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“I see,” Gorgon says, and I cannot read her feelings about the matter. The giant beast lowers her voice to a soft growl. “There are other concerns, Most High.”

“What do you mean?”

“No person has ever held all the power. There must be a balance between chaos and order, dark and light. With the Temple magic bound to you, the realms are no longer in balance. The power could change you…and you could change the magic.”

My happiness is evaporating. I drop a small pebble into the river. Ripples move across my reflection, distorting my face till I no longer recognize it. “But if I hold the power, there is no magic for anyone to take,” I say, thinking aloud again as the idea forms in my mind. “The realms might be safe at last. And”—I watch Ann pull a leaf from a tree and turn it into a butterfly with one breath—“I wouldn’t hold it for long.”

“Is that a promise?” Gorgon hisses, her yellow eyes meeting mine.

“I promise.”

Gorgon searches the horizon with an air of unease. “There is much we do not know about the Winterlands, Most High. It is best to make the alliance, and quickly.”

This fear of Gorgon’s is odd. I’ve not seen this side of her before.

“Tell Philon…” I stop. What can I tell Philon? That I need more time? That I’m not sure of anything just now except that I am happy to be in the realms—and I can’t give up that happiness yet? “Tell him we’ll discuss that matter.”

“When?” Gorgon presses.

“Soon,” I say.

“How soon?”

“When I return,” I answer quickly, for I want to join my friends.

“I shall wait for you to return, Most High.” And with that, she closes her haunting eyes and sleeps.

For hours we play, allowing the magic to flower fully within us till we feel that time itself is ours to hold. The hope that has been dormant in each of us blooms again, and we are giddy with the happiness that possibility brings. Felicity lazes in a swing she has fashioned from soft, leafy vines. She lets it cradle her and she drags her toes across the velvety grass.

“If only we could show the world the depth of our power…” Felicity trails off, smiling.

Ann picks a dandelion puff from the tall grass. “I should stand on the stage beside Lily Trimble.”

I correct her. “Lily Trimble should beg to stand beside you!”

Ann brings her hands dramatically to her bosom. “‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair!’”

“Bravo!” Felicity and I applaud.

“Oh, and I should be very, very beautiful. And wealthy! And I should marry an earl and have ten children!” Ann closes her eyes in a wish and blows hard on her dandelion, but the wind carries only part of the fluff away.

“What would you wish for, Gemma? What do you want?” Felicity asks.

What do I want? Why is that simple question—four little words—so impossible to answer? I would wish for things that cannot be: my mother alive again, my father well. Would I wish to be shorter, fairer, more lovable, less complicated? The answer, I fear, is yes. I would wish to be a child again, safe and warm, and yet I would also wish for something far more dangerous: a kiss from a certain Indian boy whom I have not seen since Christmas. I am a jumble of passions, misgivings, and wants. It seems that I am always in a state of wishing and rarely in a state of contentment.

They are waiting for my answer. “I should wish to perfect my curtsy so that I might not scandalize myself before Her Majesty.”

“That will take magic,” Ann says dryly.

“Thank you for your confidence. I do so appreciate it.”

“I should bring Pip back,” Felicity says.

Ann bites her lip. “Do you suppose she really is lost to the Winterlands, Gemma?”

I look out over the endless meadow. The flowers sway in a gentle breeze. “I don’t know.”

“She isn’t,” Felicity says, her cheeks reddening.

“That is where she was headed,” I remind her gently.

The last time we saw our dear friend, she was already turning, becoming one of them. She wanted me to use the magic to bring her back to our world, but I couldn’t. The creatures cannot come back. It is a rule I couldn’t break, and Pippa hated me for it. Sometimes I believe Fee hates me for it too.

“I know Pip, I tell you. She would never leave me like that.”

“Perhaps we’ll see her soon,” I say. But I’m not looking forward to it. If Pippa has truly become a Winterlands creature, she is no longer our friend. She is our enemy.

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