Lorenzo and I could take down the Watchtower. It gave me courage.
I hurried through town to the drugstore, and at the counter I asked for the much stronger and more expensive version of Chelle’s medicine. While I was waiting for the senior apothecary to compound it in the back of the store, I plucked a cough suppressant and pain reliever from the shelves of premade remedies. It was like my birthday and every holiday rolled into one to be able to buy what Chelle needed.
After paying for the items, I still had money left over. As I made my way back to the Royal, I wondered if this was how it felt to be rich. Not that anyone in The Colony aside from the Demon Lord lived in much luxury. Sure, some entrepreneurs made very comfortable lives for themselves, but because The Colony was isolated by the wall of blood mist from the rest of the world, there was no opportunity for trade beyond our borders. This was a place where dreams were limited, and extremely so if you were a witch.
I knew I shouldn’t let myself think too far ahead, but I couldn’t help imagining a Colony where we could expand inland. Where ships from other nations might come here to trade with us. If any other nations were actually free to do so. There were stories of the Old World, of the way things were before our Watchtower was erected. But the last news from beyond the mist reported that the rest of the world was under the rule of Watchtowers, too. That information was more legend than anything, having come to The Colony hundreds of years ago.
But maybe some of those other Watchtowers had been defeated. Maybe there were people out there wondering what existed inside our wall of blood mist.
Perhaps I could save Armand and my mother, and we and the girls could go away from here. Find a place where we could escape the bloody legacy of The Colony and find peace.
I stifled my thoughts with a sigh. A world beyond The Colony. It was almost too crazy to contemplate, and right now I couldn’t afford to let my mind wander into fantasies.
In the flat, Nadia was curled near a sleeping Chelle and flipping through a dog-eared textbook. I triumphantly held up the sack from the apothecary, and a broad grin broke out over Nadia’s face. She went to get some water while I roused Chelle. After a dose from each of the amber bottles I’d bought, she sank back to her bed and fell asleep again.
I took Nadia’s hand and pulled her out of the bedroom so we could talk without disturbing Chelle.
“I have to go out again, and I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone,” I whispered. I hesitated, wishing to tell her more but not wanting to scare or confuse her. “Things are going to happen soon. Changes. I can’t give you details, but in my absence, I need you to watch over the others. Get the twins to help you. Tell them I said you’re in charge.”
Nadia’s pale gray-green eyes grew wide. “Is it the Underground?” She asked the question so quietly, she was really only mouthing the words. At my look of surprise, she hurriedly added, “I heard some of the senior girls at school talk. Don’t worry, they were very careful.”
If Nadia had overheard them, I doubted they’d really taken much care, but at the moment, I couldn’t spare any energy to worry about the indiscretions of school girls.
“Yes,” I said finally. “But you mustn’t speak to anyone about this, okay? Swear to me.”
She nodded solemnly. “I promise.”
I pulled her into an embrace, and my throat welled. I wasn’t sure when I’d be back here. I didn’t even know if I would survive the curse-breaking.
“Give Chelle more medicine with dinner,” I said, pulling away.
I turned to leave the flat before tears could spill from my eyes.
Out in the hallway, I brushed my fingers under my lower lids, smoothed my hair back, and squared my shoulders.
It was time to find Lorenzo.
AT LORENZO’S BUILDING there was a panel with buttons to buzz the apartments, but I realized I didn’t know which number his was—only that it was the corner unit on the third floor—and there were no names next to the buttons.
I clenched my teeth and let out a frustrated growl. In the past, I would have waited for someone to go in or come out, but I didn’t have the patience or the time to stand around on the street.
I moved back onto the sidewalk, cupped my hands around my mouth, and began shouting. “Lorenzo! Are you up there? Lorenzo!”
A window opened on the second floor, and a woman leaned out with a sauce-covered spoon in one hand.
“Shut it, lady!” she hollered at me.
I ignored her and continued to yell for Lorenzo.
“It’s me, Victoria! I don’t know which number to buzz! LORENZO!”
“That drunken grump lives in three-fourteen!” the woman said irritably, and then slammed her window closed.
I went back to the panel and mashed my finger on the button labeled 314. A couple of seconds later, the door’s locking mechanism slid back. I quickly made my way up to Lorenzo’s apartment and pounded on the door. He answered, looking red-faced and bleary-eyed, as if he’d been napping.
“What are you doing? I’ve been out there screaming your name,” I burst out, pushing past him and into the unit. “This is no time to be sleeping one off.”
I took in the space, which was twice the size of my own flat and had its own kitchen. One that he probably never used. That just fueled my irritation further.
“Pipe down, sweetie,” Lorenzo said. “I wasn’t sleeping one off. I’ve been up all night getting things in order.”
I turned on him and crossed my arms. “Oh. Well. That’s good. What did you have to do?”
He waved a hand and went over to the kitchen counter, where there were several items laid out. “This and that.”
I went to peer at the things he was fiddling with. There was a tiny crossbow with three arrows the size of toothpicks, a wide leather cuff with
“Which is your dominant arm?” he asked.
He gave me a withering look. “Just answer. I’ll explain in a second.”
I watched as he picked up the leather cuff and fitted the little crossbow onto it. He nocked one of the tiny arrows and secured the other two onto the cuff.
He nodded at my right arm. “Pull up your sleeve a bit.”
I did as he asked, and he snapped the cuff around my wrist.
“These arrows are going to be tipped with the serpent venom.” He pointed to a lever on the crossbow. “Hit that to shoot. You’ll need to get the Demon Lord in the head or torso to be sure the venom activates before he can do anything about it.”
I looked closer at the tiny weapon. “Can I practice?”
“That’s why there’s no venom on the arrows yet.” He grabbed a knife from the sink, went to the closed front door, and began carving an uneven circle in it. He carved another smaller one in the middle, then stepped back and gestured at it. “A target. Give it a try.”
I held my arm out steady and pressed the lever. The mechanism made a faint ting, and the arrow pinged into the door, but wide of the target. He showed me how to load the next one, and I kept practicing until I could hit the bull’s-eye two times out of three.
I lowered my arm. “Lorenzo, I can’t kill everyone in the Watchtower,” I said. “I just found out my mother is still alive in there.”
He reached for the cuff and unsnapped it from my wrist. Avoiding my eyes, he went to the counter with a shrug. “Sacrifices must be made. It’s the only way to break the curse.”
“No.” I said it quietly, but with more gravity than I’d ever felt in my life.
He looked over his shoulder at me, then turned around and leaned against the counter. “Listen, sweetie. I’m sorry about your mother. But you’ve got to stick to the big picture here. Think of it this way. If you’d never found out your mother was still alive in there, you would have gone forward with breaking the curse. And that would have been the right thing to do. Still is. Yes, it requires sacrificing the lives of a few. But the payoff is saving all the future generations of The Colony and living in freedom.”