After all the noise of the night before, I’d expected there to be a little damage to the staircase outside the door, but given how firmly shut the door had stayed I had figured the rest of the hall would be similarly resilient. I was very wrong.
The walls were covered in large scratches and scorch marks, and what was left of the staircase was mostly just rubble.
“Careful going down, Dillon,” Nixie said, leading the way down. I didn’t know how she felt comfortable walking down the stairs barefoot, but I very thankful for my sneakers as I picked my way around the rubble. As soon as we had all made it through the door Macey shut it behind us, and the hallway was plunged into darkness. It was quiet except for the sound of the locks clicking into place, and I wondered if the others were taking a moment to let their eyes adjust too. Could crows see in the dark? Or did that not matter, because they were technically magical creatures?
I could see the faintest light from up ahead, but the stairs curved so much that it didn’t really help me. I could barely even see my own hand in front of my face, let alone a safe path down the stairs. It made me wish I’d thought to take the candle with me, at least then I’d have something to see by. Although… Nixie never said that I had to have a candle to make fire.
I focused on the air just above where my hand was. I couldn’t really see it, but I pictured a fire there, and felt the thrum of magic from the amulet. It didn’t need to be big, just bright enough to show them the way.
Suddenly the hall was filled with light, though it wasn’t in my hand. I looked up to see that there were torches mounted on the walls, with about three feet between each of them. “Whoa.”
“Great job Dillon!” Nixie said, grinning back at me. “How’d you know about those?”
I shrugged. “I was just trying to light the way.”
“Huh,” Nixie said, giving her own shrug before turning back and continuing down the stairs. I followed her down, and Baron went behind me, with Lilith bringing up the rear. When we reached the bottom I found that the faint light I’d seen earlier was coming through what remained of the wall where the passage’s hidden entrance had once been. The wall had been completely torn down, almost as if a bomb had gone off. The hall past it was even worse, every window was broken, and most of the doors had been pulled open when the rooms were ransacked. There were even more scorch marks here, and there were more scratches gouged into the walls and floor too.
Nixie’s mouth formed a tight line as she led the way through the castle; every room seemed to have received a similar treatment, though some had stranger things as well. The parlor where Macey and I had sat with Aunt Pen last night had been overrun with thick, flowering vines, and the entryway was filled with giant shards of ice. When we got outside the yard seemed even worse than it had from the tower window; the grass was torn up, and there were deep trenches carved into the muddy ground. I found a set of footprints that looked like they belonged to a dog, except for the part where I could stand inside of one. The look Nixie gave Baron when she saw them was one of worry, so I didn’t ask what sort of creature could have left them.
We worked our way through the yard in silence, until we reached the fence. The forest was encroaching on it, and close up it seemed like it wasn’t just the underbrush that had moved closer, but the trees themselves as well. The forest seemed darker than the rest of the world, the sunlight was just dimmer there, somehow. Either because the fence was down or because I now knew what magic felt like, I could feel the power coming from those trees, dark and dangerous.
“Last chance to turn back kid,” Nixie said, eyeing the forest with a frown.
“Not happening,” I answered. Nixie nodded like she’d expected that, then stepped forward and crossed through the fence. Lilith followed her, eyes scanning the trees for danger as she stepped through the gap.
“Ready to see the Otherworld?” Baron asked. I took a deep breath and gave him a firm nod, then followed the others through the opening.
No going back now.