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Raven (A Creepy Hollow Story Book 2), Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  But nothing spoke to her like the sprite-wing dress, and eventually she tossed the notebooks aside and leaned back on her hands. She stared at the glowing blue fifteen floating above her desk. Fifteen days until the final show. Fifteen days in which to come up with an incredible new dress design, make the actual dress, weave in all the appropriate magic, fit it to the model, test it, and make final adjustments. All while finishing up the remainder of her coursework.

  “I can do this,” she murmured to herself. Then she grabbed her latest notebook, turned to a blank page, and sketched out ideas until dinner time.

  Dinner was extra long. Her mother wouldn’t keep quiet about the flower casters’ party she was organizing for the following Friday, and her father, who’d attended a meeting held in the human realm, went on and on—for possibly the hundredth time—about how faeries should consider a magical alternative to television.

  Finally, back inside her bedroom, Raven pulled a backpack from beneath her bed. After securing it to her back, she pushed aside her richly embroidered curtains and walked onto the balcony. She turned and looked up at the turret above her room. Carefully, she climbed onto the balustrade, inserted her fingers into the gaps between the wall’s outer stones, and began pulling herself up the short distance to the top. She swung her legs over the parapet and looked across the tower at the guard standing on the other side. The guard she’d smiled at earlier.

  “Hey,” he said, turning to face her with a lunchbox in his hand. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming tonight.”

  Chapter Two

  “Sorry,” Raven said as she hurried across the circular space toward Flint. “Dinner took longer than usual. I kept thinking about you waiting up here, wasting your break, but my mother just wouldn’t shut up.”

  “Ah, yes, dinner with the royals.” Flint nodded, then took a bite of his sandwich.

  Raven’s eyebrows pulled together. “The royals?”

  He chewed, then said, “You’re practically royalty, right?”

  Mortification heated her skin as she realized what Flint was referring to. “You heard that?”

  “I was on the other side of the door. Neither of you were speaking quietly.”

  “Ugh, I’m so sorry.” Raven covered her face with her hands. “I can’t stand how elitist my mother is. It’s so embarrassing.”

  With an easy laugh, Flint shrugged and looked up at the cloud of tiny glow-bugs floating above the tower. “She isn’t the first person to think I’m beneath her. I doubt she’ll be the last. Fortunately,” he added as he set his lunchbox aside, “she was unsuccessful in passing on her elitist ways to her one and only daughter.”

  “Yes, to her ongoing disappointment.” Raven removed a bowl from her backpack and placed it at the center of the tower. “Now she’s trying to set me up with the son of one of her equally elitist friends.”

  “Oh?” Flint, who was kneeling beside her backpack removing the bottle of yuro leaf extract, looked up with a frown.

  “Mm hm. Stuck-up guy I have less than zero interest in, which means my mother will soon have more reason to be disappointed in me.”

  “Oh.” Flint returned his attention to the backpack before Raven could see his expression. He took the bottle of yuro leaf extract and poured it into the bowl. As he picked it up and carefully swirled it, Raven raised her hand toward the glow-bugs, a rare, miniature variety known as lavagems, and began to speak the collecting spell while moving her hand in the correct patterns. The spell would trap the glow-bugs’ light in liquid form in the bowl, and after standing beneath the moon for six hours, the remaining liquid could be used in various types of magic, including some of the design and clothes casting spells Raven liked to play with.

  Once Flint had got the bowl’s contents swirling on its own and Raven had finished the incantation, the two of them stood back and stared up at the glittering, star-filled sky. The glow-bug swarm continued to hang just above the tower, the individual bugs moving in slow, lazy patterns. An owl hooted nearby, and the distant trickle of water from the river that ran through the garden reached their ears.

  “I’m not complaining about helping you,” Flint said after a minute or two, “but surely you must have enough lavagem light by now?”

  “What do you mean ‘enough’?” She laughed and bumped him playfully with her elbow. “You know I’ll only get about a thimble-full tonight.”

  “Which you told me—the first night we met—was enough for plenty of magic.”

  “And I thought it was, but I’ve since come up with so many different ways to use it. It’s such a fascinating and versatile element. And since I have a free source of it right here, I don’t have to hold back when using it, because I can get more every week.” She didn’t add that she liked Flint’s company and this was an easy excuse to spend time with him.

  “Well I’m happy to continue helping you,” he said as the two of them moved to the edge of the turret and sat down, “so that no one thinks you’re a burglar.”

  “You were the only one who thought I was a burglar.” She chuckled at the memory of the night they’d met, almost a year ago. It was Flint’s first night on duty at her parents’ home, and Raven’s first time collecting lavagem light. She’d bought it several times before, in crystal vials from high-end suppliers. But her allowance didn’t always extend that far, and she hated to ask her parents for more. So when she discovered the swarm that liked to hang out above her bedroom at night, she did everything she could to locate the spell to collect their glow. The spell that was best performed by two people, not one.

  After managing to convince Flint that she wasn’t an intruder but one of the people he’d been hired to protect, he offered to help Raven with her spell. He’d been helping her ever since. They met on top of the tower every week. Originally it was only to set up the lavagem spell, but somehow their meetings continued even when her supply hadn’t been depleted, or the tiny bugs disappeared for a while.

  “How did the demo go today?” Flint asked, then took another bite of his sandwich. Though his question was the same as her mother’s, it felt completely different. Nothing but a positive answer was good enough for her, but Flint always seemed interested either way. Good news or bad.

  “Total disaster,” Raven said. “I almost blew up the director.”

  Flint half choked as he laughed around his sandwich. “Wish I’d been there to see that.”

  “She said my design is too dangerous. I’m going to have to scrap the whole idea and start again. The final show’s only fifteen days away now, and if I don’t produce something absolutely show-stopping, my collection won’t be good enough to win.”

  “You know,” Flint said carefully, “that it actually won’t be the end of the world if you don’t win.”

  “It’ll be the end of my world,” she corrected. “Not because I want to be the best, but because I need that internship. I have no future in fashion if I don’t get it.”

  “Of course you have a future. You’re good enough to do this on your own.”

  His words made her insides leap and her neck and ears heat up. “Well, thank you, but you know it’s all about the name. Everyone knows Cascata; nobody knows me. I need to work with a name that’s recognizable before I can launch my own.”

  Flint gave her a pointed look. “Weren’t you born with a recognizable name?”

  Raven rolled her eyes. “A name that means nothing in fashion.”

  “But with your talent, your name would soon be known.”

  The blush crawled further up her neck, making its way to her cheeks. “How do you know anything about my talent?” she asked, a teasing tone to her voice.

  “Oh, well … I just mean that you always look good. So, um, you must know how to make good clothes.”

  Raven looked away as she laughed. “That isn’t the half of it, but thank you.”

  Flint held out his lunchbox to her. “Want some?”

  “Of course.” She wasn’t exactly hungry, but she always
enjoyed tasting whatever Flint’s mother had packed for him. “Your mom makes the best sandwiches in the world.”

  “I thought Aunty Sweetpea downstairs was the best cook ever.”

  “That’s what Mom likes to say. And perhaps if Aunty Sweetpea made sandwiches, they would be the best sandwiches in the world, but do you think Zalea Rosewood would allow something as ordinary as a sandwich to grace her dining room table?”

  “Hmm. I think I’m gonna go with ‘no’ on that one.”

  “Exactly.” She munched on her sandwich a while. “So, Creepy Hollow, right? That’s where you live?”

  “Yes. Why?”

  “I heard someone mention it earlier while I was waiting to do my demo for the director. Something about a group of reptiscillas attacking a group of elves.”

  “Oh, yeah. I have a friend at the Creepy Hollow Guild who was involved in breaking up that fight. Things got quite messy.”

  “Is it scary living there? Things like that happen quite often, don’t they?” The thickly forested area known as Creepy Hollow was a good distance away from Raven’s home, and she remembered her mother referring to it as a place she hoped never to set foot in.

  Flint shrugged. “It isn’t as bad as whatever your parents have probably told you. You just have to be careful, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful place, if you can look past the potential dangers.”

  “So you like it there?”

  “Yes. Well, it’s my home. I haven’t thought about living anywhere else.”

  Raven nodded, though she couldn’t identify with that. She’d often thought about what it would be like to live somewhere else one day. “I assume you’ll move out of your mom’s house at some point, though.”

  “Why?” He grinned at her. “Do you think I’m too old to be living at home at the age of twenty-two?”

  “No, no, I didn’t mean that.” Her cheeks flushed as she fixed her gaze firmly down at the remainder of her sandwich. “I guess I just can’t imagine myself still living at home at that age. Not because I’ll be too old, but because I want to put a bit more distance between me and my stuffy parents. But if you have a nice family—and it sounds like you do—then there’s nothing wrong with living with them for a bit longer.”

  Flint tilted his head back against the stones. “I’ve got centuries ahead of me to live wherever I want. May as well spend another few years at home with my mother and sister. Well,” he added with a frown, “I hope I have centuries ahead of me, but nothing’s guaranteed, of course.”

  “Yeah, the life of a guardian isn’t exactly a safe one,” Raven said quietly, thinking of Flint’s dad. He’d been a guardian too, but he was killed about five years earlier when he managed to get in the way of some seriously destructive magic. She ate the last bite of her sandwich, lost in thoughts of what a dangerous life Flint must have led before coming to work here.

  “My break’s almost over,” he said after checking the time on his amber. “I’d better get back downstairs.”

  “Okay.” As he stood, Raven pushed herself to her feet along with him. “Thanks for your help.”

  He smiled. “Any time. Sleep tight, Raven.”

  As he walked away across the tower, she wrapped her arms around herself and watched the glow-bug cloud.

  “Raven?” She met Flint’s gaze as he turned back to look at her. “Don’t stress about having to come up with a whole new outfit. Whatever you end up making will be incredible.”

  Chapter Three

  “You’re starting again?” Poe asked.

  “Just the last outfit,” Raven told him. It was the following afternoon, and she was buried beneath clouds of cerulean tulle in one of the college classrooms. Golden light filtered through the tall, arched windows, lighting up the rows of wide, spacious desks. Most desks were littered with a variety of fabrics, decorative materials, spell ingredients, and unfinished projects. Most of the occupants, however—Raven’s fellow senior classmates—had gone home already.

  Raven swatted at the bunched up tulle threatening to engulf her and searched the desk surface for her stylus. Glitter stuck to her skin, and feathers poked from her hair. She’d burrowed her way through several supply rooms during lunch, searching for inspiration. It hadn’t yet struck, but she needed to get started on something.

  Poe crossed an arm over his chest, tilted his head to the side, and twisted one of the many piercings in his right ear. “I get that the color matches the rest of your collection, but I’m not sure about the tulle.”

  “I’m not sure about it either,” Raven muttered, leaning over the piece of tulle she was experimenting on and running her stylus across the edge. “How’s your collection going? What did the director say about the spinning top hat?”

  “Mm, she liked it,” Poe said with a shrug. “I think. As long as I can keep it from spinning off the model’s head. The craftsmanship of the hat itself is ‘commendable—’” he made quotes in the air with his fingers “—but the spell requires improvement.”

  “She certainly liked it more than the explosion Raven showed her yesterday afternoon,” Bella said from across the classroom as she finished tidying her desk and stood up. She dropped her amber into her Rudolpho & Foxx bag and turned to face Raven. “We’re all thrilled that you’re no longer in the running for the internship.”

  “Speak for yourself,” Poe said, flashing a glare in her direction.

  In level tones, Raven said, “You don’t think I can pull together something amazing in only two weeks?”

  Bella laughed. “Not even the favored Raven Rosewood can do that.” She placed her bag on her arm and stepped away from her desk. “Well, unless your daddy buys the winning spot for you.”

  Without a word, Raven continued running her stylus along the edge of the tulle, watching it expand and balloon into odd shapes. Most of the students at Delphinium were pleasant—or at least polite enough to keep any gossip about their classmates to a whisper—but Bella had always had an obnoxiously loud mouth. She liked to tell people that her parents had never made a single donation to the college, which must mean she was one of the few students who hadn’t bought her way in.

  “Don’t you have somewhere to be, Belladonna,” Poe snapped. “A hair stylist, perhaps? Your turquoise locks are looking particularly shabby these days.”

  Bella stalked from the room without another word.

  “I don’t see the director asking to see any of her pieces,” Poe added, jerking his head at the door through which Bella had just left. “So I’m not sure why Miss Belladonna thinks she has any chance of winning the internship.”

  “You know the director views only some of the pieces prior to the show,” Raven said quietly. “Mainly the outfits and spells the teachers have warned her might not be appropriate.”

  “And often,” Poe said, turning back to Raven with a flick of his well-styled hair, “the winning collection contains one of those pieces, which means you and I definitely still stand a chance.” He draped himself across the least messy part of her desk and sighed. “Although, if I’m honest, I’m a little bit scared of winning. It would be a dream come true to work with Mella Cascata for creative reasons, but everyone says she’s such a horrible person.”

  “Not everyone. Perhaps it’s only the people who’ve managed to annoy her that say she’s awful.”

  “Well, a great many people must have annoyed her then. You know everyone thought for years that she didn’t have a family? And then it turned out she just doesn’t ever have anything to do with them.”

  Raven lowered the fabric and looked at Poe. “You know I work in the same industry as you, right? I’ve heard every story you’ve heard.”

  “Have you heard the one about her being related to the Unseelie royal family?”

  “Yes. And just like most of the other wild stories out there, it probably isn’t true.”

  “I suppose not.” Poe pushed himself up. “Anyway, are you planning to stay late tonight? Do you need some company?”

; “Oh, no, don’t worry. Being alone helps me think properly.” And she didn’t mind staying late. It was better than eating dinner with her parents.

  “Okay. Try not to stay too late. It is Friday, after all.”

  “Mm hm.” Raven returned her attention to the tulle, and by the time Daisy came hurrying in half an hour later, Raven had created a puffed-up mess that left her feeling completely uninspired.

  “Hey there,” Daisy said, stopping in front of Raven’s desk. “How’s it going with—Oh. That looks very … high fashion?”

  Raven slumped back in her chair. “That’s one way of putting it.”

  “I’m sure you’ll come up with something spectacular. You always do.”

  “Mm.” Raven chewed on her thumbnail, then dropped her hand when she remembered how much her mother disapproved of ragged fingernails.

  “You know everyone else has gone home, right?” Daisy said.

  “Yes. I decided to stay late. I need to get this dress started, and you know I can’t work properly at home with my mother fussing about all the mess I’m making. Even when it’s in my own bedroom, she starts turning red if I don’t keep my desk tidy and put all my materials and equipment away every night. It’s so—”

  “—creativity stifling. I know. You might have mentioned this before.”

  “Sorry,” Raven said with a small smile.

  “Well, I hope inspiration strikes.”

  “Yeah, me too. Night. Oh, Daisy, wait,” she added as her friend turned to leave. “I need to tell you something. It’s, uh …”

  “It’s what?” Daisy leaned on the desk.

  “My mother told me yesterday that … well …” Raven swallowed. “Orson is back.”

  “Oh.” Daisy straightened slowly. “Okay.”

  “He’s going to be at the fundraiser on Monday night.” Raven closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. “And my mother is hoping to set me up with him.”