“I think Baz cast that spell.”
“Yeah, but Penelope watched. She was instrumental.”
“Page three nineteen,” Cath said. “Are you ready?”
Levi jostled her around, kissed her neck a few times, then bit it, pinched Cath between his knees and squeezed her middle. “Ready.”
Cath imagined his eyes closing—then cleared her throat.
The silver bounced like mercury off Simon’s skin, but it was drawn sickly into the merwolf’s fur. Steely grey lines appeared in the beast’s yellow eyes, and it went limp, sloshing to the ground.
Simon caught his breath and looked around the lawn. All the merwolves had collapsed, and Penelope was herding the younger kids back into the relative safety of the fortress.
Basil strode across the lawn toward Simon, brushing the silver from his black cloak. He wasn’t even bothering to hide his fangs; Simon could see them from here.
Simon adjusted his grip on the Sword of Mages and held it up in warning.
Baz stopped in front of him and sighed. “Give it a rest, Snow.”
Simon held the sword higher.
“Do you really think I want to fight you?” Baz asked. “Now?”
“Why should today be any different from every other day of our lives?”
“Because today we’re at war. And we’re losing. You’re losing … for once. And it isn’t nearly as satisfying as I always thought it would be.”
Simon wanted to argue—to say that he wasn’t losing, that he couldn’t afford to lose this fight—but he didn’t have the heart for it. He was afraid, terrified, that Baz was right. “What do you want, Baz?” he asked wearily, letting the sword fall to his side.
“I want to help you.”
Simon laughed and wiped his face on his sleeve. It left streaks of blood and silver. “Really? You’ll excuse me, I hope, if I don’t take you at your word, given the last eight years of you trying to kill me, et cetera.”
“Don’t you think I would have killed you by now if I really wanted to?” Baz raised a dark eyebrow. “I’m not that ineffectual, you know. I mostly just wanted to make you miserable … and to steal your girlfriend.”
Simon’s fingers tensed on the hilt of his sword. Baz took a step closer.
“Snow, if you lose this, we all lose. I may want a world without you—and a world without your tyrant of a father. But I don’t want a world without magic. If the Humdrum wins…”
Simon studied Baz’s pale, grave face and his smoldering grey eyes. There were times when Simon thought he knew those eyes better than his own—
“Shhh,” Cath said. “I can’t believe this is happening.…”
—times when he thought he could read his enemy’s face better than anyone else’s. Better even than Agatha’s.
“Let me help you,” Baz said. There was something Simon didn’t recognize in his voice. Sincerity, maybe. Vulnerability.
Simon made up his mind quickly. (The only way he ever did.) He nodded once and sheathed the Sword of Mages. Then he wiped his hand on his jeans and held it out before him.
Baz locked on to Simon’s gaze as ferociously as ever, and Simon wondered whether there was too much animosity—too much history—between them ever to breach. Too much to set aside or get over.
All the curses.
All the spells.
All the times they’d fallen to the ground, fists and wands swinging, grabbing at each other’s throats …
And then Baz took his hand.
The two magicians, young men now, shook hands and shared a moment that held nothing more—for what could be more?—than understanding.
“What about Agatha?” Simon asked when the moment had passed, when their hands dropped again to their sides.
Baz grinned and started walking up the steep hill to the castle.
“Don’t be a fool, Snow. I’m never giving up on Agatha.”
The problem with playing hide-and-seek with your sister is that sometimes she gets bored and stops looking for you.
And there you are—under the couch, in the closet, wedged behind the lilac tree—and you don’t want to give up, because maybe she’s just biding her time. But maybe she’s wandered off.…
Maybe she’s downstairs watching TV and eating the rest of the Pringles.
You wait. You wait until you forget that you’re waiting, until you forget that there’s anything to you beyond stillness and quiet; an ant crawls over your knee, and you don’t flinch. And it doesn’t matter now whether she’s coming for you—the hiding is enough. (You win when no one finds you, even if they’re not looking.)
When you break from behind the tree, it’s because you want to. It’s the first breath after a long dive. Branches snap under your feet, and the world is hotter and brighter. Ready or not, here I come.
Here I come, ready or not.