My father’s death.  I still remembered its ache, the emptiness that gutted my insides.  Even the phantom cloud that hung over my head this summer was a clear, not-so-distant memory—the one spawned by my frustrations that crushed me with doubt.  But this… This feeling that saddled me now…  This was foulness unto itself.  Numbing would have been more tolerable.  Hollow would have shown more mercy.  What plagued me was restless and gnawing and unabating.  And that was only the half of it.  Mentally, I’d never felt more naked or ashamed or been any madder at myself.  I only wished a prousite collar could make me all bright and shiny again, scrub its rawness from my skin.  Sadly though, there was only one remedy for what ailed me.  One magical and elusive cure.

 

And that was finding my wand.

 

My key had been out of the ignition for almost ten minutes, and I couldn’t bring myself to open the car door.  My gaze swung to the Tudor manor as I squeezed the steering wheel.  The warmth of its creamy stucco and stone façade seemed colder than it had only four short days ago.   Even its charming blanket of ivy felt nothing short of strangling.

 

I stretched back in my seat, trying to shove the tension from my muscles.  If I could just make it down to my bedroom undetected, maybe those first words out of Silas’ mouth wouldn’t hit as hard.  Yeah, I was hoping for an awful lot.  Going easy on a person just wasn’t in the genie’s repertoire.  In fact, I would be willing to bet that the only slack the house steward had ever cut in his life came off the hem of his pressed-to-perfection pant legs.

 

I looked at the windows, my skin crawling.  Ugh…  I could practically feel the prickle of his moss-green eyes piercing through the sheers, waiting to pounce like a tiger crouched in the brush.  And knowing Tanner wouldn’t be here for another hour, I predicted a full sixty-minutes of non-stop, genie smack-talk.  Worst of all, I deserved it.

 

Well, some of it.

 

Grudgingly, my head crashed towards my lap with a sigh.  Then finally, with nothing short of Herculean will, I popped the handle and climbed out of my Charger.  I’d already resigned myself to taking his punches on the chin—no matter how hard they landed.  At least that was the plan going in.

 

The gusts streaming off the ocean seemed to be pushing me along the flagstone path, its lace of salt tasting bitter in my mouth.  If anything, its stiff winds had me posturing my spine and cementing my lips into a firmer line—ready for anything the resident “mouth of the house” dished out.

 

I wasn’t halfway up the steps when a sharp “click” rattled the air and then the walnut double doors came flying open, too fast for the hinges to even groan.  And there stood the house steward, smack in the center of the threshold looking as crisp and polished as ever in his three-piece gray suit, his shoulders squared and his eyes casting a particularly superior gleam.

 

“Why there’s the little pyromaniac — finally.”  Silas directed a nod to my Charger.  “Were you waiting for me to poof the front door over to you?  You simply needed to wish it,” he cooed.

 

I tightened the invisible wall of steel wrapping my frame as I landed on the porch, mentally tugging it like I was girding a belt.  “Hello, to you too, Silas,” I sang buoyantly.  Nope.  He could take all the nips and nibbles he wanted; I refused to let him get the better of me.

 

The equally bubbly-looking house steward cleared the doorway with a sprightly wave.  “So tell me, Ms. Wallace… Was torching one library not good enough?”

 

Ignore him, I reminded myself and then kicked up the heat of my smile.

 

With an endearing smirk, Silas’ eyes began probing me like a balloon he was determined to pop in precisely the right spot.  “And here I thought the targets of your arson were limited to ancient supernatural scribes.  Congratulations, Ms. Wallace.  You have proven that when it comes to the literary labors of others, you are without a drop of prejudice.  The entire pen-wielding world is on your hit-list.”

 

The theatrical way Silas had windmilled his arms whirled me straight towards the doorway of the cave with the rigid pivot of a soldier.  And of course, he followed right on my heels.  My only option now was mentally plugging my ears and filling my head with a never-ending stream of, La, la, la, la, las—which, I did.

 

“Then again,” Silas continued, his voice booming over the hurried clomp of my steps.  “I seem to recall the events that preceded your last bonfire.”  He jumped ahead of me once we’d reached the second landing, halting me in my tracks with a pitiful expression.  “Be honest, Ms. Wallace — Were you saddened to learn that there was yet another Xcavare function you couldn’t attend with Professor Grey?”

 

My eyes flared.  Crap.  I hadn’t thought of that, as ridiculous as it was.  Lucky for me, Dr. Silas Freud was willing to connect those psychological dots for me.

 

Silas tapped his finger against his chin and drawled his assessment.  “Yesss.  I’m starting to think your latest literary crime may have been premeditated.  Either by you or your subconscious.”  He flicked a frivolous glare to the top of my head.  “Whatever rules that roost.”

 

My hands sought out my waist with a squeeze, feeling the slip of my impenetrable shield.  “I didn’t start that other one,” I corrected.

 

Silas tipped his head.  “They were your faeries, were they not?  Connected to your heart’s desires?”

 

I rolled my eyes as I stepped around him and continued my charge down the steps.  Dammit, he was making this hard!  Silas kept on following like the most dedicated torturer.  And he didn’t need a whip to get my feet to stepping quicker.  The slice of his razor-sharp tongue was enough of an incentive.

 

“Might I suggest the next time we seek another stone, we try for one that reigns over water?” Silas posed.  “I hear iolites are all the rage.”

 

My feet halted with a stomp on the next landing.  “Yeah — They are,” I grumbled, feeling the need to wring the clench from my hands.  “I bet you would’ve loved to have seen that in person.”

 

Silas’ eyes sparkled with amusement.  “That’s quite all right.  I’m content with catching the reruns.  I have no doubts that you’re still stewing about it.”

 

Ugh… Right now, I’d give anything to add another water stone to my collection, though a much more practical one, like a tanzanite.  A stone that was similar to an iolite, both in its beauty and violet-blue coloring, only instead of artistic skills and inspiration, that particular gem held the power of making one go temporarily deaf.  My only chance of muffling his jabs.

 

Teeth grinding, I carried on down the steps.  And I just knew the nosey house steward had been eavesdropping on my silent wishes for a tanzanite, because surprisingly, he didn’t utter another word.  Instead, those crafty genie-hands of his made a point of kicking up the flames of every lit torch I passed and then tapered their blaze down to barely a flicker once I’d cleared them.  Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a bottle with a cork, especially when I thought about the miles and miles of ocean that lay right outside—just an open window and a fling away.

 

When I finally arrived at the bronze door of my bedroom, my hands couldn’t grasp hold of its knob fast enough.  I’d hoped the sight of the boudoir’s serene loveliness would instantly stifle some of my worries—but it didn’t.  Probably because of all those newly-added chrome sprinkler heads shining like stars above my head.

 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the scheming bastard had missed me a little bit.

 

Silas cleared his throat in the doorway and bumped his nose to the ceiling.  “I hope you don’t mind.  I thought the room needed a slight modification.”

 

A smirk ripped across my face as I lowered my gaze to his.  “Thoughtful as always.”

 

“It was either installing those sprinklers or issuing you a portable fire extinguisher.”  Silas flicked his gaze to the new handbag hanging from my shoulder.  “Though something tells me it wouldn’t have fit in there.”

 

Oh, I knew exactly where this was headed; it was only a matter of time.  “Go ahead,” I said, my hands smacking my sides in defeat.  “Fire up the wand cracks.  Let’s get this over with.”

 

Silas laid a hand against his chest and took an aggrieved step backward.  “I’ll have you know I hadn’t planned on saying a word about that.  In fact, I was going to point out the bright-side in this tragedy.”

 

My brow rose clear to my scalp.  “Bright-side?”

 

“At least all those nasty picture-postings will stop.”

 

He was right about that.  “Yay for me,” I groused.  I honestly couldn’t have cared less, despite how mean some of them had been, namely the ones he’d left.  This mess, this entire gut-wrenching predicament was my fault—mine, and mine alone—regardless of that creature’s scheming.  I’d allowed Mike to play upon my guilt enough that I’d ultimately caved to his request.  And worse than that, I’d forsaken the magical platinum holster that Tanner had wanted me to use.  That alone would have kept my wand from being taken.  And if I’d had my diamond blade at the ready, the library wouldn’t have ended up as crispy.  Maybe.

 

Silas twitched his nose in disapproval as his eyes traced the silhouette of my bag.  “I’m guessing that style was the last thing on your mind when making your selection.”

 

Yeah, he was right about that too.  I’d simply grabbed the first bag I’d seen in one of the boutiques downtown, not caring about its style, size, or color.  My stare fell to the plain-looking, charcoal leather Hobo handbag at my side, what now seemed like a perfect match to my mood at the time—gray and droopy.  I’d debated not getting a new one at all.  Not when it couldn’t conceal my identity or hide all of my magical valuables like my gris-gris.  It wasn’t like I had that much to put in it anyway, just a virtually-empty new wallet, my phone, and my keys.  Though I supposed I should consider myself fortunate that Ms. Richards had taken my Student ID and cellphone, and that I’d started putting my keys in the front pouch of my backpack, mainly because I’d grown tired of digging around in my bag for them.  Just feeling how weightless my lackluster new sack felt hanging from my shoulder only heightened my disgust.

 

A heavy sigh sent the straps of the handbag sliding down my arm, where I let it coast all the way to my wrist and then plopped it down onto the table, wanting to be rid of the reminder.

 

Silas’ hands flew towards the edges of the table, seeking to halt its rattle.  “Careful,” he warned.  “That bag may not hold any value but this Louis XIV antique still does.”

 

I simply didn’t have it in me to throw back in his face that the imp had turned that very same table into kindling once before.   My thoughts carried me over to the charming canopy bed, my hands now gripping one of its posters.  I’d assumed Tanner would tell him what had happened.  Of course, he would, whether because of their bond or because he’d thought the genie could be of some assistance.  But I wasn’t interested in the specifics of what had been said.  I wanted to know what Tanner’s temperament had been like throughout his reveal.  The only thing I’d gleaned from the Amethyst Talisman’s behavior was a façade of unshakable cool and calm.  Then, after telling him everything that had happened, Tanner took me straight back to my dorm, so he could search for the creature—alone.  I could tell he was conflicted about it too: torn between wanting to stay with me and wanting to start hunting that thing.  And I knew why Tanner didn’t want me going with him, or better yet, why he wanted me to stay put in my room.  By doing that, he would know exactly where I was, just in case he ran into the creature looking like an identical clone of me.  I’d assured him that I understood his reasons, and then went a step further by giving him an out, telling him that I needed to contact my bank so they could cancel my card and issue me a new one—which I did.  And then, just as soon as I’d hung up the phone, I contacted Padimae to see if she could help locate my bag.  After all, Tanner didn’t know about the braid of hair she’d given me, and I couldn’t mention it since I hadn’t had made my witch-confession yet.  And now… Now, I knew I couldn’t stomach that talk.  Not with this mess so painfully fresh.  And then, to make matters worse, I planned on compounding my omission by telling him an outright lie, that I’d miraculously discovered a speck of blood left on one of the scraps from the ruined voodoo doll that allowed me to get in contact with her.  A temporary C.Y.A. bandage that I knew would carry a harsh sting when ripped off.

 

The Voodoo Queen had tried a variety of spells and chants, none of which worked.  The only thing her magic produced were a few flashing images of the creature in its various forms.  But all wasn’t for naught.  She did have some good news.  After revealing what Kamya knew about the creature, Padimae assured me that it couldn’t retrieve any of the gris-gris’ magical contents.  The fact that the creature had imprinted on me didn’t matter in the least.  Lá Léo had bonded the purse to my soul, and a soul could not be replicated or mimicked by any sort of magic, no matter how pure or powerful—no matter if it was Earth, Veil, or Darklands.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that the creature was very much my enemy.  And for my sake, I was hoping it stayed that way.

 

My grip tightened around the poster of the bed, unable to stand not knowing for a second longer.  I cast a hopeful glance over my shoulder.  “So Silas… How did Tanner seem when he told you?”

 

The intensity of his glare was jarring.  “How do you think?” Silas replied.  “Though I have no doubts that Professor Grey downplayed the situation as best he could for your sake.”

 

My gaze swung back to the plush duvet and its umpteen frilly pillows.  I’d figured as much.  There was one thing, however, that Tanner hadn’t masked: how positively livid he was at Kamya.  Not only for her blatant disregard when it came to chronicling the creature, but for her reckless decision to send it back the way she had—a taboo attempt to make a tiny crack in The Veil that The Guardians had forbidden, no less—which, in the end, had ultimately failed.  Though I supposed the Ruby Talisman was just that desperate to cover up the entire thing after being tricked into going to bed with a hot-human “10” and then waking up to a ghoulish “2”.  Just thinking about it had me gagging from my own revolting flashbacks.

 

Silas shook his head.  “The only course of action Professor Grey hasn’t pursued as of yet is to plaster the entire state with ‘Missing Mystical Weapon’ posters.  Though I’m sure that’s coming.”

 

I threw up my hand.  “You can stop at any time, Silas.  Trust me, I feel crappy enough.”

 

Silas strutted towards me, his steps stony.  “Do you realize what a mess this is?”  He turned from my gaze with a blustery huff and then took to fluffing pillows.  “It wouldn’t be so bad if you could clear that mind of yours enough to hear the wand’s calls.”  His hand dented the center pillow with a strategic smack and then stretched its top corners with a pinch.  “But alas,” he sighed.  “You can’t.”

 

“And your cracks aren’t helping me in that department,” I snapped.  “Have you forgotten about Professor Grey’s longstanding order?  You know the one… Whatever Miss Wallace needs?  Well, right now, Miss Wallace needs for you to zip your lip!”

 

The boisterous roll of the house steward’s laughter sent his spine arching backward. “Wants and needs are two entirely different things,” he clarified.  “You’re nowhere near beating yourself up over this, so why should I stop?”

 

 I glowered at his backside as he headed for the door.  So it seemed there was something worse than Tanner being right—HIM.  I slammed the door shut with a gust and then crashed onto my bed, riding the bounces straight into dismal stillness.  Two days ago, being here, in the sanctuary of this room would have soothed me like the wrap of a cozy blanket.  And now, all I could feel were its walls closing in on me, starting with the crush of the bed’s lavish canopy.  I’d thought I would immediately start feeling better, regardless of Silas’ taunts.  And I wasn’t counting on a total purge of my foulness, just enough to vent a little of the anger and tension I’d been wrestling with.  But how could me being here—or anywhere for that matter—offer any sort relief?  Not when I’d allowed an ancient and highly-coveted supernatural weapon—MY WEAPON—to be stolen so easily by some thieving Darklands’ bastard.  This was as tragic as it was humiliating.  Even I knew that.

 

I pressed my eyes to a firm close.  And so help me — I didn’t want any supernatural outside of Tanner, Kamya, Silas, and Padimae finding out about it.

 

It wasn’t long before my restlessness drove me down to the weapons vault.  Then again, my subconscious may have wanted me in a room where I could arm myself more properly if Silas came calling again.

 

As I wandered around the vault, getting lost in the warm and tingly vibe of the Veil magic pulsing like a song from all the weapons, I spotted a familiar collection of items housed in one of the cases.  Lazarus’ journal, the vegvísir, and the medallion.  For some reason, I’d assumed I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while, like a punishment for not telling Tanner about the journal sooner.  Yet there they were, lying on a shelf—my prized booty.  But the fact that they were in here, locked inside the vault instead of down in his library, hinted that Tanner hadn’t been able to uncover anything about the journal.  Or maybe he just wanted to keep them safe.  Whichever it proved to be, I was bound to find out.

 

I collected the vegvísir, rocked by a sore sense of irony.  Was it too much to ask that this mystical do-dad could kindly point me in the direction of my wand?  Somehow?  And despite how eager I’d been to snatch the magical compass at the time, now I wouldn’t think twice about trading it for one that worked like Captain Jack Sparrows’.  I breathed out a heavy sigh.  Then again, I seemed to remember the pirate’s handy little device not working for him all the time either.  My head rocked to the ceiling.  Not if his thoughts weren’t clear

 

“Please tell me that you aren’t in here searching for another powerful and priceless weapon to lose,” Silas posed, his voice growing with the clomps of his wingtip Oxfords.

 

I placed the vegvísir back on the shelf and whirled to him.  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but my wand getting stolen from me isn’t quite the same thing as losing it,” I argued.

 

Silas nodded.  “You’re absolutely right.  One suggests that you were outsmarted and the other suggests poor judgment and no prudence.”  Silas then extended his hand, and in it, lay the magical platinum holster that I’d snubbed.  “Though when you stop to think about all the facts, I’m quite certain you ensured your wand’s eventual loss when this wasn’t strapped to your leg when departing the other day.”  Silas tossed the holster down onto the table with a thump that rivaled the strike of a gavel.  “What do you think?”

 

I gripped my wrist, working my fingers underneath the metal of my ruby cuff, and then stroked them across my skin, needing to feel the traces of Veil magic from the elf’s gift.  As much I wanted him to shut his trap, I decided against flashing the present I’d scored from his old buddy, Asher.  One, because I hated people who name-dropped.  Two, I didn’t want him seeing all of my cards.  And three, because there was always a little truth that came with any amount of teasing, and I couldn’t bear him thinking for one second that I would ever pick one of his sworn enemies over him.

 

Mostly number three, I acknowledged with a sappy pucker and then ushered any lingering sentimental thoughts from my head.

 

I folded my arms and cocked an eyebrow.  “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?”

 

With his eyes wide and a hand posed atop his chest, Silas looked to his left, then to his right, and finally to his rear, as if I’d addressed someone else.  “Who me?  Never,” he voiced proudly.

 

“That’s not true,” I countered.  “You had to have made at least one miscalculation.  You did get shipped off to The Darklands, did you not?”

 

I could tell by the slow burn of his moss-green eyes that I’d managed to get his goat, enough to where I could almost see a flaming image of Asher taking shape in their cores.

 

“I suppose if we’re counting, then you might as well say that I have made a total of two,” he grumbled.  “Which was both my first and my last in well over three thousand years.  Tell me, how many have you amassed in the eighteen you’ve pulled?”

 

A heated stream of air blasted from my nose.  “I think it’s best that we don’t say another word to each other,” I advised.  “For both our sakes.

 

“Consider my lips buttoned,” Silas replied, his tone candy-sweet.  Then, with a snap of his fingers, he did just that—turning his mouth into one of the biggest damn buttons I’d ever seen.

 

Smartass.  “Nice touch,” I commended, knowing those proud eyes of his were looking for a little praise.

 

He bowed smugly, only mumbling his “thank you” through the closure’s four tiny holes.

 

“Since we’ve moved on to adding props,” I began, “I’ve got one for you as well.”  Then I strutted over to the box that held the oculus and yanked it right out of there.  Needless to say, that button he was sporting so proudly flew off faster than one of mine ever had.

 

Silas edged closer, allocating one word for each of his steps.  “You. Wouldn’t.  Dare. ”

 

“Is that what the live-feed to my head is saying — or is that what you’re telling yourself?”  With the oculus’s mirror still safely veiled, I angled it to his face.  “Because those are two entirely different things,” I assured, looking as confident as when he’d said those same words to me upstairs.

 

Silas started to speak when Tanner came strolling into the vault.  And when I caught that scheming smirk of his morphing into a countenance of petrified, I began wishing I had my cell—just so I could video the Oscar-worthy performance that I’d sensed was about to unfold.

 

“Thank heavens, you’re finally here, Professor!” Silas said as he darted behind him.  And the way his hand shot towards me, his finger in a fierce point, I was surprised he hadn’t cried, Murder! right along with it.  “The loss of her sword has driven her mad!  She’s been chasing me around for the past ten minutes wielding that thing like a crucifix.”

 

The roll of Tanner’s eyes landed on the house steward with a painfully skeptical glare.

 

Silas tempered his antics with a toss of his head and a fake wince.  “Too much?”

 

Tanner yielded a slow and assured nod.  “But I am wondering what prompted her to collect it in the first place,” he submitted.

 

Silas looked pointedly at the ceiling, tallying his fingers, and then leaned towards me with a hand cupping the side of his mouth.  “Getting close to that not-so-angelic time of the month?” he whispered to my head, opting for wordless discretion.

 

I pointed to the door and lifted the oculus to my chest.  “GO!” I roared.  “Before my subconscious kicks in and does something that only one of us will regret!”

 

Fine.  I need to warm up the grill and get started with dinner anyway.”  Silas smacked his hands together with a forceful clap and then issued them a couple of eager rubs.  “So?  Who’s in the mood for barbecue?”   He bounced his stare between us, noting the flatness of our peeved expressions.  “No?

 

“SILAS,” Tanner warned, his glare hot enough to melt steel.  That was all the Amethyst Talisman had to say to put him in check, which was evident from the wounded pucker seizing the house steward’s bottom lip.  Typically, Tanner let the two of us fight our own battles.  Though this time, he’d chosen to put his foot down in front of me.  And the only thing that kept my tongue from flying out for a quick victory chorus was that his face ran a close second to a sad-looking Shar-Pei puppy—less the cute & cuddly.

 

“Ah, well,” Silas muttered somberly.  Then, as the house steward made for the exit, I noticed his steps growing more brisk and lively, obviously spurred on by the rush of a second-wind.  “Good thing I have a back up menu already in the works,” he called back.

 

“Do you want me to muzzle him for the rest of the weekend?” Tanner asked.

 

“No,” I said, my stare still glued to Silas’ jaunty departure.  “He’s just being himself.”  My gaze turned to Tanner when I noticed him reaching behind his back.  “Please tell me that you’re about to whip out my hilt.”

 

“Afraid not.”  Tanner extended his hand to reveal nothing more than a thick, long white envelope.  “It’s just some mail.”

 

Well, damn.  “Thank you,” I said and then glanced its return label.  The envelope was from the accountant who had handled Bea’s estate, the one she’d set up to manage my finances.  I opened the envelope to find my new credit card tacked to a slip of paper.  “Well, at least now my Student ID won’t feel as lonely,” I remarked.  I discovered another paper the accountant had tucked inside it, which turned out to be my bank statement from July.  “Holy SHIT,” flopped out of my mouth as I stared at the total of what I’d spent on Katie.  In hindsight, the Ferrari would have been cheaper.

 

“Something wrong?” Tanner asked, raising a brow.

 

I quickly shoved the statement back inside the envelope, fighting off a nauseous pang.  “Nothing,” I said with a shudder.  “I just got a glaring reminder that next Saturday is Katie’s birthday.”

 

His expression flashed with a cringe of sympathy, as if he’d seen the staggering amount with his own eyes.  “What about your driver’s license?”

 

“No,” I said flatly.  “I can’t.  The State of Massachusetts requires that I turn in my old license before they’ll issue me one in exchange.  And they won’t accept a U.S. passport as proof of residency — which, for the record, is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.”  I rolled my eyes.  “They prefer birth certificates… And my only copy just happens to be sewn into the lining of my missing purse.”  Yep.  That was one of the thirteen things I’d used to spell my gris-gris.

 

Tanner didn’t have to make a single comment about my bad luck; the throb of his eyes acknowledged it just fine.  “I could have Silas—”

 

“No,” I interrupted.  “I don’t want him poofing me up a thing.  I can wait until Thanksgiving.”  Without a doubt, there would be some begging involved on my part—far more than I could stomach.  Besides, I knew how to zap a cop’s head right out of a ticket.

 

Sensing what truly lay at the root of my bitchiness, Tanner lifted my gaze to his with a gentle glide of his fingers.  “You’ll find it,” he said soulfully, “And if you don’t — I will.”  Then he wrapped his arms around me and sealed his words with a kiss—without extending me a single drop of his bliss.  Not when he knew how I felt about it, especially when I was upset.  And especially not when the strength of his promise and the comfort of his arms were the only things my heart required—the only soothing my soul needed.

 

I nodded to Lazarus’ journal.  “So have you figured out what any of the markings in there mean?”  And as much as I wanted to hear a “yes”, I wanted a “no” to cross his lips just as much.  Less guilt for keeping it from him.

 

Tanner shook his head and picked up the journal.  “Nothing aside from Erion’s seal — the same one that’s on the medallion.  It’s on the back of the vegvísir as well.  Lazarus had to have copied it from Ganjhi’s memories, and I’m certain he didn’t know what it any of it meant.  The markings read more like a code than they do an actual language — at least not any language I’ve ever seen.”  Tanner gave my hip a playful smack with the journal.  “But that’s something we’ll work on… Now that I finally know about its existence.”

 

I studied the ambiguity of his current expression.  He didn’t seem upset the other day.  Stunned, yes… A little hurt, possibly…  But not mad or anything close to it.  He’d even gone as far as to say that he could see himself doing the same thing.  So I’d gotten yet another easy pass on my omissions, or so I’d thought at the time.

 

“You know,” I began, “I really did want to surprise you with finding out something about the journal on my own.  But then, when I felt the vegvísir’s magic and the medallion came to life, I knew I needed to tell you.  I’d already planned on it, the second I saw you… Even if that creature hadn’t attacked me.”

 

Tanner’s eyes narrowed as his mouth roused a half-smile.  “How do I know you’re not just saying that?”  He bounced a look to my bare ankle.  “That peridot is still inside your missing bag.  I have nothing to use as a gauge.”  My mouth had no sooner cracked open when he added, “Unless you take off that cuff.”

 

My muscles relaxed.  “I’m afraid I can’t,” I protested, well aware of his ulterior motive.  “That’s the only thing covering my tattoo.”  Judging from the thwarted set of his jaw, he didn’t like the fact that it had to stay right where it was — just to keep his genie from going full-on nuclear.

 

He pitched the journal and lifted my chin with a tender stroke of his fingertips.  “You know, tin belts make nice bracelets too.”

 

My heart jumped, which, in turn, stained my cheeks with a rosy blush.  “Not only would that leave my emotions exposed,” I said, sifting through the lavender hue now lighting his eyes, “I would have to physically yield to your every command.”

 

Tanner pulled back and arched an eyebrow.  “What?  You don’t trust me?”

 

I swallowed and then my mouth enveloped his.  In all actuality, it wasn’t him that I didn’t trust.  It was me, and the way my heart was pounding inside my chest.  He would be a perfect gentleman—which, I feared, just might leave me feeling a touch rankled.  And considering the amount of defeat I was reeling with over my missing wand, I wasn’t sure I could handle any more disappointment.  Not when I was steadily approaching my “not-so-angelic” week, as the intrusive house steward had quietly speculated.  Yep.  The bastard had been right about that too.

 

At my urging (now that I was in need of a distraction), the two of us made a quick trip down to his lagoon so I could say hi to Dalha.  An hour later, Silas was summoning us to the dining room for dinner.  Shortly after taking our seats, Silas proved yet again the creative lengths he would go when it came to merging his culinary skills with his mischievousness, which was evident from the pair of flaming shish kabobs that led his charge into the dining room.  Tanner didn’t seem at all pleased.  I, however, tossed the old prankster a humored grin.  And then for desert, the magical & manly Martha Stewart rolled in a cart that held a blazing bonfire of Cherries Jubilee.  An impressive final touch.

 

“That’s funny,” I hummed suspiciously, my eyes flickering at the sterling silver vessel alight with flames.  “I thought the Olympics weren’t until next year — My mistake.”

 

Silas smiled and then strutted off, en route to the kitchen.  “Yes, you know all about lighting cauldrons.  Don’t you, Miss Wallace?” he shot back to my head.

 

One of these days, I warned.  No one stays karma’s darling forever…  Not even genies.

 

A devilish laugh rolled through my mind.  “Do you want to bet?” Silas countered.

 

Well, at least he’d heard me.

 

 

 

 

I awoke the next morning, three hours before my alarm was set to go off, my hands swatting at nothing but air in a feverish fit.  Though to my surprise, I hadn’t been tangling with some ferocious creature off in the bowels of The Darklands—not this time.  Instead, I was fending off a wake of angry buzzards.  Hundreds and hundreds of the pesky critters, all of them swarming around me and smacking me with the might of their wings.  One minute, I was walking through a peaceful jungle, following the roars of that elephant, trying to catch a glimpse of it—and then the next minute, a swarm of black, flapping missiles was raining down on me.  All I could see were feathers.  Though that was nowhere near as bad as hearing their shrill squawks and their hot, nasty breaths cloying in my nose like rotting meat.  And when I attempted to bat them off me with the help of my sword, I reached towards my holster, only to discover that it was empty.  Again, I’d been stripped of my wand!  Knowing I was without it this time—when I’d had it during my other visits to this dreamscape—had me seriously wondering where the hell I really was.  And deep down, something told me that the dreamcatcher I’d left at Katie’s apartment would be of no use, not in the bizarre boundaries of this dream world.

 

Tanner and I spent the entire day training with various weapons in the vault—hours and hours of swords, longbows, knives, and a whole lot of down-in-the-dirt contact fighting—which suited me just fine.  I had so much aggravation roiling inside me, so much I needed to release, and what better way?  I needed a break from my thoughts using me as a punching bag.  This way, I could still punish myself over my wand with the help of Tanner’s blows and get a little justified retaliation out of it.  Though there was one thing that hung over my head like the weight of an executioner’s blade throughout our bouts.  Tanner hadn’t uttered the first, “I told you so” for forsaking that magical holster.  A part of me wished he would just go ahead and say it already.  He had to be silently thinking it.

 

And the suspense was killing me.

 

The five o’clock hour was approaching, and with the both of us slick with sweat, showers would be a must before heading up for dinner.  I’d just announced that I was on my way to grab one when the Amethyst Talisman cleared his throat, halting me in my tracks.

 

“You’ve stalled enough,” Tanner stated, though his chastising tone was downplayed by his sympathetic grin.  Then I watched as he motioned to the row of swords propped in their racks.  “So choose.”

 

Resistant, I began mounting my silent pleas as my feet shuffled towards him.  One by one, I stared at the gleaming and glistening blades to select my temporary replacement.  I couldn’t reach for any of them, not feeling this way, like they were all lodged in my throat from their tips to their pommels, choking me.

 

“Do I have to—”

 

Yes,” Tanner insisted, nixing my attempt to avoid the inevitable.

 

I walked the length of the rack for a second time.  I felt like I was trying to pick out a pair of shoes for the perfect outfit and nothing on the shelves came close to matching it.  Even the stabs in my chest felt like I was surrendering to defeat.

 

Tanner approached me from behind.  “May I make a suggestion?”  When I turned to consider his offer, I found Beatrix’s most cherished hilt cradled in the palms of his hands.

 

“Here,” he said, extending the handle crafted of pure gold.

 

With a conscious breath, I took it.  A deluge of memories flashed in my head as I drank in its decorative carvings, most of them happy and one undeniably sad.  I hadn’t held her hilt since our last practice, when I’d picked up the Golden Topaz Talisman’s sword and handed it back to her — the only time I’d successfully knocked her trusty gemstone blade from her grip.

 

Tanner took a step back.  “Go on,” he urged.

 

With barely a whisper, the blade released upon my command just like I knew it would, despite never having attempted it.  Though admittedly, I was thrown for a bit of a loop by the length and breadth of its golden topaz blade.

 

I crinkled my nose.  “Why does it look so much bigger than I remember?”

 

“Well, you did release it wide open,” Tanner assured.  “Beatrix spelled this particular one to extend and retract to suit the needs of its wielder.  Didn’t she tell you that?”

 

My foot struck the floor in a stomp like I was trying to put the brakes on any bad thoughts before they could surface.  “No!  She NEVER did!”  My stare fell to the floor as a trumped glare stung my eyes.  And I knew there was something special about it too—despite her repeated denials.  My head continued rocking while several memories of our past training sessions emerged.  Every time I’d judged the length of her sword, somehow I’d always found myself still falling short of my safe-zone.  Ugh… And I remembered her response, the same lecture she’d given me every single time — that I needed to, practice, practice, practice when it came to assessing the stretch of my opponent’s blade more accurately.

 

My eyes narrowed like a played fool.  The cheater

 

I turned to Tanner.  “You’re right… A slap does sting harder from beyond the grave,” I grumbled.

 

Tanner knelt in front of me, hiding his amusement, his hands now in possession of the magical holster.  “Now, all that’s left is sliding it into its new home.”

 

My lips fell into a pout.  Here I was, about to officially mark this whole tragedy like a police investigator getting ready to hammer a folder with a stamp marked “MISSING” that would eventually be tossed into a cold-case file.

 

“It’s only temporary,” Tanner added, sensing my displeasure.

 

“I know,” I muttered and then willingly bent my leg, giving him permission to strap it on there.  “You know, now’s the perfect time to say it,” I remarked.

 

Tanner’s eyes lifted to mine as he latched the first buckle.  “What’s that?”

 

I flashed a long, toothless smile.  “The ‘I told you so’ you’re dying to say.”

 

He grinned and directed a nod to the platinum holster.  “Your concession appeases me enough.  The actual words aren’t necessary.”  Once he’d finished fastening its remaining straps, he rose to his feet and added, “Unless you really want me to.”

 

“No, I’m good,” I assured him, knowing the words wouldn’t be near as galling as the blinding gleam of vindication his eyes were presently radiating.  “But just so you know — One day, I’m going to get to say ‘I told you so’ to you.  And when I do, it’s going to be epic.”

 

His grin was electric.  “Then I promise not to wear my soreness on my sleeve — like someone whose name I won’t mention.”

 

I rocked onto my toes and popped off a curt nod.  “Good.”  Now that the holster was firmly attached to my thigh, I retracted the blade and slipped it into its new home.  I didn’t feel the need to make it reappear, not having sensed the topaz’s essence binding with the holster’s Veil magic.  It could stay right where it was, secure and the heck out of my sight.

 

“You’ll find it, Shiloh,” Tanner assured.  “All you have to do is relax your mind enough to hear its calls.”

 

I smiled halfheartedly.  “That’s easy for you to say.”

 

“Because I’m saying it from experience,” he voiced confidently.  “You’re not the only person in the world to lose something valuable.”

 

“So was what you lost as precious as my sword?”

 

“Yes,” Tanner replied, his words staunch with conviction.  “And it found its way back to me.”

 

My eyes fell to the larimar lying against his chest.  I still didn’t consider losing a stone that you were given by another Talisman being in the same ballpark as a weapon that had been personally charged to you by fate — no matter how much of a sensory boost it granted.  Not when I knew Beatrix had kept his larimar safely in her possession the entire time, unbeknownst to him.   The Wand of Adams was different.  It represented the pinnacle of my powers…  The physical embodiment of everything I’d come to be thus far…  It was a part of me—who I was, and a reminder of what I strived to be.

 

Oh, let someone swipe just one of his amethyst blades, I mused.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a single stone on the floor that hadn’t wriggled loose from the heat of his pacing.

 

And that, I knew to be the gospel truth.

 

Tanner jerked his chin, prompting me to align my stare with his.  “Now, for the final time—and I do mean the final time—there is no danger of that creature breaking the gris-gris’ spell and stressing about the whens, wheres, and hows will only hinder your ability to hear the sword’s calls… Just as much as beating yourself up over it will.”

 

“All right,” I sighed compliantly, despite the grating chorus of, Easier said than done playing in my head.

 

“Good.”  Tanner took a step closer and cupped my face.  “So now that that’s settled, you can stop moving your lips and kiss me.”

 

My lips quivered a humored smile.  And kiss him, I did.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday proved to be a major downer.  Yet again, I’d awoken from the ca-caws of vicious buzzards—hordes of them attacking me with their thrashing wings and their beaks taking nips at my limbs—all while I tromped wand-less through a never-ending labyrinth of green on a hunt for an elusive elephant.  Then, straight after breakfast, Tanner and I went downstairs to tackle the journal.  And what a bust that proved.  I didn’t make it out of the starting gate.  The only memories that surfaced were ones of Lazarus, the morning after the images had come to him in his sleep.  Just visions of the former Lapis Lazuli Talisman, sitting at his desk and jotting down what he’d dreamt onto the pages of the journal.  And I still had no idea as to how he’d acquired the vegvísir, or the medallion for that matter.  Though there was one thing we discovered—well, that Tanner discovered.  The sliver of labradorite that the medallion held had been spelled by Erion himself—completely separate from the Guardian’s actual stone.  And based on the unveiling nature of its magic, Tanner speculated that the medallion might be some sort of key.  Though to what, he had no idea.

“Do you mind if I keep it?” I asked.  “Just in case the creature shows up and tries to camouflage itself.”

Tanner sat down on the edge of the table and picked up the medallion.  He pulled something out of his pocket, a tiny silver clasp, and attached it to the end of the long chain.  Then he latched the clasp to the bail of the medallion—configuring it into a much more convenient necklace.  “Why do think I had that clasp on hand,” he said with a knowing smile and then looped it over my head.

My heart warmed as I stared back at him, hoping one day I could read his mind just as easily as he could mine.

Four o’clock had come before I knew it, the time I’d planned on heading back to my dormitory.  I didn’t hate the thought of going, just the actual drive—all that private head-time, tortured by a stream of speculations.  No good would come from it, only more self-persecution in between bouts of brooding.  Though ironically, the forty-five minutes of misery served as a strong argument for me lifting my self-imposed ban on that shower-portal.  At least for the trip over.  Still, I had no idea how I would swing the actual “getting back” part with no water flowing.  So despite its convenience, in my mind, it would remain a handy, break-in-case-of-emergency escape hatch.

I’d just wrapped up my trip to the bathroom when Silas came sauntering into my bedroom with a stack of clean linens in his arms, along with an announcement that he was here to “freshen up the bed”.  Undeniably a passive push for me to hurry my ass on out the door.  Without a doubt, Silas was a very jealous genie.

Still dreading the open road ahead of me, I walked over to collect my handbag, my expression somber and my feet dragging.

Silas laid the linens down on the chaise.  “Aww,” he hummed with a pucker.  “Is Dumbo still sulking about that lost feather?” he remarked.

I stopped short of grabbing my bag when his comment sent me whirling around to face him.  A regular quip was one thing, but one with an elephant reference was well past the mark of snooping.  “Why did you say that?” I snapped.  “I thought I told you to stay out of my head!”

“I beg your pardon,” Silas countered, offended.  “One doesn’t need to take a dip in someone’s head — not when their face is flashing it like a lighthouse beacon.”

“But why did you make that particular reference?  About an elephant, of all things?”  I couldn’t wait to hear how he tried talking his way out of this one.

“It seemed to fit the occasion, for starters,” Silas insisted.  “And I assumed that someone of your age would get the pun.  Or were your tastes limited to tales of princesses awaiting rescue when you were a little girl?”

I glared at him.  “No,” I replied.  “And yes, I know all about Dumbo’s feather.”

“Then please, do be a focused and disciplined soul, and try not to let your missing wand become your crutch,” Silas warned and then whipped the duvet off the bed with a jerk.  A surge of anger had me snatching up my bag and storming a path towards the bedroom door.  “Wait one second!” Silas called, his tone strong and testy.

I spun around in the doorway and braced my hands against the framing.  “What?” I groaned.

Silas’ brow was furrowed—noticeably furrowed—seeming vexed with confusion.  It was a look I’d witnessed only once before, when I was in the kitchen on the Fourth of July, rounding up my faery lure.

“What’s different about you?” Silas questioned, his narrowed eyes scouring every inch of my frame.

Shit.  I struck an indignant pose, my hands clenching my waist with my wrists turned in—ensuring a little extra cover for my tattoo.  “Nothing,” I said and then started spinning and scrambling my thoughts like an F-5 tornado.  And I could tell he was in there swimming around too, eagerly searching for something, anything that would validate his suspicions.

Silas took a couple of steps towards me, slow and contemplative.  “I seem to recall the last time you replied ‘nothing’ to one of my questions, four faeries showed up and napalmed the library.”

I tapped my foot on the floor and inclined my head.  “You’re holding up my departure…  Unless that’s your intention,” I added, batting my lashes and smiling.

Silas’ expression turned stony.  “Not hardly.”

“It’s all right Silas — really.”  I nodded to all the sprinkler heads and grinned.  “I know just how much you missed me this past week.”

Silas let out a grunt.  “You weren’t gone long enough.”  He stood there, huffing for a few more thoughtful seconds.  “Rest assured, Ms. Wallace, if you’re hiding something from me, I’ll find out what it is.”   Then he shooed me away with several flicks of his fingers and returned to making the bed.

And with that, I casually backed my tattooed butt into the hall and started up the steps, keeping my thoughts as muddled as I could.  Judging from the brutal pounds of my present headache, two things were painfully clear: I would have to jumble my thoughts, every time I was here from now on, and it was going to be mind-melting hard.

At least that was what I’d thought before saying goodbye to Tanner, who quickly assured me that it wasn’t a problem.  Apparently, any memories or thoughts of elves inside the heads of others were veiled to Djinns.  A special perk that gave the genie-hunters an added advantage.  So that just left me with the conundrum of where the hell was my wand, which was equally as skull-stabbing.