As soon as we got to my room, Celeste made me change and sit down on my bed while she set about taking care of my burns with salve. While she took care of it, I closed my eyes and tried to drive every thought of what had happened from my head. After all, there was a tournament next year to prepare for. When Celeste asked if I was okay, I nodded.
“Of course. I was wondering what to do for next year.”
I rattled off a few ideas for an alchemy display that I had formulated. There was going to be a new model of broom I wanted, but its release date was a little close to the Tournament, so I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to break it in… Celeste stopped me.
“Not now, Genevieve.”
Anger rose in my chest, because if I couldn’t think of that, then I would think of everything else. Nadir lying, Amin trying to kill us, the kisses, the sooty box. Worst of all, I’d think of the fire. It was luring in the back of my mind and in the throbbing wounds on my hands. It threatened to return and eat its way up the walls and then it would come for me…
“Genevieve, easy. It’s over now.”
“You’re hyperventilating. Take it easy.”
I hadn’t noticed, but I was out of breath, poised to jump off the bed and run from imaginary flames.
Celeste made me sit again and wound clean, white bandages around my hands when she had made sure that the burns were taken care of. Then she encouraged me to try and rest for a bit. I snorted.
“Haven’t slept well for days,” I said.
She put a hand on my shoulder. “Just try, okay? Once you’ve rested we can go talk to our Egyptian friends.”
Stupid tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my face.
“Nadir… Is he okay?”
“I’ll have to check with my partner. But I thought I heard his voice a moment ago.”
I nodded and expected her to leave me alone, but she stayed on the edge of the bed, and her eyes were full of sympathy. I couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
“He was the one who did that break-in, like you said. He was involved anyway.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I know you liked him.”
“I don’t. I’m … or I do. But I shouldn’t anymore.”
Celeste put a hand on my shoulder. “So, you still do?”
“I don’t know.”
When did it all become this complicated? Last Saturday, I’d have said I was mad at him because he used a transformation like that for something so ridiculous. It was a shame to see someone of great talent doing something foolish, but it couldn’t be helped, and I’d just have to ignore him and move on with my life.
Now, my brain was running in circles around itself, looking for excuses. There had to be a reason for his actions, because as I had come to know him, he’d never do anything like that. And even if he had done it, it didn’t matter, because he would never do it for bad reasons… And the rational part of my brain must be rotting, because I afforded Amin no excuses. As far as I was concerned, he could disintegrate in his stupid, eternal fire. But not Nadir. I had to find an excuse for Nadir because I had to forgive him.
I wanted to forgive him. But I didn’t want to forgive him.
My body shook with a sob, and Celeste did something she had never done before. She put her arms around my shoulders and hugged me, letting me cry into her shirt. She stayed by my side, stroking my back and my hair gently while I sobbed.
Celeste insisted I went downstairs to hear what the two Egyptians had to say, even though I had no desire to be anywhere near them. Nadir sat by the fireplace as we walked in. He looked well enough, with only some scrapes and bruises on his face, and when I asked about it, a gruff-looking man told me that he had a concussion but was otherwise okay. Celeste introduced me to this man, her fairy hunter partner whose name was Ash Hemlock. He was a man of stern silence and grey nuances, a man I suspected always had her back when they were working. I greeted him shortly, but I couldn’t find it in me to care.
Especially not since I then looked around and he was there, seated in a chair close to the fire with his hands cuffed behind his back. He looked as pitiful as ever and when his eyes met mine, they were so full of emotions that I almost cried again.
My brain refused to deal with it. I thought of alchemy recipes and infusion spells and everything I could think of that took me out of this moment and little by little, I made believe that I felt more like myself. I sat down in the armchair next to Cloris and took in the rest of the room. Amin was there, in cuffs, as was Isadora, Orion, and Gabriel. It was impossible to ignore all the bad in the room when I looked at them all. It was concentrated and miserable and tense. Not even my usual technique of thinking of something else worked.
Hemlock closed the door once everyone was seated and Celeste secured the room with a magical barrier. Then she started pacing around the room. Seeing her like this was just as scary as when she had duelled in the basement, maybe even more so. She first turned to Amin with a steely gaze.
“Shall we start from the beginning, Mr. Karimi?”
He hadn’t changed his facial expression at all since we had entered the room, and now he simply gave a nod so small it was almost imperceptible.
“What do you want to know?”
“I want to know what you’re doing here.”
He squared his shoulders and looked straight at her.
“I participated because I wanted to find that spell.” He motioned to the ghost. “The spell that was used to bring that guy back as a ghost.”
“And where did you find it?” Celeste asked.
“A fragment of the Ink Volumes.”
I groaned. The Ink Volumes. It was always those damned Ink Volumes.
“They’re real,” Amin suddenly said, looking at me. “You think you know everything just because you’ve won a contest million times, but you saw what the fire spell could do.”
“That doesn’t mean it came from a volume full of dark spells,” I spat.
“I don’t care if it’s from the Ink Volumes or Madame Grey’s Spell Lexicon for Tiny Tots,” Celeste said, cutting me off and turning back to Amin: “How did you know you could find the spell here?”
“I wasn’t sure I could, but I examined all the ghosts I could find materials about. Once I made it to him,” he said, with a gesture towards Orion, “I realised that he didn’t make sense. He died of an illness, quietly, surrounded by people he loved. Of all the known ghosts, he was the only one who didn’t make sense.”
As far as I knew, ghosts were overwhelmingly created when people died violently and mostly when they were alone. It was hard to say if that was the case though, since there were so few.
“I thought maybe he’d been made with a spell,” Amin said. “From what I could glean from the fragments, you could store a person’s energy after death. It’s a permanent spell that’s tied to an object, so I knew I needed someone to reverse engineer it.” He gestured towards Nadir, and everyone’s attention turned to him. He visibly shrank under their eyes.
“Mr. Hazan?” Celeste said. “Tell us why you’re here.”
He had to clear his throat before talking, and once he did, his voice was meek. “Because Mr. Karimi asked me to help him.”
“So, did you agree because you’re such good friends?”
“I agreed because he promised that once we had the spell, I could use it to bring back my grandfather.” When nobody had anything to say to that, Nadir continued. “I didn’t want to go, but he said it would be easy. Go here, find that spell, leave. But then I became the Council Favourite, and I attracted so much attention and praise. It was too much.”
As if to punctuate his words, Amin snorted.
“A little tip for everyone – don’t work with that guy when you’ve got a plan. First, he acts like the most suspicious guy on the planet and gets everyone’s attention, then in the middle of it all, he left me in the dust. Went from ‘granddaddy this and granddaddy that’ to ‘maybe we shouldn’t’.”
“He used the statue wrong,” Nadir interrupted, glaring at Amin and for once looking less timid. “On the day of the race, I transformed an ice statue for him to use. He told her to find the spell and she didn’t know what to do with that. She can only understand simple commands, so when she couldn’t do as told, she flipped out and tore the house apart.”
“And jumped in the pool,” Cloris said, turning to me. “Remember those traces of water to the pool?”
Nadir nodded. “She automatically started melting about an hour before that, and I enchanted her to find water or a drain when that happened. I used the heat of the pool and a spell to speed up the melting. What matters though is that I didn’t want anything more to do with it after that. I saw how much it frightened everyone and the distress it caused. I told him I wanted out after that.”
“Well I can’t cast that blasted spell myself. I needed your help.”
“So, you blackmailed me,” Nadir said.
The two looked at each other with disgust, and Amin said: “If you hadn’t just given up, I wouldn’t have needed to-.”
Celeste put her hands on her hips and cut him off: “Blackmailed?”
Nadir looked up at her, back to the meek little mouse who wanted to find himself a hiding place.
“He noticed that I… got along with Genevieve.” His eyes turned to me, and my heart skipped a beat. “Once he learnt of the manor’s basement and realised that the spell must be kept there, he redirected the two of us there. He trapped Genevieve in his fire and said that if I didn’t agree to help, he’d let her die. The fire absorbs magical energy, and eventually it would swallow her up.”
“I wasn’t going to actually do it,” Amin said.
“Well you almost did,” Nadir spat. “The fire kept spreading and we could hear her choking in there. Eventually, he let me get her out, and then he decided to burn down the manor instead if we didn’t cooperate.”
Amin opened his mouth to speak but went quiet as soon as Celeste turned to him with fire in her eyes.
“Don’t you dare tell me that wasn’t actually blackmail,” she said. “So, tearing the house apart, blackmailing, and nearly killing someone – why is it worth doing all that for that spell?”
“It’s a spell that can create a ghost,” he said. “That must be self-explanatory.”
“Someone you want to resurrected?” Celeste asked, arms crossed.
Amin let out a shaky breath and his demeanour changed for the first time since I had known him. For just one moment, he wasn’t angry, just resigned.
“Who doesn’t have someone? But for me it was… it’s my wife. Not that it matters now. They said it’s not possible.” He pointed at Nadir and me without looking up.
Celeste looked to the two of us for an explanation. Nadir looked so miserable – as per usual – that I spoke up:
“He’s right,” I said. “We had a look at it. It’s hard to say what it does exactly, but it’s definitely not a resurrection spell. First, because those don’t exist. Second, because the jewellery box is full of soot. That’s pretty much the only thing we can say for sure – it’s a killing spell, but other than that, we can’t know without seeing it cast. Unless Orion knows something.”
The ghost shook his head repeatedly. But when I looked up at Celeste, I noticed that her eyes weren’t on the ghost. I followed her gaze to Isadora. She sat, leaning forward, her face hidden behind bright red bangs, and I thought I saw a tear falling to her knee. Little by little, everyone realised the same thing. Isadora rocked back and forth.
“He was ill,” she said, so quiet I almost thought I imagined it. “So, so ill…”
A transparent hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“It is a ghost spell,” Orion said. “I found the spell and used it on myself when I was ill. You’re right that it killed me, and then it brought me back.”
“That’s a load of nonsense,” Hemlock said behind Celeste.
Gabriel, who until now had been quiet, said: “I was there. That’s what happened.”
Isadora looked up at Orion, shaking her head. “But…”
“I did it. I didn’t register the spell, because I realised that everyone would think it was Dora who did it, but it wasn’t.”
Isadora dissolved into sobs and he floated through the sofa to sit with her. His transparent arms circled her, and Gabriel came over to put his hands on both their shoulders. The entire room went quiet, but there were disconcerted looks all around. Nobody wanted to say what we were all thinking. That every single rule of magic flew in the face of what they were saying.
Celeste got up and told us that none of us were allowed to leave, at least for a few days. She was the first to leave with Amin in tow, and little by little everyone filed out until it was only me and Cloris left. The only ones who hadn’t committed or hidden crimes or had to sort out the mess all the others had created with their crimes. Cloris was the only one who wasn’t involved at all and she looked very small right now, curled up in a little ball.
“I’m sorry he did that,” she said, her voice small. “He seemed… nice. And like he really likes you.”
I nodded. “I thought he did.”
All pointed to the fact that he did. Or I thought so. But I had also been convinced that he would never be part of an offense like that. When it came to Mr. Hazan, I didn’t so much have blind spots as I was just blind.
Feeling lost? If you’ve forgotten previous chapters and need a recap you can find my recap page here. Be aware that it contains spoilers for the story.
Author’s note: Hi guys! And welcome to the penultimate chapter. In two weeks, there’s an epilogue and then… that’s it. Not going to lie, it makes me a little emotional. It also leaves me in a bit of a funky situation because then I’ll just be posting Monte Vista. There WILL be a sequel to CoM but like with this one, I prefer to have it finished before I post – and this time I’ll spend more time on it. I want to use a beta-reader (so boyfriend better free up his calendar, haha!) and I want to have enough time to get it just right 🙂 For the blog, I’ve been working on something new(ish ;D) that I might start posting. It’s still like a month away so I have time to sort out whether it works and whether I want to post it, but so far it’s looking good.
But enough about that, let’s have a random fact for this chapter: See, generally, I don’t come up with names with any particular meanings but for this one, I couldn’t help but have a little fun with my villain’s name. When I looked for Arabic names (on Behindthename.com) I stumbled on the name Amin which means… ‘truthful’. Which he is, indeed, not. I admit, that gives me a chuckle.
In other seriously great news (for me), I’ll have a new computer soon! Wooooooo! We have the cabinet, the power supply, and yesterday we received the CPU and graphics card. Now we’re just waiting for the rest of the stuff which should be here maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s going to be so gosh darn flipping great. Not least for boyfriend who doesn’t have to be bothered by me crying about how much I miss having my own.
Another little message: The past few days, I’ve been a little slow and short in my comments and I’ve mentioned that the recent flurry of posting has tired me out. That’s true, but I want to make it clear that I enjoyed making and reading all those posts as well. It was AWESOME. What tires me out is social anxiety – even when I write a comment that doesn’t seem like a big deal, I second-guess myself and receiving comments is anxiety-inducing as well – I’m that person who flips comments over in my head a million times and feels like I’m bothering you all when I reply. I know that’s probably not the case but I can’t really stop it and it’s tiring. I’m not going anywhere, just know that when I have quiet, short periods, it’s because my brain is messing with me.
Anyway, that’s all from me for now. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far and I will see you for the next one.