“I have been remiss as a hostess,” she said, smiling at everyone. It was the kind of practiced smile you see on the face of celebrities who were posing to have their pictures taken, looking ever so slightly false. “Please, take your seats and let us have some dinner.”
Princess Elaine moved toward the thronelike chair at the head of the table. The rest of us, taking our cue from my father, remained on our feet. I presumed we were waiting for her to sit first.
The princess touched her chair, and one of the servants hurried forward to pull it out for her. He didn’t get the chance.
A deafening boom shattered the stillness of the room, and a wall of heated air punched me in the chest, throwing me to the floor. Flames leapt from the princess’s chair, catching on the tablecloth and linens as splinters of wood rocketed through the room like arrows. Smoke and dust filled the air, making it hard to breathe.
I’d fallen hard on my back, and for a moment I lay there in shock, having no idea what had just happened. But the fire was advancing along the tablecloth, the wood beneath it beginning to burn, and I knew I couldn’t lie there until I got reoriented. I pushed myself up unsteadily to my elbows and peered through the smoke toward the head of the table.
The princess’s chair had been almost completely obliterated, and flames now consumed it. And the princess lay facedown, bloody, and unmoving on the floor beside it.
My head ached, and my ears were ringing, and my brain still wasn’t quite working at peak capacity. For a moment, I just sat there, staring, coughing as each breath brought more smoke and dust into my lungs.
Everywhere around me, people were screaming. The servant who had been pulling on the princess’s chair lay crumpled in a bloody heap against the wall, and it looked like a couple of the other servants who’d been nearby had been hurt as well.
I glanced frantically around, looking for my dad and my friends. Ethan was just staggering to his feet across the table from me, helping Kimber up as he did. Neither of them seemed badly hurt, thank God. Beside me, looking almost as dazed as I felt, Keane pulled a wooden splinter the size of a steak knife out of his shoulder.
“Are you all right?” I yelled at him, probably talking too loud because my ears were ringing.
He coughed and nodded. And then my dad jumped over the flaming table—no doubt assisted by magic. There was blood on his face, and it looked like his suit had been singed, but otherwise he looked okay. He bent and put his arm around me, hauling me to my feet.
“Come on,” he said.
Instinctively, I grabbed my backpack, just barely getting a grip on it before my dad shoved me toward the nearest door and beckoned for Keane to follow. A couple of the Fae servants were trying to put out the fire by beating it with their jackets, but that didn’t seem likely to work. They needed fire extinguishers, but there weren’t any available in Faerie.
“Ethan! Kimber!” my dad shouted over the noise of the flames and the frantic servants. “Come on. Hurry!”
They had to take the long way around the table—I guess Ethan’s magic wasn’t up to carrying him and Kimber over without them being French fried—and by the time they reached my side, Dad was practically sprinting out the door, still holding my arm.
I stumbled to keep up as my friends followed close behind.
“Where are we going?” I asked. My throat was raw, and I had to cough before I could find my voice again. “People need help in there!”
I tried to slow down, but Dad was having none of it. And Keane pushed on my back, just in case I didn’t get the hint.
“A bomb just went off in that room,” my dad said to me as we continued to run. “There are no bombs in Faerie.”
I coughed again, then checked over my shoulder to make sure Ethan and Kimber were still there. They were. Ethan’s face was a study of determination, and Kimber looked pale and shaky, leaning on him a bit as they ran. I hoped she wasn’t hurt.
There are no bombs in Faerie. Of course there weren’t, not naturally. But with a Faeriewalker in the vicinity …
I started shaking my head as we ran. We were beginning to pass others who were running the other way, investigating the blast. A couple of them tried to stop us to ask what was going on, but Dad kept forcing us to run.
“They won’t think…” I started, but I didn’t finish the sentence, because oh, yes, they would think! I was the only Faeriewalker in the world, and a bomb could only work if it was in a Faeriewalker’s presence—and had been for the entire time since that Faeriewalker had crossed the border from Avalon to Faerie. Anyone would assume I was the one who’d brought the bomb.
“Oh my God,” I breathed as we pounded down the hallway then burst out of a door into the courtyard. The imposing stone walls and turrets loomed over us menacingly, making me feel even smaller and more scared than I already was. Torches lit the courtyard brightly, but their light didn’t reach the tops of the walls, which disappeared into the darkness.
There weren’t a whole lot of people around at this time of night, but those who were there didn’t seem particularly alarmed. I wondered if they’d been able to hear the blast out here with all those layers of stone to muffle it. Maybe even if they had, they wouldn’t know what it was, might think it was just thunder.
Dad looked at me with wild, frightened eyes. “You have to keep running,” he said to me, pointing toward the gate that we’d passed through earlier today. “Get back to Avalon.” He turned to Ethan. “If you have any concealment magic, I suggest you use it. They’re confused by the blast right now, but they’ll quickly regroup and come after you. I know you’re good at magic, but don’t risk the standing stones. Take the long way around.” Then he turned to Keane. “Keep her safe!” he ordered.