Fighting our way through the underbrush was grueling work, and more than once, a stray branch poked at my burn and made me whimper in pain.
The sun was just beginning to rise when we heard the distinctive burble of water in the distance. We were lucky the day was quiet and still, or we might have missed it, because it was farther from the road than we’d imagined. Our hearts all rose at having successfully found the landmark, and our footsteps quickened as we began to follow the stream’s meandering course.
With my sense of direction, I had no idea when the stream’s course veered away from the road, but by the time the sun was high in the sky, Kimber informed us we were now traveling west, instead of continuing south like the road. Unfortunately, we had no clue how far we still had to go before we found the standing stones, and we were all terrified that we would somehow miss them. The Green Lady had told us the stream would lead us to them, but she hadn’t told us what to look for.
It turned out we needn’t have worried about missing them. After we’d been following the stream a few hours, it widened out until it was almost broad enough to call a river. A very rocky river, interrupted by frequent outcroppings and sandbars. It was on one of those sandbars that we found the standing stones.
This circle was much smaller than the one we’d traveled through with the prince’s caravan. There were six stones, each only about six feet high, and we would have to wade through the water to get to them. Luckily, the water didn’t look too deep, though the current was dangerously swift.
We stood on the banks of the stream and stared at those stones, our impossible escape route that now seemed possible. Home was so close …
And yet, we were still hours from nightfall, when the stones would be naturally active, and we didn’t dare let our most powerful magic user call magic.
“I can work them,” Ethan said quietly, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was sorely tempted to take him up on it.
“Are you sure you can work them?” Kimber asked. “Or do you just think you can?”
Ethan didn’t answer, and we all knew what that meant.
“We can’t risk it,” Keane said. “Even if we were willing to risk letting you call magic—which I, for one, am not—you’d get us all killed if the spell failed.”
“I know that,” Ethan said irritably. “It just sucks to be this close to getting home and not be able to take that final step.”
“Yeah, it sucks, but that’s the way it is,” I said, though I felt as frustrated and anxious as Ethan did. “Let’s find somewhere to hole up for a few hours. Preferably somewhere out of sight of the stones. They aren’t exactly conveniently located, but that doesn’t mean we’re the only people who’d ever use them.”
No one found any flaws in my suggestion, so we wandered down the banks of the stream until we found a sheltered embankment where we could wait out the rest of the day. We were all exhausted, and determined to spend as many of the remaining hours of daylight sleeping as possible.
“I’ll take the first watch,” I told the others, though I had to stifle a yawn as I forced the words out. Tired as I was, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep if I tried. Now that I was sitting down and not fighting my way through the brush, I was much more aware of the searing burn, and it might well be enough to keep me up. The thought that I might fall asleep and accidentally roll over onto that shoulder was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.
Kimber and Keane shared a look I couldn’t interpret.
“I’ll stay up with you,” Kimber said.
I shook my head. “Get some rest. I promise I’m not going to fall asleep on duty or anything.”
There was another of those looks between Kimber and Keane, like they were communicating silently.
“That’s not what we’re worried about,” Kimber finally said.
I heaved a sigh of exasperation, because this evasion was so not what I was in the mood for. “Then what are you worried about?” I asked, and I didn’t even try to hide my irritation.
“They’re worried about me,” Ethan answered for them. “If one of them is on watch and I start to call magic, they’ll feel it and be able to stop me. You won’t.”
It was time for Ethan and me to share the knowing look, because Ethan knew perfectly well I could sense magic. He even knew what I could do with it, having seen me turn Aunt Grace mortal. But obviously he still thought I should keep my ability secret, even from my best friends.
Maybe he was right. Maybe it was a case of the fewer people who knew, the better. Maybe I was being irrational because I was scared and in pain. But I was sick and tired of lying and keeping secrets.
“I can sense magic,” I told them all bluntly. “I know Faeriewalkers aren’t supposed to be able to, but I can. I can call it, too.”
Kimber and Keane gaped at me, and Ethan shook his head in disapproval. I figured since I’d gone that far, I might as well go the rest of the way.
“I don’t seem to be able to cast regular magic spells,” I continued, “but when I’m in danger I can do this spell that turns Fae into mortals. I’d never have survived the Bogle attack otherwise. A bunch of them almost caught me, and … and I turned them mortal.” The Bogles were monsters, and they’d been trying to kill me at the time, but I still shuddered with horror at the memory of what I had done. Monsters they might have been, but they were living beings.