For the past two hours, maybe longer, Mother and a team of healers have evaluated my mental state. Apparently, screaming after the press conference was not how I was supposed to behave, and no one seems to understand why I did it. I had shown all signs of making a healthy recovery.
Which means, instead of the relaxing afternoon Mother promised, healers are now firing question after question about the events at Summer Hill at me. Who worked with me? Who prepared my meals? How was I treated?
Unlike earlier sessions, my mind feels sharp and I answer their questions with ease.
“Dasha,” I say. “She’s the one who tried to teach me transportation.”
“Tried?” A female healer with long, pointy fingers sits across from me, typing notes on her tablet.
“I wasn’t very good at it. I broke my nose. And then Eamon came and fixed it.”
The woman’s head pops up. “Eamon? As in Eamon DeCanteur?”
“I don’t know his last name. He’s tall, good looking. A healer. Or at least that’s what everyone told me.” I pick at a piece of lint on my skirt. “He’s also vicious. Cruel. And evil.”
She writes a few more notes while I massage my aching wrist. The restraint is too tight.
“According to your testimony, your primary contacts at Summer Hill were Margo and Patrick Channing; your housemother, Bethina; Dasha Voigt; Eamon DeCanteur; and Beck Channing.”
My heart clenches and my mind spins through the chaotic mess of my memories, searching for Beck. I’ve tried reaching out to him in my mind, but there’s only endless static. Why can’t he hear me?
“Was there anyone else?” the healer says, bringing my attention back to her.
Henry Trevern, I think. My mouth puckers trying to say his name, but no sounds come out. I swallow and try the other name. “Eloise. I don’t know her last name.”
Surprise flashes across the healers face but she quickly disguises it and makes a note on her tablet. “Tell me about the night you snuck out with—”
“To see me,” Mother interrupts.
“Yes.” The woman keeps her head lowered. “The night you met Malin in the cabin.”
This is how it’s been the whole time. So many questions, but not one mention of Henry.
“Beck woke me.” Henry my mind screams. “He told me to get a sweater and shoes. He said to meet him at the weeping willow.” Henry, not Beck. Henry.
“And then what happened?”
“We transported out of Summer Hill, to the other side of the dome. Mother was there with Annalise and Kyra. There was a cottage and a table of food.”
“So, Beck Channing brought you to Malin. And you had a feast?”
I shake my head. When she says it like that, it sounds ridiculous. “Mother told me…” I squeeze my eyes shut and try to pull the memory up. “She said I needed to go back to Summer Hill. That it was the safest place for me.”
The healer stops tapping on her tablet. “Does any of this make sense to you, Lark? Why would Beck deliver you to Malin? And why on Earth would she send you back?”
“No. It doesn’t make sense.” Except I’m positive it did. Once.
“Does it seem possible that the Light witches manufactured a memory, or perhaps many memories, to confuse you? Were you ever unconscious for periods of time?”
I nod my head slowly. “When they encased me.”
She sighs knowingly and my heart sinks. Why would they plant memories that make me fear them? Wouldn’t it make things easier if I trusted them? But maybe that’s why I have loving memories of Beckand our life together..
The two things don’t add up.
Across the room, Annalise and my male guards are at Mother’s side, watching me.
Wonderful. I’m on display again. Only this time, everyone gets to see how crazy I am.
“Perhaps it’s time for a break?” Mother says, addressing the room.
The healer stands and follows the guards out of my bedroom, leaving Mother and me alone.
“There’s no need for this now.” She bends over me and removes the restraint. I rub my throbbing wrist.
Mother must trust me. Or she’s confident my crazy magic can’t hurt her. Whatever it is, I’m thankful to be free and that everyone is gone. I need time alone to think.
My stomach growls, but I ignore it. I have no appetite and have barely eaten since my arrival. Earlier, I overheard two healers discussing my weight loss and how I’m wasting away. If only it were that easy to disappear.
“I’ll have lunch sent up. Something light, perhaps?” she asks.
“That sounds nice,” I say, even though the press conference, tests, and the effects of magic have left me exhausted and I would rather take a nap.
“I know this is difficult for you, but it’s for the best. We must discover everything the Light witches did to you.” Mother’s magic wraps around me like a cozy sweater. So warm and comforting. “Only then can I help you recover.”
That’s what worries me: her plans for my recovery. But I don’t let on and simply nod in agreement.
“You want that don’t you? To feel better?”
According to everyone around me, I was betrayed by the boy I loved. My whole life has been a lie. Every shared confidence, every sweet touch, every memory were just ploys to manipulate me. How am I supposed to ever feel better? Am I supposed to wake up one day and suddenly everything will be okay? Am I supposed to just forget?
I wrap a loose piece of hair around my finger and blink back tears. “I want to stop hurting,” I say. It’s the truth. I want this never-ending pain, the one the keeps me awake with my mind racing, to just go away. And right now, I don’t care what I have to do to make that happen. I simply want it gone.
A satisfied smile spreads across Mother’s face. “Of course you do. And I’ll be right here, helping you.” She glances at her wristlet. “Now, please go shower while I order your meal.”
My shoulders tense as I pass Mother. When the bathroom door clinks shut behind me, my pulse hammers in my ears and my hands tremble. Whatever magical hold she had on me has vanished, leaving only terror behind.
There is no window in this room. No way out except through the door I entered. Most likely, Mother waits on the other side, ready to us her persuasive magic on me as soon as I exit.
I’m trapped. More than I ever was at Summer Hill. And yet, this is supposed to be my freedom.
With a sigh, I dig the tips of my fingers into my brow bone. I need to know if everything with Beck was a lie. But how? Who will help me? Mother ordered no one to speak of him and I don’t think anyone would dare go against her.
Plus, every healer has given the same diagnosis: extreme fatigue, break with reality, mental manipulation, inability to recall simple truths. But how can that be? It can’t be that all my memories have been planted by the Channings to ensure I won’t harm Beck.
But that’s the one thing both sides agree on: Beck and I will meet one day and we will battle to the death. So maybe the Channings did mess with my mind?
I shake my head at the ridiculousness. I know what happened at Summer Hill. I saw it. I lived it.
At least, I think I did.
I wrap my arms across my chest as the water from the shower pounds my shoulders, and close my eyes. My heart thumps erratically and tears spill out of my eyes.
My fingers reach for my necklace, but like earlier, it isn’t there. It’s gone, like everything else I once loved.
Beck, I call out in my mind. Can you hear me?
Nothing but static. No matter how hard I try, I can’t feel Beck. Not his voice, nor his emotions. It’s as if he ceased to exist, leaving a gaping hole in my heart.
I press off the shower and take a towel from the warmer. In the mirror, a haunted girl stares back at me: listless, blood-shot eyes and ghostly-white skin. Is this what the world sees when they look at me? A frail girl? Someone who can’t fend for herself?
There’s a light knock on the door. “Lark? Are you okay?” Mother asks from the other side. Of course she’s standing out there, she’s afraid to leave me alone.
Just say what she wants to hear. I force a smile to my lips and yank the door open. “I’m fine.”
Mother lets out a relieved little chortle, but her magic pushes at my heart—a sign she doesn’t fully trust me. I don’t fight her. I want to feel numb right now. I want to forget.
She motions to a serving cart across the room where a silver dome sits, waiting for me.
“I hope you like it,” Mother says. The lid floats into the air, exposing a salad packed with berries and nuts.
Despite my small appetite, my mouth waters. “It looks delicious.”
“Good.” Mother studies me with concern. “You’re emaciated. We need to get you back up to full strength.”
I adjust the towel around my skeletal frame before sitting down and nibbling several bites of food. But before I can finish, my eyelids droop and I can barely hold my head up. “I’d really like to take a nap.”
Mother narrows her eyes. “Are you unwell?”
I shake my head. “I think I’m going crazy.”
A dramatic sigh escapes Mother’s lips. She walks around the table and draws my head to her torso. “Darling, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I promise, I’ll make the Channings pay for what they did. I will never let them hurt you again.”
Her words chip away at the flimsy barricade I’ve erected around my heart. My lip trembles and tears flow down my face.
“They encased me. And Eamon…he…” My voice shakes at the memory of the Light witches encircling me, chasing me across the lawn. “They were trying to kill me?”
“Shhh…Eamon will never harm you. I promise.” Mother’s hand strokes my hair lightly before she takes me by the shoulders and peers into my eyes. “Beck Channing tricked you into binding with him. For what reason, I don’t know. But the Light witches will kill you for it.”
Horror grows inside me. I remember. The Light witches…no, Eamon’s Splinter group…they weren’t just coming for me. They wanted to hurt Beck too.
They wanted to kill both of us.
Panic builds in my chest as events begin to make sense. I left him. Alone. To face the Splinter group.
I can’t hear him. I can’t feel him.
My breath grows ragged.
Beck could be dead. Because I ran. I left him all alone.
“Love?” Alarm overrides Mother’s typically calm voice. “What’s wrong?”
My lips part to tell Mother everything, but my teeth act like a fortress, keeping the words locked inside. I shake my head and focus on speaking, but the more I fight, the tighter my throat becomes. My body convulses and I tumble from my chair.
Mother’s cool hands press against the sides of my face and she peers in my eyes before yelling into her wristlet. “I need a healer. Immediately.”
Her arms encircle me, and a deep sense of relief rushes through my core as my throat loosens and air rushes to fill my deflated lungs. “It’s okay, Love. Everything is okay.”
“Water,” I croak. Mother places a glass into my hand and I gulp mouthfuls.
“I’ll find out what spell they did on you, and we’ll undo it. I promise.” Her lips graze my forehead.
A healer bursts through the bedroom door and sprints to my side. He holds his hands over me, concentrating.
Eamon did the same thing.
And then he tried to kill me.
The towel falls away as I shrink away from the healer, scurrying backward, crab-like, until I’m cowered into the corner of the room.
“You’re among friends, Love.” Mother holds out her hand to me, trying to coax me forward. “You’re safe.”
I close my eyes and focus on drawing air into my too-tight lungs, but instead of calming me, half-forgotten memories skip through my mind, each one searing an image that ensures I’ll never forget: Beck playing lacrosse, Beck with his arm wrapped around Bethina in our kitchen, Bethina waiting for us on the stairs. Our room. The lake. Beck lips tickling mine.
Silent sobs spill out of my body and I ball my fist against my mouth. My hair sticks to my face like spider webs.
“Let her be, Malin,” the healer says. “Her mind is fragile. She can’t take much more stress.”
“I have to help my daughter. Don’t you see what they’ve done?” Mother’s shrill voice pummels my ears. “They’re trying to steal the only thing in this world I care about. I won’t let them. Not my daughter.”
I rock back and forth, digging my fingernails into my upper arms. The pain and the movement calms me slightly.
“Is Beck dead?” I cry. “Is that why I’m going crazy? Because he’s dead and his magic is no longer balancing mine? Is that why I can’t feel him? Are we no longer bound?”
The healer’s mouth drops open in horror and his eyes grow wide. “They’re bound?” he gasps and jerks his head toward Mother. “How could you hide that information, Malin?”
Mother’s icy eyes narrow and she curls her fingers, once, twice, three times.
The healer makes a strange gargling noise as his fingers tear at his neck. His eyes bulge from their sockets and his face turns red, then purple.
He drops dead at my feet.
Read Chapter 1
Read Chapter 3
September 25, 2012 – Nightingale is available for purchase