✨ Chapter 8 ✨

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"But I couldn't understand what the cry was, or who was calling."

"That's okay," said Sal, her voice bubbly again. She dropped her braid, squeezed her fists, and squealed. "You didn't even faint. That must mean you're stronger than Minx."

"Marian?" Endrik's face was doing that thing again—glowing cuteness mixed with concern.

"I'm fine," she said. "Or at least I will be, once we figure this out. Will I feel that again each time I get near the being who called me? Or will it only happen if he or she is calling for help?"

Sal chewed on her nail. "I don't know. Your ward could be anyone. But, at least we've started—we have a direction. Oh, Marian!" Sal bounced in place. "You have a ward—just like a real Glisten!"

"It's odd, though." Endrik pulled the human doll from Sal's shelf and frowned. "Marian was in class where we were surrounded by other Glistens."

"Caustica keeps the lab windows open...for obvious reasons. The ward could have been passing by, outside the schoolhouse," said Sal. "Maybe there's a human who lives nearby."

Endrik traced the outline of the doll's face. "You're sure you felt it again just now?"

Marian nodded.

"It happened right before I opened the window for her."

Marian tried not to glare at Sal, anticipating Endrik's next question.

"Did you see anyone outside that you recognized? We could try and trace them now."

"I—uh." She floundered, worried that if she told her friends who she saw they wouldn't want to help. Minx is my ward; she has to be.

Marian sank to the ground, her tutu spreading out around in a ring below her.

"Mari?"

"I'm okay. Only tired."

Sal covered her lips. "You're worn out like last time. Let her rest, Endrik. We can grill her later. Carry her to the couch in the family room. I'll get the nectar ices. We might actually get to have fun—maybe even some sleep—during this sleepover!" She ran out of the room. Silence drowned the tapping of her footsteps as she got farther away.

Endrik slipped the doll between Marian's hands and lifted her up. "If this is what happens to Glistens, humans must be fragile creatures."

Marian swallowed at the closeness of being cradled in his arms. "You don't have to do this. You know, carry me. I can make to the couch."

Endrik grinned. "I'm not willing to take that chance. Not with Sal freaking out about the assignment." He squeezed her closer until her shoulder wedged against his chest. "Besides," he tutted. "Look at all those stairs."

Inwardly groaning, Marian freed her arm to wrap it around his neck. It was the least she could do to help him keep his balance as they ascended the spiral staircase. The doll stared up from where she held it with her opposite hand. Its eyes opened and shut at the bounce of each step. It was the type of doll whose eyes stayed open while upright and closed when set down to sleep. Marian frowned at the eeriness of a lifeless toy blinking at her.

Endrik brushed his chin across the top of her head. "You didn't pass out on me, did you?" he said; effort tainted his voice.

"Not with the doll's creepy eyes staring at me. I'd probably have nightmares."

Marian felt Endrik's laughter ripple through his chest and smiled.

"Finally," Sal squeaked once they reached the top of the stairs. She stood before an open door, holding a tray full of snacks. She plopped the tray down on a table in front of the couch. "Let's watch something. We can meet at the park to discuss school stuff tomorrow."

"Sounds good." Gently, Endrik set Marian down. She bit back a frown when he let go and backed away. After snatching up a nectar ice, he stalked off to his favorite chair and began flipping through movie titles.

Sal sat next to Marian and nudged her with an elbow. "Well, didn't you two look cozy?" She lowered her voice. "Remember what I said about focus. Tonight we can relax now that we know you've heard the call. There's nothing we can do until we find your ward again."

Cringing, Marian said, "Who put you in charge of our project?"

"I'm not trying to be bossy. Someone needs to keep us on track." She glanced over at Endrik, and then whispered, "I can't imagine you two ordering each other around with hearts in your eyes. Please, please, please wait until after summer session is over. Then I'll get out of your way."

Marian curled up against a pillow at the end of the couch and sulked. "Endrik," she called out. "Stop flipping channels when you find something you like." She crossed her arms. "Turns out I'm not in the mood for Glisten Match tonight."

He grunted his approval through a mouthful of nectar ice, finally settling on a crime drama that had Sal squealing about who the killer could be...during the first ten minutes of the movie.

Despite the action, Marian's eyelids began to sag at the edges. She blinked rapidly in an attempt to keep them open. But the exhaustion she'd felt earlier that day and in the moments before Endrik carried her upstairs had already taken its toll on her.

Soon, she was sound asleep.

***

Hours later, Marian woke up in the quiet of night, except for a soft buzzing sound, the same one that had sung in her dreams.

Sal was gone, presumably asleep in her own bedroom.

Marian slipped out from underneath a blanket and set it aside. She tiptoed to the Gamboc chair and found it empty. Maybe Endrik went home or crashed for the night in one of the Minikin boys' rooms. She rubbed her hands across her arms, brushing away the night's chill.

Drawn by the light of the stars, Marian pressed her fingertips to a nearby window. The buzzing intensified—soft still, but faint as if far away. It called to her. My ward is out there somewhere, and in need of help.

Marian strode back to the couch, careful to keep her footsteps as light as possible in the house full of slumbering Minikins. She held her breath as she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and decided what she must do. Knowing she wouldn't rest until she found out what was happening, and to whom.

The latch of the door clicked softly behind her. Moments later she was through the gate.

Her breath was visible under the pale light of streetlamps that lined the road. She faltered a moment while considering whether to turn right or left. Until she felt a pull forward.

Static and popping tingled at her right ear. After turning her head in its direction, an invisible force tugged at her, beckoning her to follow.

Pulling the blanket more tightly around her, Marian wandered past houses with unlit windows. Her feet systematically pushed forward as if strings were attached to her toes. Whomever or whatever tugged at the strings did so gently and leisurely. Despite the underlying sense of urgency Marian was sure she felt.

The farther she walked, the louder the buzzing intensified, until the song crackled in through her ears. And moved inside.

Marian stumbled, breaking her fall with one hand. She stopped to catch her breath.

She looked up, wondering where she'd stopped.

Above her was a window.

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