“Should we try for the standing stones?” Kimber asked as we started picking our way through the darkness. “I know Seamus said not to, but it’ll take us ten times as long to get to Avalon if we have to walk the whole way.”
“I think I can work them, even if it’s daylight when we get there,” Ethan said, though his tone didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
Keane shook his head. “It’s too risky. Even supposing you’ve got enough juice left to activate the stones and enough power to control them, you can be sure Titania will have already dispatched Knights to guard it.”
We absorbed that unpalatable reality in silence for a moment.
“The long way it is,” I finally said, and tried not to think about how slim our chances were.
* * *
I don’t know how long we traveled that night, though it felt like it was about twelve hours. We all held our breaths every time we had to sneak past one of the Fae houses, but no one spotted us, and eventually the houses petered out and the woods thickened. When the moon disappeared over the horizon, the only hint of light came from the stars. And as if that wasn’t enough to slow us to a crawl, clouds started coming in and the wind started to pick up. In the distance, there was a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder.
“Oh great,” I said as I tripped over yet another tree root. “I’ve always wanted to walk through the woods in a thunderstorm.”
The way my luck was going, I’d be crisped by a bolt of lightning.
The first drop of rain plopped on my nose just a few seconds later, quickly followed by another. When the lightning flashed, the thunder followed more closely on its heels.
“We’d better find a ditch or something to hole up in,” Keane said. “If we stay close enough together, I can stretch my shield spell to cover all of us. I don’t know if it will hold against lightning, but it’s better than nothing.”
“I don’t need your protection,” Ethan protested, all offended dignity.
“Fine,” Keane snapped. “Use your own shield spell. Or go climb a tree and play lightning rod. I don’t care.”
Even in the oppressive darkness, I could see the way Ethan’s eyes glittered, and I hoped he wasn’t going to start something with Keane. Judging by how the wind was kicking up, we didn’t have time for it. The temperature had dropped at least ten degrees in the last few minutes, and the rain that had at first felt almost refreshing now just felt cold.
“Let’s just find that low ground, shall we?” Kimber said, stepping between the boys. She gave her brother a quelling look. “Have you suddenly developed a shield spell I didn’t know about? Because if you haven’t, then you’re going to use Keane’s just like the rest of us.”
“I’m sure I can learn to cast one myself,” Ethan countered, and magical whiz-kid that he was, he probably could.
Kimber nodded. “Yeah, play around with learning a new spell when you’re in a life-threatening situation. That’s real smart. We’ll all be sooo impressed. Right up until you get yourself killed or maimed because you don’t have all the kinks worked out yet.”
Ethan scowled fiercely, but he had to know Kimber was right. He wasn’t happy about it, but at least he stopped arguing.
The rain came more heavily as we scanned the area for somewhere safe we could hole up. The prospects weren’t promising. The terrain was generally flat, and most of the places that looked vaguely shelter-like were actually the insides of trees. The harder the rain fell, the more tempting those hollows looked, but the escalating thunder and lightning reminded us that trees are nature’s lightning rods.
We were getting close to desperate when we found a huge tree that had fallen, pulling up a massive clod of dirt in its roots when it did. It must have fallen recently, since you could still see the hole in the ground where it must have stood.
It wasn’t much, more like a divot when we wanted a ditch, but we all agreed it was the best we could do. The sharp crack and crash of another tree falling somewhere in the darkness had us hurrying into the hollow’s questionable shelter. The wind was now howling, the tone almost musical. I hoped that wasn’t the sound of some bloodthirsty Fae storm-critter out for a hunt.
“Everyone stay close to me,” Keane said, and I felt the spark of his magic starting up.
I sat down beside Keane in the mud and tried not to notice the spark of jealousy that lit Ethan’s eyes. Kimber sat on Keane’s other side, and Ethan plopped down beside me and put a possessive arm around my shoulders.
“Closer,” Keane said, shifting until his hip and leg were pressed up against mine. I didn’t know if he was doing it because his shield spell didn’t stretch far enough, or if he was just trying to annoy Ethan. The tension in Ethan’s body told me how he interpreted the gesture.
Ethan got even more tense—which I hadn’t thought was possible—when Keane put his arm around Kimber and drew her onto his lap. Kimber couldn’t hide her surprise or her pleasure as she cuddled up against him, and I really hoped he wasn’t doing it just to get at Ethan. Kimber deserved better.
“Are you covered?” I asked Ethan, because he was the farthest away from Keane. To emphasize the danger, a heavy branch crashed to the ground just a few feet away from our hiding place. Every time the wind gusted, the raindrops flew parallel to the ground, and the trees were bent practically double. I hoped they didn’t have tornados in Faerie.