Aftermath Page 3

Sabine leaned close. The pendant was an oval about the size of her palm, hanging from a thin gold chain. The bloodred ruby was rimmed with gold, and a ghostly image—a rose centered between two crossed swords—hovered in the gemstone’s depths.

“That’s beautiful,” she whispered.

Adne nodded. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s an intaglio,” Connor said. “It’s kind of a cameo in reverse. They inscribed the image into the gem’s surface—that’s what gives it so much depth. They were sentimental gifts and the words carved into the setting usually had mystical significance or power—like a talisman.”

They all stared at him.

Finally, Ethan said, “How the hell do you know that?”

Connor coughed, looking at Adne and then away. “I . . . uh . . . may have been doing some reading about jewelry recently . . . uh . . . yeah.”

Adne blushed, lowering her gaze back to the contents of the box. A small smile played on the corners of her mouth.

“Anyway,” Connor said, “that’s what the necklace is.”

Sabine reached out, taking the pendant from Adne. She turned it over.

“This is inscribed too,” she said. “Sanguine et igne nascimur.”

“In blood and fire we are born.” Adne shivered. “Anything else?”

“Another name,” Sabine said, her voice growing quiet. “Eira.”

A numb silence fell over the group.

“The first Keeper,” Adne said. She snatched the pendant from Sabine. She shoved it into the box and slammed the lid, like Pandora’s futile effort to stop horrors from spilling out into the world. When she looked up at them, she was trembling. “Logan’s going back. Back to the very beginning.”

Adne felt the others’ eyes on her as she grabbed the box and fled the library. She had no idea where she was going, but soon she was outside, breathing fresh Colorado air. The day was bright and though the air still carried a chill, Adne could taste the promise of spring. Her swift walk picked up to a run, her feet seeming to have a will of their own, while her mind was muddled.

When she finally stopped, she was breathing hard. Her breath rose in small puffs. Adne looked around, trying to get her bearings as well as understand why putting together the pieces of Logan’s break-in had sent her into a panic. When she saw where she was, her knees buckled and she dropped to the ground.

The garden. Bosque Mar’s garden. She couldn’t be here. Not here.

Why is this happening?

Adne had never fainted before, but now, even on her knees, she couldn’t keep her balance. Black fog poured into her mind, blotting out the real world and forcing her into a waking nightmare.

She knew the scene immediately, but somehow being in the garden amplified her awareness that this dream was something more than a product of her own imagination. She was too aware of the earth beneath her, how alive it was. With her hands on the ground, Adne could feel everything—the channels and pathways of roots and rivers, minerals and magma. And the earth knew her. Beneath her palms, it shuddered.

“Very good.”

Adne squeezed her eyes shut. She knew the voice but refused to acknowledge it. This is not happening. He is not here.

She wished she could close her ears along with her eyes so she wouldn’t hear the footfalls that brought him next to her. His presence was overwhelming. Powerful and, God help her, alluring.

“I love this place,” Bosque Mar said, his voice cool as silk. “The garden was what brought you to me. This is our place.”

Still huddled with her eyes closed, Adne whispered, “No.”

Bosque laughed. “Such a fighter. You remind me of her.”

“Stop.” Adne felt tears rising in her throat.

He was close. Too close. She could sense his body as he crouched beside her. “It’s time for you to come with me.”

Adne screamed, rolling away from him. “No!”

She lashed out with one arm, finally opening her eyes. She struck at nothing but the air.

Bosque wasn’t in the garden. Adne was alone. Choking on her breath, she began to sob.

Why was this happening? It would have been easier for Adne to face the idea that, between grief and exhaustion, she was having some sort of psychotic episode. But Adne knew magic. And she felt its presence all around her, along with the overwhelming sense that something was coming for her.

Adne always thought she would welcome the absence of nightmares about her mother’s death. But those dreams had only fled when the new visions had arrived. Though she could hardly believe it, the new dreams were worse. These weren’t grief-ridden images of the past. More than dreams, Adne sensed they were portents of the future.

The nightmares had begun when the sun set on the day of the Searchers’ greatest victory. The Rift had been closed. The war was over. With her limbs tangled in Connor’s, Adne had fallen asleep. She’d expected a peaceful night. Though her heart still ached from losing her father and her brother, Adne believed that their sacrifices had helped set the world right again.

She wasn’t ready for the tide of horror that visited her while she slept.

In her dream she’d been walking through the Rowan Estate gardens. Dead wolves lay on the frozen ground all around her. Adne passed them without hesitation. The wolves weren’t her concern. She was needed elsewhere.

Adne stopped when she reached the withered hedge.

“I knew you’d come.” Bosque Mar materialized before her. “We have so much to discuss, Ariadne.”

Bosque reached out to her. Without hesitating, she took his hand. He smiled at her. His smile contorted, mouth stretching wide into a grotesque grin until the skin of his face split open. The handsome face of the man dropped off in clumps of flesh until his true visage was revealed.

Adne screamed until her cries roused her from sleep.

The details of the nightmare weren’t always the same. Sometimes it took place in the Rowan Estate library. Sometimes in the bowels of Pyralis while Lyulf stalked around her. But no matter where Adne found herself in the dream, Bosque was always waiting for her. And she always went to him when he beckoned to her.

The first night she’d woken trembling after the dream, Adne thought she could pinpoint its source. Her first and last encounter with Bosque Mar was branded on her mind, vivid and disturbing.

“What a lovely young thing.” Bosque watched Adne move, running his tongue over his lips as if tasting the air. “And with such power. You’ve been playing with my garden, dear. Without permission.”

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