The hall was empty when I slipped into it, and I grabbed onto the Fortuna coin once more as I tried to decide which way to go. Left felt luckier, though it was the way we’d come from, and I quietly crept down the hall. I continued on like that, holding onto the coin and letting it guide me, always following my first instinct.
It took a while before the fear faded enough for me to move again. I crept out from behind the couch carefully, taking in the wreckage of the once beautiful room. There was broken glass, loose feathers, and even blood scattered across the room. Several pieces of furniture had been smashed, and I flinched as my mind matched the wreckage with the thuds and crashes I’d heard earlier.
I moved towards an opened but undamaged armoire; had someone been hiding in it? I replayed the fight in my head. Baron must have tried to hide in plain sight, posing as a decoration. Lilith had also likely hidden in crow form, and probably hadn’t shifted back during the fight. Which left Nixie, who had first spoken from this side of the room.
I pulled the doors open further, finding coats and scarves and, tucked in one corner, the set of glowing bottles Nixie had grabbed. She’d called them elemental grenades and said that each color was different, but she hadn’t explained them further. I grabbed them anyway; it just felt like the right thing to do. I scanned the room again, remembering one of the other objects Nixie had taken from Aunt Pen’s tower and the clatter I’d heard when Amos grabbed her.
At first, I didn’t see anything that wasn’t broken, but I also didn’t see anything that looked like it had been a box, so I decided to peek under what was left of the furniture. In the end, I found it tucked under the splintered remains of an ornate end table. Nixie’s box, which she said was a prison, and Amos had said only a human could use.
The box didn’t look very special; it was small enough to fit in my hand, made out of light wood with a carving of a Celtic knot on the top. As far as I could tell there was no way to open it, and while I could feel its power, I didn’t know how to trigger it. I sighed, the fear from earlier coming back as I slipped the box into my pocket anyway.
I was all alone in a strange world, and the only people who could help me were captured. I thought of Macey, safe in the tower with Alexei. Would the plan have worked if I’d stayed with her instead? I thought about trying to get back to her, but I didn’t know the way, and there was no amount of dumb luck that would get me back to the human world, magic coin or not.
Thinking of the coin, I slipped my hand into my pocket, rubbing it between two fingers. Was it the reason I hadn’t been caught with everyone else? And, more importantly, would it be enough to help me slip through the mansion undetected?
I felt a warm pulse of magic wash over me at the question and had the sudden feeling that yes, it could do that. I thought back to Lilith’s advice when I picked the coin, telling me to follow my first instinct. The coin had called to me then, and it seemed like it was calling to me now, telling me what to do. I took a deep breath, then turned and made my way to the door. It was time to follow my gut.
The change was instant. As dim as the woods had seemed before, they were even darker now, and when I looked up I could no longer see the sky above me, but it didn’t seem like it was day anymore. When I turned back I could still see the castle, and it was even still day there, but everything past the fence was foggy and seemed distant. Baron stepped through behind me, and as he stepped through he became clearer. It was a strange thing to watch, and I turned back to look at the woods instead.
The feeling of power was intensified here, and I felt other kinds of magic besides the trees. The trees were tall, and it almost seemed like they moved every time I looked away from them. There was a clear path leading away from the fence, but it branched off the further we moved from the fence. Everything about this place seemed unnatural to me, and I was very glad that I wasn’t alone.
Lilith was leading now, and no matter how many times the trail split she never seemed unsure of where to go. It was quiet as we walked, quieter than any forest ought to be, and while we saw no creatures of any kind, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. The forest didn’t change as we walked, and the only way I could tell that we’d moved was that I could no longer see the fence behind me, which didn’t really make me feel any better. I almost thought we must have gotten lost, but the others showed no signs of unease past their extra alertness. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 11
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. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 10
“I did it!” I grinned at Nixie, and she smiled back at me, but she looked a little resigned too.
“So you did,” she said. “Alright, you can head out with us.”
“Try not to die horribly,” Lilith added. “Your aunt would be rather cross with us.”
It turns out that magic is a little more difficult than it looks in the movies, but that mostly has to do with how finicky artifacts are. The first artifact Nixie gave me was a pocket watch that was supposed to be able to freeze objects and enemies in mid-air. The plan was for her and Baron to throw apples at me and see if I could stop them from hitting me. I didn’t like the plan, but I figured if I argued I wouldn’t get to help, so I agreed and moved away from the window.
“Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you right away,” Nixie said. “Artifacts have to be attuned to your energy before they’ll work properly, and some of them may not be able to do so right away, or at all, in some cases.”
“What cases are those?” Macey asked, eyeing the watch like it might bite her, and holding up the recipe book like a shield. I thought that was silly since nobody was going to throw fruit at her.
“Sometimes artifacts grow attached to their users, and then they won’t work correctly for anyone else,” Baron said. “Other times their energy just isn’t meant to match up with their would be user. There are ways to test for that other than just trying to use the artifacts, but we don’t really have time for that.”
“Okay, so how is this watch supposed to work then? Like is there a word, or—Ow! Hey!” Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 8
“The first thing you need to know is that magic is real, and it’s very, very dangerous,” Nixie said. “There are two worlds, one for humans and one for magical creatures, and the places where those worlds meet have to be guarded.”
“This castle and the forest around it is one of those places,” Baron said. “Your aunt is the Caretaker, and the fence is the border. So long as the fence was intact, the magic of the Otherworld was contained. When it was broken, a path between the worlds was opened, and magical creatures started coming through.”
“They can’t stay past dawn though,” Nixie said, “not without a blessing from the Caretaker, at least. But they’ll be back when the sun goes down, and if they ever get in here they won’t need the Caretaker at all.”
“It’s a good thing you were able to get here before the others,” Baron said. “Only the Caretaker can open the room from outside, but if you hadn’t been able to lock the door again, or if you’d unlocked it…”
He trailed off, but he didn’t need to tell us what would have happened for us to be afraid of it. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 7
After all the noise of the night before, I think it was the silence that woke me up. The rain had finally stopped, and the world had finally gone quiet after the wild panic of the night before. The candles around the room had gone out while we slept, but now that the sun was up there was dim light shining through the curtains. The door was still locked, and it seemed undamaged despite the best efforts of whatever had attacked the room earlier.
Now that there was nothing trying to force its way in, I felt safe enough to investigate the room. The wood cabinet was locked up tight, but the work table had more then enough weird things on it for me. Besides the cauldron, there was an assortment of herbs and stones, and several rows of shelves holding dozens of little bottles filled with powders, liquids, and what appeared to be bones. Each bottle was labeled in Aunt Pen’s neat script, but not in English. There was also a book filled with recipes, but none of them looked like they made food. At least, I hoped they weren’t food.
Macey yawned behind me, and I turned to see her rubbing her eyes as she woke up. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 6
The moment the sky went dark, Aunt Pen was grabbing us both and pulling us out of the room. I could hear howling from outside, followed by the familiar cawing of crows, and while the noises scared me, the panicked look on Aunt Pen’s face was what kept me from asking questions. Her face had lost all color, and as she pulled us through the halls and up the stairs she kept looking around like she expected something to jump out of the shadows at us.
When we got to the third floor, Aunt Pen started leading us down a very familiar hallway. It was where we’d first started looking for the passage to the tower, and when Aunt Pen stopped in front of that blank wall it occurred to me that she might not have been completely honest when she said she’d never found the passageways.
There was a crash behind us, and Macey and I turned to see a crow had crashed through a window down the hall. Before I could even try to identify him though, there was a scraping sound, and we turned again to see the stone wall opening up to reveal a staircase. Aunt Pen grabbed us and pushed us through the opening. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 5
The rain kept on for the next three days. Macey and I explored every room we could get into: spare bedrooms, parlors, a study. The first day was all hide and seek, and while there were plenty of great places for us to hide, with only two of us it got boring quickly, with the seeker often being unable to find the other. Hiding got boring when no one was around to find you. After I hid behind a couch and under a curtain, Macey spent an hour trying and failing to find me, so we called off the game until we could get more players. On the second day we stayed together and explored what we could, even venturing into the basement to see if there was a dungeon, but we only managed to find the wine cellar before Macey insisted on going back upstairs.