Chapter Thirty-Six

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The house was still standing, but the flowers along the front walk were dead and the yard looked like it hadn't been mowed in weeks. I used my key and entered through the kitchen, bracing myself to face my parents. I had a lot of explaining to do.

"Mom? Dad?" I called. "I'm home. I need to talk to you."

The house answered me with stillness. I moved through the kitchen into the living room, turning on the lights as I went.

Heading up the stairs, I felt my stomach spinning around in circles. The house felt empty; was I too late? Had Hecate already made good on her threat?

"Mom? Are you in here?" I opened the door to my parents' bedroom. The bed was made and a basket of neatly folded laundry sat on it, but there was no sign of my parents. I entered the room and looked under the bed.

"Xerxes, buddy, where are you hiding?" No green eyes glowed up at me, and no sound greeted my voice. Everything was eerily still.

Truly frightened now, I opened the door to my bedroom. The desk lamp was already on, illuminating my large volume of Shakespeare open on the desk. I crossed to it, looking down. The book was opened to the last scene of King Lear, when Lear discovers that his daughter has been killed trying to save him. There was a red sticky note in the middle of the page.

Swallowing hard, I picked it up. "You or them," it read, "your choice. Meet me at Trin."

I recognized Rochelle's handwriting from the countless notes we'd passed in class. I should have expected her to do something like this, but I'd been so focused on Hecate that I'd almost forgotten about Rochelle's betrayal. But Hecate couldn't act alone, I reminded myself, and Rochelle was more than willing to be her pawn. I crumpled up the note and sat on the edge of my bed, trying to think.

Rochelle had my parents, and I knew now that she wouldn't hesitate to harm them. But what tricks did I still have up my sleeve? I pulled the athame and the mirror from the bag at my waist and laid them out beside me. Then I removed the polished crystal sphere that Hades had given me when I left the Underworld.

"Use this to see clearly," he'd told me when he handed me the crystal. He had hesitated a moment, then leaned forward and kissed my forehead gently. When he pulled back, there were tears in his eyes.

"And if you see Persephone, please tell her that I dealt fairly with you. Ask her—ask her when she will be coming home."

Rolling the sphere over in my palm now, I felt a pang of regret. I had hoped that Persephone might still be here, and I had planned to tell her how much her husband had helped me. But I was alone. I couldn't talk to the goddess or rely on her for help, I realized. I had to deal with this myself.

I held the crystal ball cupped in my hands and I looked deep into it. For a moment, all I saw were the whorls in the stone itself, but eventually, an image began to appear. Justin's face became clearer, and I almost dropped the ball in shock. How could Justin help me now? Annoyed, I shook the crystal, and the image faded away to nothingness. I kept looking into the stone, but no other image appeared.

I thought for a moment. Even if he hated me, I decided, it would be nice to tell someone where I was going. I didn't know if I'd survive another confrontation with Rochelle, but I had to rescue my parents, even if it was the last thing I did. I turned on my cell phone and sent a quick text to Justin before I left the house: "SO sorry. Rochelle has Mom & Dad. Going to Trinity. <3."

***

The school was dark and deserted when I approached. Dusk was falling, and I knew that soon it would be even darker. Moving silently, I opened the large iron gate with a quick spell and slipped inside. It had always surprised me that a magical school wasn't better defended, but then again, I guess none of the teachers ever expected any trouble they couldn't handle. They only taught us enough magic to get by, never enough to be any kind of threat. I laughed humorlessly to myself. They sure screwed up with me and Rochelle!

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