The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(16)

by Richelle Mead

“I don’t want to burn this place down,” she called back, trying to dodge as the swarm chasing her passed nearby. They swiped her arm, leaving tears in her sleeve and small bloody cuts visible on the skin beneath. As soon as she had some distance between her and them, she held up her hands and chanted a Latin incantation I’d never heard before. A hundred tiny sparkling crystals appeared in the air before her, and with another command, she sent them flying into the fotianas. Where the crystals struck, the “mutant fireflies” vanished into sparks.

The swarm chasing me flew low, trying to run me out from under my table. I waved them off, getting my hand stung in the process, as I parsed Ms. Terwilliger’s spell. It had been very similar in word and feel to my old friend the fireball spell, with just a few notable differences. It was an ice spell, I realized. Thrown with enough force, bits of ice could have the impact of little razors.

I scurried out from under my table and tried to put some space between my swarm and me. Behind me, I heard Ms. Terwilliger once again reciting the spell. Hoping I had the words memorized, I attempted the same feat, using the same motions and gestures I would for the fireball spell. Power coursed through me, and ice crystals shot forward at my command. But my aim wasn’t as good as Ms. Terwilliger’s. Although the spell’s structure was similar to that of the fireball, the feel of it was different and required practice. I only managed to take out a few of the fotianas that time but had more success on my second and third attempts. Whenever I paused to recast, they wasted no chance to come at me, causing more irritation and pain. I would wave them off and cast the spell again, gradually picking off their numbers.

I lost track of time until I caught sight of a second cluster of ice crystals joining mine as I sent them into the significantly smaller fotiana flock. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ms. Terwilliger waving her hands. A moment later, Eddie came striding forward as well, still wielding that sign. They’d both defeated their respective swarms. Mine was the only one left, and within minutes, my friends helped me finish off the last of them.

Without the buzzing, the room suddenly took on an eerie silence. We all stood still, chests rising and falling heavily, as we looked around the dim room for any further signs of danger. Eddie and Ms. Terwilliger’s faces both showed cuts and scrapes where the fotianas had touched them, and from the stinging of my own skin, I assumed I looked the same. We were alive, though, and the threat seemed to be neutralized for now.

“Where’s the envelope?” Eddie asked at last.

I hurried over to where I’d dropped it, back by the Raptorbot, who had just surveyed our altercation from his lofty display. The ice crystals had melted into puddles on the floor, and one corner of the envelope was soaked as a result. Otherwise, it seemed undamaged. I carried it over to my friends and turned to Ms. Terwilliger before opening it.

“Do you sense anything?” I asked.

“If there’s a spell, it’s very cleverly concealed.” She held up her hand and a small burst of fire appeared in her palm. “I’ll be ready, just in case.”

The envelope was heavy and bulky, so I wasn’t entirely surprised when I found a brick inside, even though I had no clue what its purpose could be. It appeared to be made out of some sort of sandstone. I glanced at my companions to see if it made sense to them, but they looked as puzzled as I felt. I reached back into the envelope and pulled out a map of the Missouri Ozarks.

“I really didn’t expect that,” I remarked, scanning it for any writing or clues. There were none.

Anger filled Eddie’s features, laced with something I felt too: disappointment. I hadn’t known what we’d discover here, but there’d been a secret part of me that had hoped for a miracle and that we’d find Jill herself. Instead, all we had to show for this trip were some cuts and more cryptic clues. I shook the envelope. It felt empty.

“What on earth could this mean?” mused Ms. Terwilliger, taking the map from me.

“It means someone’s playing with us,” growled Eddie. He wiped a hand over his sweaty forehead, smearing blood in the process. “For all we know, Jill isn’t even involved in this, and someone’s just making us think they have her.”

I peered inside the envelope, and my heart sank when I realized it wasn’t empty after all. “I’m afraid not.” I reached into it and pulled out the envelope’s last item. Even in the poor lighting, there was no mistaking what this was: a lock of long, curling, light brown hair. And there was no question to whom it belonged. “Whoever’s doing this, they definitely have Jill.”

Chapter 5

IT TOOK EVERY BIT OF MY ALREADY QUESTIONABLE self-control not to constantly text and call Sydney for updates. I hadn’t realized how hard her absence would hit me. It wasn’t just missing her—though that was certainly part of it. I’d gotten used to waking up to her every morning, to seeing her around for meals and other ordinary parts of life. Now, I didn’t just have to pass the time without her; I had to also constantly reassure myself that she wasn’t in the clutches of the Alchemists.

“I shouldn’t have let her go alone,” I told my mom the next day.

She glanced up from her cross-stitching. It was a hobby she’d taken up to pass the time and was only slightly less astonishing than everything else going on in our lives recently. “You worry too much, darling. If there’s one thing I can say about my human daughter-in-law, it’s that she’s shockingly resourceful.”

I stopped my pacing. “You really think so?”

A wry smile played over my mom’s lips. “Are you surprised that I’d have something nice to say about her?”

“A little, yeah,” I admitted. My mother had never openly protested my relationship with Sydney. Really, there’d been no chance. I’d simply shown up at Court with a bride in tow, and no one had been able to put asunder those whom the state of Nevada had brought together. My mom hadn’t exactly embraced Sydney with open arms, but she’d also stood with us when others—including my own father—had turned their backs on us. I’d always assumed my mom didn’t approve but was simply making the best of a bad situation.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’d ever, at any point in my life, wished for you to marry a human,” she said after a moment of consideration. “I do, however, know that the road you walk in life isn’t an easy one. It never has been. It never will be. I’ve realized that since you were a child. And I’ve also known that whomever you end up with would have to be someone very special, someone capable of facing those challenges with you. This girl? Sydney? She’s someone like that. I’ve gathered that much in this last month. And I’d rather you have a worthy partner who’s a human than a Moroi who can’t help you share your burdens.”