Of course, I’ve my own fretting. How can I tell Felicity what I’ve heard without upsetting her? How does anyone talk sense to Felicity? It is like trying to tame a force of nature.
“I think an English garden party is quite lovely and appropriate. It isn’t a Turkish ball, granted, but even Her Majesty finds such displays unseemly. Was it discussed among the young ladies? Did they find fault with it?”
“No, it was not discussed.” I sigh, leaning my head against the side of the carriage. The London gas fog is settling in. The streets are murky, the people appearing like phantoms. I spy a young man with dark curls and a newsboy cap, and my heart leaps. I half lean out the window.
“Pardon me! You there! Sir!” I call.
“Gemma Doyle!” my grandmother gasps.
The young man turns. It’s not Kartik. He offers the day’s news. “Paper, miss?”
“No,” I say, swallowing hard. “No, thank you.” I settle back against the seat, determined not to look again and raise my hopes unnecessarily. Where are you, Kartik?
“That was most impolite,” my grandmother tuts. Her eyes narrow with a new thought. “Did they find something wanting in you, Gemma, at the party? You didn’t speak too freely or behave…strangely?”
I grew claws and bayed at the moon. I confessed that I eat the hearts of small children. I told them I like the French. Why is the fault always mine?
“We spoke of Mrs. Sheridan’s flowers,” I say evenly.
“Well, nothing wrong in that,” my grandmother says, reassuring herself. “No, nothing at all.”
By late evening of my last night in London, my misery has reached operatic proportions. Grandmama takes to her bed early, “exhausted” by the day’s events. Tom is to dine at the Athenaeum at the behest of Lord Denby.
“When I return, I shall be a great man,” he says, admiring himself in the mirror over the mantel. He has a new top hat, and it makes him look like a well-heeled scarecrow.
“I shall practice my genuflecting whilst you are away,” I respond.
Tom turns to me with a sneer. “I’d send you to a nunnery, but even those saintly women haven’t the patience for your petulance. But please don’t see me out,” he says, striding for the door with a spring in his step. “I shouldn’t want to interrupt your sulking by the fireside.”
“You needn’t worry,” I say, turning back to the fire with a sigh. “You shan’t.”
My season has not even begun and already I feel a failure. It’s as if I’ve inherited a skin I cannot quite fit, and so I walk about constantly pulling and tugging, pinning and pruning, trying desperately to fill it out, hoping that no one will look at me struggling and say, “That one there—she’s a fraud. Look how she doesn’t suit at all.”
If only I could get into the realms. Oh, what is happening there? Why can’t I get in? What has become of the magic? Where are my visions? To think I once feared them. Now the power I cursed is the only thing I long for.
Not the only thing. But I’ve no power over Kartik, either.
I stare into the fire, watching the fat orange flames jumping about, demanding attention. Deep inside each one, a thin blue soul burns pure and hot, devouring every bit of tinder to keep the fire going.
The mantel clock ticks off the seconds; the steady sound lulls me into drowsiness. Sleep comes and I am lost to dreaming.
I’m enveloped by a thick mist. Before me is an enormous ash tree, its twisted arms reaching up toward a vanished sun. A voice calls to me.
Come to me….
My pulse quickens, but I can see no one.
You’re the only one who can save us, save the realms. You must come to me….
“Can’t get in,” I murmur.
There is another way—a secret door. Trust in the magic. Let it lead you there.
“I have no magic anymore….”
You’re wrong. Your power is extraordinary. It builds within you and wants release. Unleash your power. That’s what they fear, what you must not fear. I can help you, but you must come to me. Open the door….
The scene shifts. I am inside the Caves of Sighs before the well of eternity. Below the icy surface of the water lies Miss Moore, her dark hair spreading out like Kali’s. She floats beneath her glass prison, lovely as Ophelia, frightening as a storm cloud. I feel a shudder across the very marrow of my bones.
“You’re dead,” I gasp. “I killed you.”
Her eyes snap open. “You’re wrong, Gemma. I live.”