The card slipped through my fingers to the floor. It never left my sight. My eyes locked on the last six words, the message read again and again in my head.
I tried to inhale, but the air flew from my lungs. Desperate gasps met no cooperation as my muscles constricted. I pressed my hand to my chest and tried again. No. This couldn’t be happening.
My knees buckled. I threw out my arms and my hands caught the night stand. I squeezed my eyes shut and gripped the edges.
Think, Jenna. You don’t have much time. I took a deep breath and held it. We’d gone over this a hundred times. What was I supposed to do, again? He’d made me memorize it—repeat the steps back to him. How could I forget? How could I forget some of the last words he ever spoke to me?
My eyes shot open. I grabbed the mattress from the bed and heaved it away. It bounced against the wall and fell over the letter. Good. Next, the box spring. I laid it over the mattress and staggered to the bed frame.
The suitcase sat in the center. I stared at it. I’d started to believe I wouldn’t need it. It looked foreign now. I shook my head and grabbed it.
I hoisted it to Kendra’s bed and worked the combination. My hands trembled and I spun too far the first time—the second time not enough. Focus, Jenna. You have to get this right. Again, fear got the best of me.
I glanced at the door—closed with a deadbolt to secure it. I lifted my fingers over the lock and squeezed my eyes shut. 35-18-27. The dial spun, stopped, and spun again, then again. I opened my eyes and grabbed the lock. I tugged and pulled. It wouldn’t release. This couldn’t be happening.
I squeezed the lock between my fingers and lifted it to my face. I stared as the dial spun to the numbers. This time, it landed where I intended. I pulled. It popped open.
I tossed it behind me and yanked the suit case open. Inside sat a smaller satchel. I pulled it open.
I ran my fingers over the glass bottles. I raised a red elixir and inspected the label. A skull and crossbones. It clanged against the others as I dropped it back down.
What color was I looking for? What symbol? It felt like a lifetime had passed since he’d explained their uses. I’d stopped thinking about them since I’d convinced myself I was safe here. How could I have been so careless? I shook my head and began inspecting the others.
There. I yanked up the green elixir and brought the label closer. This was definitely it. I sat it on the bed and found the other I was looking for—an orange elixir with an amber glow around it.
I yanked my clothes from the closet and threw them to the floor. I scanned the bathroom and grabbed everything I owned. I slid the satchel to the corner of the suit case. I crammed everything I could into the suit case and gathered the rest into a pile.
The cork refused to cooperate with my trembling hands. I squeezed it between my teeth and yanked it off. The loud pop made me jump, causing a drop to barely miss my fingers as it fell to the pile. I gasped as a blouse on top ignited.
I poured the rest onto the pile and stepped back. It burned everything away, even leaving a darkened circle on the floor. It was done. I grabbed the green elixir and rushed to the mirror.
I stopped and stared at my terrified reflection. I was unrecognizable even without magic. Did I really even need this? Yes. I nodded at my reflection. I did need it. They had been to my home. Surely they had seen photos. And, it didn’t matter. They had been to my home. Jenna Perez couldn’t protect me anymore.
I popped the cork and touched the bottle to my lips. Locking eyes with my reflection, I threw back my head and guzzled it down.
The strange taste made me stop. I glanced at the label again. Had I been wrong about this symbol? I looked back at the suit case. I didn’t have time for this. I forced down a few more sips until I’d drank almost half. Then, I stared straight ahead and waited.
The metallic taste lingered in my mouth. I leaned against the dresser as the tremors became more intense. The elixir turned sour in my stomach. My vision twisted and darkened around the edges. I resisted the urge to break my reflection’s gaze, but eventually I had to blink.
I opened my eyes and gasped. My brown hair was lighter—thats what I noticed at first. It was smooth and styled in a formal up-do. My naturally tan skin was ivory. My eyes had dark circles beneath, my cheeks were sallow, my jawline only defined by my lack of substance.
I touched my fingers to my cheeks, then pressed them into my eye sockets. I even felt different. How was this possible?
I stepped back. My clothes had changed, too. I glanced down and tugged at the satin, red corset. It felt real. I shook my head. I didn’t have time for this. I grabbed my suitcase and rushed out the door.
But, what if it was just me? What if no one else could see the glamor? I passed the elevator and took the stairs. The passage ways beneath ground level were mostly empty. A few students passed by with barely a glance, but I didn’t recognize any of them, either.
I continued on until I came to the fitness room. I scanned the room for familiar faces. My heart stopped as I laid eyes on Daniel across the pool.
He was lifting weights with Alaric. Their voices echoed off the stone walls and back to me. Oh, how I would miss that exotic accent, his warmth, the soft aura that radiated from him. I dropped my suit case on the floor.
I approached them and veered off to the side. I had known from the moment I met him I would always care for him. But, I also knew one day it wouldn’t be enough.
I stood at the table beside them. A mirror covered the wall behind it. My glamour was still up. I glanced at their reflections, my eyes automatically fixating on Daniel, and waited for them to notice me.
I pressed my palms against the table to calm the tremors. Anxiety bubbled over as I watched my arms twitch and jerk. I couldn’t keep still. I felt weightless, like no amount of resistance could keep me from losing control. Just give them a minute.
As I turned to face them, I bumped a water bottle. It fell to the ground with a loud smack. I caught Daniel’s gaze in the mirror. Hands clenched into fists at my sides, I waited.
His mouth curved up in a half smile. Then, his eyes narrowed as he looked me over. He met my gaze and all traces of his original reaction fell away. His eyes darted between my own. What was he thinking? He obviously didn’t recognize me. So, why was he looking at me like that?
“What’s wrong, Jenna? Why are you hiding?”
My mouth dropped. “How did you—” I glanced at my reflection. It looked nothing like me.
“I don’t need to see your face to know when you enter a room.” He stepped forward and reached out his hand.
“I have to go.” I turned and stepped back.
“I can’t explain it.” I forced down the lump in my throat. “Please, don’t tell anyone you’ve seen me like this.”
“Jenna, what’s happened?” His tone was tense, authoritative.
I shook my head and darted to the door. I grabbed my suitcase and took off running down the corridor. It felt good to run. It’s what my body had been begging for since I’d received that letter. I made it up the stairwell and burst into the hallway. The squeak of door hinges was my only welcome as I ran out into the courtyard. I smashed into someone, grabbing on to keep from falling back.
“How did you get here so fast?” I stepped back and looked Daniel over.
“Don’t go. I can help you,” he said.
I took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Daniel, but this is goodbye for us.”
I stole one last glance at him before I brushed past. He grabbed my arm, pushing my emotions over the edge. I spun to face him.
I couldn’t hold back any longer. My vision hazed and darkened. I shoved him back—not far enough.
The dark energy exploded from my pores. It flooded over Daniel. I cried out and lunged at him. My hands scooped at the black abyss surrounding me. It was too late. He was gone.
The darkness began to fade, but the courtyard was the opposite of normal. The radius of damage was larger this time. The castle walls were blackened, the moss that covered it now shriveled and black. The black roses surrounding the fountain drooped at their stems. Nothing in its wake had survived.
Daniel? His body lay sprawled on the ground across the courtyard. The air was still hazy. I squinted and started toward him. He leaped to his feet.
I sprinted to him. I threw my arms around his waist and looked him over, gauging his injuries. He looked perfect. He caught his balance and stood on his own. I stepped back.
“You’re okay.” I searched his eyes. He stared back. “How?”
He didn’t answer, only continued staring at me in silence. Tears streamed down my face. Why had I bothered to believe I could love him without this happening? He appeared unharmed, but his eyes reflected what I already knew. This was the end for us.
“I’m so sorry. You can’t help me. No one can.”
I turned and sprinted off, leaving him alone in the black circle of death I’d created.