BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, NADIA FELT THE CHILL.
She wasn’t sure why. Her father already had the car’s heat on because of the awful weather. Her little brother, Cole, was too engrossed in his game to have rolled down any of the windows. The only sounds were the slap-slap of the windshield wipers, Cole’s thumbs tapping on the tablet screen, and Dad’s classical music—some piano concerto, notes rippling and rolling over them, not unlike the driving rain outside. It was just like the other countless hours they’d spent in this car today.
There was no reason for the trembling cold that snaked its way along Nadia’s skin. No reason for her head to swim as all her senses heightened.
No normal reason anyway.
Nadia straightened in her seat—in the back, next to her brother. The passenger seat in the front was always left empty, as if Mom might suddenly return at the next rest stop. “Dad, where are we?”
“You said that three states ago,” Cole chimed in, never looking up from his game.
“I mean it this time,” Dad insisted. “We should get into town any minute now. So hang in there, guys.”
“I just mean—my head hurts.” Honestly explaining what was wrong was out of the question. Nadia already knew that the strange sensations washing over her weren’t physical or emotional.
They were signs of magic.
Dad turned the piano music down to a soft wash. “You okay, sweetheart? There’s painkillers in the first-aid kit; we could pull over.”
“I’m fine,” Nadia said. “If we’re almost there, let’s not stop now.”
Even as she spoke, though, she felt as if she had made a mistake—as if she ought to have said, Yes, pull over, let’s get out of this car as soon as possible. Everything within her told her that they were traveling closer and closer to a source of magic—unlike any she had known before. But instinct alone told Nadia this magic was … primal. Powerful. Potentially overwhelming.
Her eyes flickered over to the empty seat next to her father. Mom would have known what to do—
Well, Mom’s not here, Nadia told herself savagely. She’s still back in Chicago, probably off drinking cocktails with some guy she just met. I’ll never finish my training. I’ll never be able to use magic the way she did.
But we’re headed into something dangerous. I have to do something.
Nadia glanced sideways at Cole, who remained wrapped up in his game. Like her father, he was oblivious to the forces they were approaching; like all males, they were magic-blind. Quickly she closed her eyes and settled her left wrist in her right hand. On her left wrist she wore what Dad called her charm bracelet—and it did look like one, at a glance.
Even after Mom had left, ruining their lives and all Nadia’s hopes, Nadia had kept wearing the bracelet every day. It was too hard to let it go.
Her fingers found the small pendant of ivory, the material she needed to balance her spell.
Silently, she went through the spell for illumination of magical shape. The ingredients came back to her faster than she would have thought.
A winter sunrise.
The pain of abandonment.
The knowledge of love.
She went deep within herself, calling up the ingredients, experiencing each more powerfully than real memory—as if she were living them again—
The sun rising on a sharp, cold morning when the snow was high enough to sink into knee-deep, painting the sky a pale pink, while Nadia shivered on the balcony.
Nadia standing dumbfounded in the door of her parents’ bedroom as Mom packed a suitcase and said, “Your father and I think we should live apart for a while.”
Waking up in a violent thunderstorm to find Cole curled next to her wearing his footie pajamas, in silent, total confidence that his big sister could protect him.
The emotions and images coursed through her, reverberating through her powers, bouncing off the ivory until Nadia could see—a barrier. They were headed straight toward … what was this? … Was it meant to keep out any other forms of magic, or warn someone else if magic entered this space?
Nadia’s eyes widened. She’d be able to pass through the barrier—limits on magic didn’t apply to magic users—but that wasn’t her biggest problem.
Oh, no, she thought. The car.
In the trunk, in her suitcase, wrapped in her clothes, was her Book of Shadows.
“Dad?” Her voice was tight and high with fear as they came closer to the barrier; she could almost feel it now, like static electricity against her skin. “Dad, can we pull over?”
He’d been too lost in his own thoughts to hear her. “What’s that, sweetheart?”
The road seemed to jerk beneath the wheels of the car, as if the earth were being sheared away beneath them. Nadia slammed into the window as her father struggled for control of the wheel—in vain. She could hear the squeal of brakes and Cole’s scream as the world turned over, over again, thrashing her in every direction at once. Something hit her head, and then she couldn’t quite see, couldn’t quite hear. Yet Cole was still screaming—or was it her? She didn’t know anymore—
They crashed to a halt, the impact throwing her forward and backward so hard that her seat belt felt like a club smashing into her chest.
She slammed back into reality, and wished she hadn’t.
Nadia cried out as the window beside her—now beneath her—splintered, and mud and water began oozing in. Above her, Cole half dangled from his booster seat, wailing in panic. She reached up with a shaky hand to touch him, comfort him, make sure he wasn’t injured. But her head was still reeling.