Chapter Eighteen

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Part IV

Chapter Eighteen

There isn’t much in life that can surprise me. I’ve been trained to remain alert, to be constantly aware of my surroundings. Aside from being knocked out in the middle of Creepy Hollow forest and struck on the head while hiding in Scarlett’s Underground room, I can’t think of any other occasion where I’ve been caught off guard.

But there is nothing that can prepare me for the shock of finding Zell here, in this dark and silent cave buried within a mountain, where Nate and I should be perfectly alone.

My brain

cuts

out.

“Excellent job, Nathaniel,” says Zell. “Thank you for getting her here so quickly.”

Getting her here so quickly.

I feel like someone is squeezing my head. I blink. I can see a shaft of dim light pouring from the hole in the rock ceiling high above us. Nate is an outline on the other side. I can’t see his face.

 “Do you like what he’s done with the weather?” Zell continues. “He can’t quite control it yet, but his storms are certainly impressive, don’t you think?”

His storms. The weather.

“I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at how little it took to convince him to join—”

My brain jolts awake, and I do the first sensible thing I can think of.

I kick Zell.

At least, I try to kick him. But he must have a shield up, because I find myself thrown backward onto the ground. “Now, now,” he says. “There’s no need to get violent.” I expect him to come after me, but he doesn’t. He remains in front of the opening to the cave. Blocking my way out.

Without getting up, I hurl a ball of fire at him. Then two of my guardian daggers, a shower of stones, shards of ice, anything I can think of.

His shield repels them all. And he won’t move, and there’s no other way out, and I’m going to die here inside this dark mountain with that hateful smirk on his face and my traitor ex-boyfriend watching from the—

Stop freaking panicking!

There is another way out.

I push myself to my feet, ignoring the painful sting as my dress scrapes across my grazed back. I don’t know if I have enough power for this, but I certainly don’t have time to gather any more. I crouch down, tense, and jump. Gravity should pull me down, but magic is stronger than gravity. I propel myself upward, toward the opening in the rock ceiling.

“No!” Zell shouts. I hear him running. Bright light streaks past me, burning my arm. Something hard hits my side. I’m falling, tumbling. I slow myself down, but the impact when I hit the ground still knocks the air from my lungs. I see the cave entrance, unblocked. I scramble up and run.

Zell is shouting. I’m gasping for air. Blasts of magic shoot down the tunnel, lighting up the way for me. I zigzag as much as the tunnel will allow, doing my best to dodge the magic. Sparks sear across my shoulder. It burns, but I don’t stop running.

Memories flash across my open eyes: The storm that appeared when Zell hung Nate over the cliff; the snow in Angelica’s chamber; the rain beating against Nate’s window.

My head whacks into the low part of the front cave’s ceiling, and I land on my back on the ground. My vision blurs horribly. Pain threatens to knock me out. Somehow, though, I remain conscious. I roll onto my hands and knees and push myself up, leaning against the wall so I don’t fall over.

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