Illusions Page 93

’’Any magic used within the circle rebounds. As soon as she stops attacking us,’’ Shar said, raising his voice a little, ’’the circle will stop attacking her.’’

Yuki shot a dirty look at Shar, but she must have gotten the idea, because she didn\ scream again. Tamani was glad. He turned to Shar and pushed him back toward the wall. ’’This is black magic, Shar. It must be forbidden.’’

’’Beyond forbidden,’’ Shar said, his eyes darting to the side. ’’It\s Forgotten.’’

Forgotten. Magic from before memory, too dangerous to be passed down.

’’You learned this from your mother, didn\ you?’’ Tamani didn\ try to hide the accusation in his voice.

’’The Unseelie have always remembered things best forgotten.’’

’’She told you this the day Laurel and I went to Avalon.’’

’’I thought she was taunting me. I told her about Yuki, and she started babbling on about killing all the Winter fae. I thought she was telling me to assassinate Marion,’’ Shar said, his voice still deadly calm. ’’Maybe my mother loves me after all.’’

’’Shar, you can\ do this. I won\ let you turn Unseelie.’’

Shar laughed, a quick bark of disdain. ’’Please, Tam, you know where my loyalty lies, and it is not with the Seelie or the Unseelie. It is with Avalon. I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe.’’

Tamani knew Shar wasn\ referring to Laurel, but his companion, Ariana, and their seedling.

’’I will protect them by any means necessary. Think about it, Tamani. The only thing standing between her and Avalon is the fact that the gate is hidden. The moment she knows where it is, there is nothing we can do to keep her out.’’

What have I gotten myself into? He felt like someone was strangling him. But what choice did they have? ’’For Avalon,’’ he said softly. Then he glanced around. ’’Where\s Laurel?’’

’’Home,’’ Shar said, his attention fixed on Yuki again. ’’If this didn\ work, I wanted her as far away as possible. The sentries were told to do whatever it takes to not let her leave.’’ He hesitated. ’’She put up a bit of a fight.’’

Tamani swallowed, trying not to think about that. ’’Where were you?’’ Tamani asked.

’’You know as well as I better, I suspect, considering your friendship with Jamison that a Winter faerie would sense if another faerie was in your apartment. I was waiting less than a kilometer away, just close enough to see the light turn on.’’ He shook his head. ’’This was a job for human hands, and I have to admit, they performed admirably.’’

But both of the humans seemed deaf to Shar\s praise. David was still pale, and Chelsea looked scared, though not quite so horrified.

’’All right,’’ Shar said, pulling a knife from his pocket. ’’It\s time to find out once and for all.’’

Yuki\s eyes widened and she opened her mouth to scream again, but Shar handed the knife to David. ’’Go cut open her dress. I need to see her blossom for myself.’’

’’Let me,’’ Tamani said, stretching out his hand. But Shar\s wrist closed around his.

’’You can\ ,’’ Shar said simply. ’’If you enter that circle, you will be under her power. No plants enter that circle, or we all die.’’

Tamani reluctantly withdrew his hand.

David stared at the knife in his hand, then pursed his lips and shook his head. ’’No. It\s too much. Cuff her to the chair. That\s all you asked me to do. Cutting clothes off a defenseless girl? Do you have any idea what that sounds like? I won\ do it.’’ He started to make his way toward the still open door. ’’Y-you\ e insane. She hasn\ done anything. And this circle?’’ He glared at Shar. ’’You didn\ tell m-me it would hurt her. Protecting Laurel is one thing, but I I can\ be a part of this.’’ David turned and stormed out the door.

Tamani took a step to follow him to bring him back but Shar put a hand on his chest. ’’Let him go. He\s had a rough night.’’ Then he turned to Chelsea and after a moment of hesitation offered her the knife. ’’Would you . . . ?’’

’’Men,’’ Chelsea muttered derisively, ignoring the knife. Carefully, and with remarkably little trepidation, Chelsea stepped over the white line. As soon as she entered the circle, Yuki started to thrash again, but Chelsea stood behind her, hands on hips, and said, ’’Yuki, hold still.’’

To Tamani\s surprise, she did. Maybe it was finding herself so helpless before a human, but something in her broke, and she sat quietly as Chelsea carefully untied the silver obi and lowered the zipper of her dress several inches. Then she folded down a wide ACE bandage that Yuki had wrapped around her torso.

Everyone gasped as Chelsea pulled the bandage away from four broad, white petals. It resembled and was not much bigger than an ordinary poinsettia.

Tamani had seen the pollen on his palms, but to see that classic white Winter blossom spread out in front of him filled him with a terror that nearly brought him to his knees.

Shar\s whispered oath was Tamani\s fervent prayer.

’’Goddess help us all.’’

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