Girl of Nightmares


Page 84


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"Just get on with it," I mutter. He smiles without showing his teeth. Some people can't make anything but dishonest faces.

"The circle has already been cast," he says mildly. "The gateway is clear. All that remains is to swing it wide. But first, you must choose your anchor."

"My anchor?"

"The person who will serve as your link to this plane. Without them, you wouldn't be able to find your way back. You must each choose."

My mind flickers to Gideon. Then I look left.

"Thomas," I say.

His eyes widen. I think he's trying to look flattered but succeeds in just looking sick to his stomach.

"Colin Burke," Jestine says beside me. No big surprise there.

Thomas swallows and steps forward. He draws the dummy athame from his belt and wraps his fist around the blade. When he pulls the edge against his palm, he manages to keep from flinching, even as the blood wells and spills out the side of his fist. He wipes the athame on his robe and slides it back into his belt, then dips his thumb into the blood pooling in his palm. It's warm when he smears a small crescent onto my forehead, just above my brow. I nod at him as he backs up. Beside him, Carmel's eyes are wide. They both thought I'd choose Gideon. I thought so too until I opened my mouth.

I turn; Burke and Jestine repeat the ritual. His blood is shining and crimson against her skin. When she turns to face me, I fight the urge to wipe it off. She swallows hard, and her eyes are bright. Adrenaline is releasing into our blood, making the world sharper, clearer, more immediate. It's not the same as when I hold the athame but it's close. At a nod from Burke, the rest of the Order pull their knives out. Carmel is only a half step behind them as they all drag the blades across their palms; her eyes narrow at the brief sting. Then all of them, Thomas and Burke included, turn their hands over, allowing the blood to drip onto the floor, spattering onto a mosaic of pale yellow asymmetrical tiles. When the droplets strike, the flames on the candles flare and energy like the waves over intense heat rushes to the center and reverberates outward. I can feel it, beneath my feet, changing the surface. Just how is hard to describe. It's like the ground beneath our shoes is becoming less. Like it's thinning out, or losing a dimension. We're standing on a surface that isn't a surface anymore.

"It's time, Cas," Jestine says.

"Time," I say.

"They've done their part, paving the way . But they can't open the door. That you have to do yourself."

Magic is swimming through my head in a f**king torrent. Looking around the circle, I can barely distinguish Carmel and Gideon from the others. Beneath the hoods, their features have blurred. Then I catch sight of Thomas, so clear that he might as well be sparkling, and my stomach drops down a few inches in my throat. My arm moves; I don't realize that I'm reaching for the athame until it's in my hand, until I'm looking down at it, the flames from the candles flickering orange on the blade.

"I have to go first," says Jestine. She's standing square to me. The athame is pointed toward her stomach.

"No." I pull back but she grabs my shoulder. I didn't know this is what they meant. I thought it would be Burke. I thought it would be a shallow cut on the arm. I don't know what I thought. I didn't think anything; I didn't want to. I back up another step.

"If you go, I go," Jestine says from between clenched teeth. Before I can react, she grasps my hand where it holds the athame and plunges it deep into her side. I watch the blade sink in like a nightmare, slow but so easily, like it was sliding through water. When it comes out it shines a translucent red.

"Jestine!" I shout. The word dies loud in my ears. The walls give off no echo. Her body folds up and she sinks to her knees. She's clutching at her side; only the smallest bit of blood breaks through her fingers, but I know it's worse than that.

Her life's blood.

As I watch, she loses a dimension, becomes less, like the air around us and the floor beneath our feet. She's gone, crossed over. What's left is hollowed out, nothing more than a place marker.

I look down at her, hypnotized, and turn the athame inward. When it breaks through my skin the world spins. It feels like my mind is being pulled out through a pinhole. I clench my jaw and press harder, thinking of Jestine, thinking of Anna. My knees hit the floor, and the light goes out.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

There is nothing good here. There never has been. My cheek lies pressed against a surface that is neither hot nor cold, neither dull nor sharp. But it is hard. Everywhere my body touches it is about to shatter. This was a mistake. We don't belong here. Wherever it is, it is the lack of everything. No light, no darkness. No air or taste. It's nothing; a void.

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