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A Faerie's Secret (Creepy Hollow Book 4), Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  He laughs. “Definitely not what I was expecting.”

  I jump up and throw my hands out toward the man. But instead of stunning him, my magic hits the invisible shield I now realize is hanging in the air in front of him. Magic rebounds in all directions, sizzling one of my framed artworks, knocking an umbrella off the coat stand behind me, and smashing a glass lampshade. I drop down behind the couch again. “Shoot,” I murmur. Mom is going to flip her lid.

  Footsteps approach the couch. I clench my fists as I think of how useful guardian weapons would be right now. Even a simple throwing star would help. If only I hadn’t removed every single one from my jacket less than five minutes ago. “Tired yet?” the man asks as he appears beside the couch.

  I grab the fallen umbrella, hook it around his ankle, and yank. He goes down with a grunt. I jump up and bring the umbrella down fast toward his head. His hand snaps up, catches the umbrella before it strikes him, and twists it out of my grip. He throws it at me, but I duck down and it sails over my head. He rolls onto his side and pushes himself up, then kicks at me. I dodge backward and sweep my hand out toward the broken lampshade. Glass shards rise into the air and whizz toward the man. A flick of his hand turns the glass to dust. He pulls a piece of rope from the inside of his coat. Another flick, and the rope is a vine-like whip, curling toward me. I pull my arm out of the way just in time, feeling the sting of the whip’s end as it snaps against my skin.

  “Missed me,” I say as I dance further out of reach.

  The man lets out a breathless laugh. “Tamaria clearly didn’t know what she was talking about when she said this would be easy.” He snaps the whip once more, and flames blaze into existence along its length. “And you didn’t know what you were talking about when you said you’d kick my ass, because I’m about to wipe the floor with yours.”

  Before the flames can reach me, I leap onto the back of the couch, jump into the air, somersault over the coffee table, and land on the other side. I spin around, drop down to use the coffee table as a shield—and see my mother standing in a doorway behind the man. Her features are frozen in a mask of shock.

  Realizing there’s someone behind him, the man swings around. He hesitates a moment, then runs at Mom.

  “No!” I jump back over the table, onto the puffy couch cushions, and launch myself at the man. I land on his back, and the two of us fall to the ground while Mom shrieks unintelligible words. He tries to elbow me, but I catch his wrist and twist his arm backward. I lean all my weight on it. He cries out and attempts to roll over, but with one arm pinned behind his back, and my body weighing him down, he can’t get enough leverage.

  Still lying on top of him, I reach forward with my free hand and grasp his whip, which is an ordinary rope once again. I wrap the rope around his pinned-back arm, but when I try to get hold of his free arm, I find a knife glinting in his grip. I jerk back with a cry as he slashes blindly behind him.


  I look up at the sound of my father’s voice.

  Taking advantage of my distraction, the man throws me off his back. He leaps to his feet, dodges the sparks Dad throws at him, and dashes across the living room. In seconds, he’s up the stairs. Dad shouts and follows after him. I jump up, all set to go after Dad, but Mom wraps her arms tightly around me and gasps, “You’re okay. You’re okay, you’re okay.” Her wispy blond hair tickles my cheek as I try to see over her shoulder and up the stairs.

  “He’s gone,” Dad says, hurrying back down the staircase. “What happened? Are you okay?”

  “Yes, I’m fine.”

  “Are you sure?” Mom asks, her shaking hands fluttering near my singed T-shirt before rising to touch my face. “He had a knife. Are you sure you’re not … and how did you …” She frowns, her yellow eyes filling with confusion. “You were fighting him. The somersault. Leaping over the couch. Tackling him and pinning him down. How did you do that?”

  I bite my lip and stare at the floor. What do I say, what do I say?

  Dad places a hand on my shoulder. “Calla? What’s going on?”

  Realizing there’s no way out of this other than the truth, I stand straighter, lift my eyes, and look first at Dad, then at Mom. “I want to be a guardian.”

  Mom lets out a half-sigh, half-wimper. “Calla, not this again—”

  “It’s what I want!”

  “It’s too dangerous,” Mom wails. “We almost lost you once, and I won’t go through that again.”

  “I already know how to fight, Mom. I’ve been training privately.”

  “You’ve been what?” Dad says.

  “Training. Learning how to fight. To defend myself and protect others.”

  My parents stare at me, their mouths hanging open in shock. Dad recovers first. “How could you go behind our backs like this and—”

  “Because you refused to let me join a Guild, so training behind your back was the only other option.”

  “And who exactly has been training you?” he demands.

  I shake my head. There’s no way I’m getting Zed into trouble after everything he’s done for me. “It doesn’t matter, Dad. What matters is that this is what I’ve always wanted to do. Not healer school, not chef school, not art school, nor any other profession you’ve tried to force me into. The Guild. That is where I want to be.” I grab his hands and look at the pale markings on his wrists. I’ve always wanted markings like those. Not the deactivated version, of course, but the bold, black lines like those that swirl across my brother’s wrists, or Zed’s. I look up and meet Dad’s eyes. “Please, Dad. You remember what it was like before Mom made you quit. You remember what it’s like to save people, to make a difference. You remember how alive it makes you feel when you’re—”

  “Stop.” Mom’s commanding voice cuts me off. Most of the time, my mother comes across as annoyingly fragile. Her skinny frame, pale hair, and wide eyes make her appear weak. But beneath her usually gentle exterior is a fierce determination to keep her family safe. A fierce determination that has kept me far from the Guild all these years. “This isn’t happening, Calla,” she says firmly. “And it isn’t just about the dangerous lifestyle of a guardian. It’s about the Griffin List. You know that. We’ve managed to keep your ability a secret all this time, despite the … incidents that forced you to leave so many schools.”

  My jaw clenches. We do our best never to speak of those incidents, and Mom knows that. It isn’t fair of her to bring them up.

  “But if you’re working right under the Council’s nose,” Mom continues, “they’ll figure it out. You’ll wind up on that list, tagged and tracked like a criminal for the rest of your life.”

  Ugh, that stupid Griffin List. It always comes back to that. With a frustrated sigh, I cross my arms. “That isn’t going to happen, Mom. I can control it now. No one else ever has to find out.”

  “Find out what?” a male voice says behind me.

  I spin around as my half brother steps out of a doorway on the wall. “Ryn!” I hurry across the room and fling my arms around him. I’m not sure why he’s here, but I’m glad he arrived in the middle of our argument. He usually takes my side when Mom starts getting unreasonable.

  “What happened?” he asks, hugging me tightly. “Are you okay? I came out of a meeting and found a panicked message your mother sent to both me and Dad.”

  “Seriously, Mom?” I turn back to glare at my mother. “I was handling it.”

  “You were not—”

  “Did you know about the secret training your sister’s been doing behind our backs?” Dad says to Ryn.

  “What secret training?”

  “You should have seen her,” Mom chimes in. “Jumping on the furniture, somersaulting, twisting that man’s arm around—”

  “Hey!” I shout. “Can we please forget about my private training for a moment and focus on the fact that there was an intruder in our house?”

  “What?” Ryn looks around at the mess, then back at me. “And you fought him?”
r />   “Yes. He tried to kill me, but I—”

  “Oh dear Seelie Queen,” Mom gasps. “He was trying to kill you? And now you want me to let you out of my sight to go play around at the Guild? No. That’s not happening. Clearly someone knows what you can do, just like before when you were little, and now they’re hunting you down so they can—”

  “Mom,” I interrupt before she can work herself into a frantic state. “I don’t think he was after me. He said he wasn’t expecting me. He must have been here for something else, and apparently someone called Tamaria told him it would be easy.”

  “Tamaria?” My mother’s pale face loses its remaining color.

  “Yes. Do you know who that is?”

  Mom looks at the floor as she slowly shakes her head. “No. I don’t.”

  I glance at Ryn, but he’s watching my mother carefully. “Dad?” I say. “Do you know that name?”

  “No. Kara, are you okay?” He takes Mom’s hand. Her wide eyes are still glued to the floor.

  Mom nods, then looks up at Dad. “I was just thinking,” she says quietly, “that maybe … maybe Calla would actually be safer at the Guild.”

  My jaw just about hits the floor. I lean forward. “Excuse me?”

  Mom ignores me and continues speaking in low tones to Dad. I can hear every word, though. “If someone breaks in again, it would be better if Calla wasn’t here. We could move—we should move—but that won’t stop it from happening again. And maybe Calla should be learning to defend herself properly. Having such a unique Griffin Ability means there’s always a risk someone will find out about it. She’ll never be one hundred percent safe anywhere. At least at the Guild she’ll be surrounded by people who can protect her while she learns the skills to protect herself.”

  I don’t bother pointing out that the whole reason for being a guardian is to protect others, not myself. In fact, I’m so dumbfounded by Mom’s sudden change of heart that I can’t say anything at all.

  Dad pulls Mom to the far corner of the room and lowers his voice so I can no longer hear what they’re discussing. I’m not worried about him saying something to change her mind, though. Dad’s never been opposed to me joining the Guild. In fact, if it weren’t for Mom, he’d most likely still work there himself. He’s probably just trying to figure out why she’s suddenly changed her mind.

  “Calla?” Ryn says. He turns away, motioning to the kitchen with his head. I follow him. He sits down on one side of the table, and I take a seat across from him. “Are you sure about this?” he asks.

  “Sure? Of course I’m sure. This is what I’ve always wanted.” I sit back, eyeing him carefully. “Wait, I thought you were on my side.”

  “I am on your side. If this is the life you want, I’m not going to stop you. I just want to make sure you know how dangerous it is.”

  “Of course I know how dangerous it is. I’m the one who was locked up in a cage by a psycho Unseelie prince, remember? I’ve never felt more scared and helpless than I did back then, and I don’t ever want to feel like that again.” I lean forward. “I don’t want other people to feel like that either. I want to protect those who can’t protect themselves. And I’ve been practicing. I saved someone from a kelpie earlier.”

  Ryn raises an eyebrow. “Your private training includes assignments?”

  “Well, not Guild-approved assignments,” I mumble, sitting back and scratching my fingernail over the table’s surface.

  “I see. Well, since I’ve been on one or two non-approved assignments myself, I don’t think there’s any reason to mention yours to the Guild.”

  My lips curl into a smile. “Just one or two, huh?”

  “Like I said, we don’t need to mention them.”

  I cross my arms and rest them on the table. “So can you get me into the Guild? Like, with my age group?”

  Ryn laughs. “Calla, you can’t just skip four years of training.”

  “But I haven’t. I’ve done the training. I can fight.”

  “And what about the lessons and tests and exams and all the other requirements? You have to spend a certain number of hours in the Fish Bowl, and pass a certain number of assignments each year—”

  “I can do that now.”


  “Yes. All the trainees are on summer break for another two months, aren’t they? Why can’t I do all my Fish Bowl time and assignments while they’re away? Then I’ll be ready to join them when they return.”

  “Calla, that’s crazy. That’s a huge amount of work.”

  “But I can do it. I can manage.”

  “Calla?” Dad says, pushing the kitchen door open. He looks back at Mom, who nods to him before heading up the staircase. “We’ve decided: you can join the Guild.”



  I finish packing another box of painting supplies just as the hand mirror on my desk begins playing music. It’s a lively melody composed by one of my friends from Ellinhart Academy. At least, we were friends before she started listening to the rumors about why I left my last school. She became distant after that, and I haven’t heard from her since summer break began.

  I cross the room to my desk and see Zed’s face swimming in the mirror’s surface. Biting my lip, I consider ignoring the call. I sent him a message last night to say I no longer need his training services, but I didn’t go into detail about why. He probably thinks it’s because of the embarrassing half-kiss outside my house two days ago. The kiss that makes me want to shrivel up with mortification every time I think of it. Ignoring his call would be immature, though, and I’m supposed to be showing Zed that I’m not the child he thinks I am. I pick up the mirror and touch one finger to its surface. “Hey,” I say with a cheery smile on my face.

  “Uh, hi.” In the mirror’s surface, I see him raise a hand and scratch his hair. “So, I just saw the message you sent last night.”

  “Yes, um, I have good news.” I bounce onto my bed and tuck my hair behind my ear. “I’m finally joining the Guild.”

  “What?” Zed’s eyebrows shoot up. “Are you serious?”

  “Yes, it’s definitely happening. Well, almost definitely. Ryn’s still finding out what the exact process will be, but I’m pretty sure he can get me in. And I know how you feel about the Guild,” I add quickly, “so you don’t have to be happy for me. But I think it’s—”

  “Of course I’m happy for you.” A relieved smile spreads across Zed’s face. “I was thinking maybe you didn’t want to train because of … you know, what happened the other evening when—”

  “No, of course not.” I wave a hand and roll my eyes to show him how silly that would be. “And I’m sorry for making you feel awkward, by the way. I don’t know what came over me.”

  “So … you and I … we’re okay?”

  “Of course.” I give him another bright smile he hopefully can’t tell is fake. “I’m over that, don’t worry.” By ‘that’ I mean him, and by ‘over it’ I mean I’m not. But I will be soon. I’ve got way more important things to focus on now. Important things that include me getting my own guardian weapons, learning how to kick some evil ass, and uncovering dangerous Unseelie plots that threaten to destroy the fae realm. At least, that’s what I imagine guardians do once they’re fully trained.

  I blink as an image of me brandishing a glittering sword while I stand victorious over a fallen foe threatens to sneak past my mental wall and broadcast itself across my bedroom. I push the thought aside as Zed says, “When will you begin?”

  “I don’t know. Ryn’s still finding out details from the Council.” And hopefully those details don’t include ‘Sorry, Miss Larkenwood, we don’t accept trainees older than thirteen.’ Anxiety tightens my insides. It would be just my luck to have the Guild refuse my application after I’ve finally got Mom to allow me to join. “Anyway, I need to carry on packing.” I hold the mirror in one hand and use the other to wave a pile of sketchbooks into a new box. Pencils scattered across my desk fly back into a glass ho
lder, which joins the sketchbooks in the box. “People will be here first thing tomorrow morning to do the moving spell.”

  “Moving? Why are you moving?” Zed’s expression morphs into that infuriating one he wore when telling me I’m still a child. “Calla, you know you don’t actually have to live near the Guild you’re training at, right? You can use the faerie paths to get there every day.”

  I bite back the urge to tell him I’m not stupid and that of course I know that. “We’re not moving because I’m attending a Guild. We’re moving because of the intruder who got into our house the other day.”

  “Intruder? What happened? Are you okay?”

  “I’m fine. I managed to fight him off and then he ran away when Dad got home. The point is, Mom freaked out and decided we have to leave. Dad promised to get the latest, most complex security spells, but it made no difference. An hour after it happened, Mom had found somewhere new for us to live.”

  Zed rubs a hand over his jaw. “That’s extreme.”

  “Yeah, well, that’s my mother.”

  “I don’t know how your dad puts up with it.”

  “Probably something to do with the fact that he loves her,” I snap. I’m usually fine with Zed making fun of Mom right along with me, but since he rejected me and probably went straight home to laugh about it with his girlfriend, he doesn’t get to make snide comments about anyone I care about anymore.

  “Uh, anyway,” he says. “I just wanted to check that our agreement still holds. You know, now that I’m not training you anymore.”

  “The agreement where I don’t tell the Guild you’re still alive with active markings and access to your guardian weapons?”

  “Yeah, that.”

  “Of course I won’t tell them. I gave you my word, remember?”

  He nods. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

  “And I appreciate everything you’ve taught me. I’ve come a long way from that scared little girl you met in—” At the sound of a knock on my door, I look up. The door is closed, though, so hopefully the person on the other side didn’t hear any of my conversation with Zed. “Gotta go,” I say to him. I touch the mirror to end the call, then leave it on my bed while I open the door.