Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 26

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin. Corey, Aiden, and Cate are caught doing magic by the principal and something bad happens to him. Sent home for the day after the principal’s death, Corey and Terese get to hang out and start planning Corey’s birthday party. Skyler thinks magic might be the key to solving the case and Corey returns to her magic lessons. Corey wakes up on her 10th birthday to more than one surprise, but learns what has been protecting her. Aiden and Cate tell the story of how Corey came to be on Earth and of their home in Asphodel.

 

“And that’s how you came to be here,” Dimitra whispered faintly as the twins finished their tale.

Aiden and Cate nodded.

“And now that Corey is ten, she can now cross into Asphodel,” Aiden said. “It is time for us to take her back to her rightful home. We’ve all been waiting ten years for this.”

“And everyone else?” Skyler asked. “Have they all been found?”

Cate shook her head. “Not yet. But others are out searching for them. Our task was to bring Kore home. The river guardians protected her from those that meant her harm. They are the ones who killed Annie and Don Fallon, Andrew Marks, Corey’s two classmates, her second grade teacher, the babysitter, Mr. Connors, and this man.” Cate gestured to the dead body still lying among them. “We don’t know who he is, but we suspect, based on the lack of evidence of a break-in, that he is a member of whatever group it was that kidnapped people from Asphodel. They probably found out we were close to bringing Kore home, so he tried to steal her away.”

“That’s probably what they’ve been doing,” Aiden added. “And that would explain why we’ve been having a hard time trying to find everyone and bring them back home.”

“But,” Dimitra said, “why?”

Aiden shrugged. “I don’t know. Now that he’s dead, we won’t be finding out now.”

“But don’t you rule the dead?” Dimitra asked. “I mean, you’re the Lord of the Underworld.”

Aiden shook his head. “We’re not in Asphodel. Our powers don’t work that way. We can do other things, but we need the power of Asphodel to do that.”

“Powers,” Dimitra said. “You mean magic?”

Cate nodded. “Yes. Dimitra, magic is real. At least, it’s real to us in Asphodel. Everyone from Asphodel has magic, but it’s much more fluid and useable in Asphodel. Here, it’s a little harder. That’s why we needed Chronus and Rhea. They’re adults, so their magic wouldn’t be affected. But, as children, we needed to be inducted again once we got here.” Cate nodded over to Corey. “And we had to induct Corey into magic so we could bring her home. Only someone with access to magic can walk through the Gates of Asphodel. They also have to be at least ten years old because that’s how old the eldest gods decided all the reborn gods would be to have sufficient control to not bring chaos to Earth.”

“Are you really going to take our daughter?” Skyler asked, holding Dimitra close.

Corey looked up at him, her dark eyes impenetrable, and he could see now that she didn’t belong with them. She didn’t belong anywhere else but in Asphodel.

“I have to go home, Skyler,” Corey said softly. “It’s where I belong. I am Kore, Queen of the Underworld, intended of Hades. And I must return home. I’ve been gone long enough.”

Dimitra shook her head. “Did you know this?”

“No,” Corey said. “But I know it to be the truth. I have guardian spirits and I can use magic.” She pointed to the body. “And it would explain why things like that kept happening.”

“It would also explain your reactions to the deaths,” Skyler murmured. “You were eating muffins the first time I met you.”

Corey nodded. “Probably. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t mad, and I wasn’t scared. Death happens. They were bound to die eventually, no matter how brutally or not. The guardians were protecting me and Annie and Don meant me some harm. Of course the guardians had to protect me; that was their job.”

“Do you have to go now?” Dimitra asked. “We just got your as our daughter, the daughter we’ve always wanted. I don’t know if I could part with you just yet.”

Aiden looked over at his sister. She gave a slight shake of her head.

“I have to go, Dimitra,” Corey was saying insistently. “I don’t belong here. And I should go home. Enough people have been worried about me for the past ten years. It’s time for me to go.”

Skyler nodded as Dimitra buried her face in his shoulder.

“Good luck,” he said awkwardly.

“Don’t worry about this mess,” Aiden said. He waved a hand and the body vanished. “Tomorrow morning, your cases will be miraculously solved. We’ll see to it. Don’t be surprised if someone turns themselves in. They won’t be a real person from Earth, but someone we create in Asphodel. Their sole purpose will be to take the role of the perpetrator.” He offered a small smile. “That should satisfy your supervisor.”

Skyler nodded. “Well, then. Good bye, Corey. We love you very much.”

“I know,” Corey said as she hopped down from her bed. “I love you, too. You’ve been wonderful parents. Thank you.”

Aiden and Cate likewise hopped down.

“We need to go now,” Cate said softly. “Chiron is expecting us.”

Corey nodded and quickly went over to hug Skyler and Dimitra. Then she followed Cate and Aiden out of the house. The sun was peeking above the horizon. Cate frowned at it and waved her hand to darken the world just a little bit.

“The light isn’t good for the gate,” she explained as she joined hands with Corey.

Corey nodded and linked her free hand with Aiden’s. Together, the three of them walked down the middle of the quiet street. It was chilly out, but they were using their magic to keep warm.

“We’re almost there,” Cate murmured.

Corey looked back at the house she had resided in. There was no sign of Skyler or Dimitra.

“Don’t worry,” Aiden said, making her turn to look at him. “Skyler and Dimitra are really Zeus and Demeter. Chronus and Rhea are staying behind to work on getting them back home. They’re your real parents. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing them again in Asphodel.” He snickered. “I kind of can’t wait to see what happens when he’s reunited with Hera and she learns he was married to Demeter while here.”

Corey nodded and he squeezed her hand, both ignoring Cate’s exaggerated sighs and eye rolling.

They continued walking a few steps more. Abruptly, golden light shimmered before them and golden gates took form. Light spilled from between the bars to flood the street.

“Chiron,” Cate intoned, her voice suddenly melodious and mature, “we bring Kore.”

“Then pass through the Gates of Asphodel,” a deep voice intoned in return. “Welcome home, Kore.”

The gates opened up towards them, silently swinging. Golden light spilled from the opening. The three children held each other’s hands tightly as they walked towards it. Finally, they were walking through the golden light, through the gates, and into Asphodel.

Advertisements

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 25

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin. Corey, Aiden, and Cate are caught doing magic by the principal and something bad happens to him. Sent home for the day after the principal’s death, Corey and Terese get to hang out and start planning Corey’s birthday party. Skyler thinks magic might be the key to solving the case and Corey returns to her magic lessons. Corey wakes up on her 10th birthday to more than one surprise, but learns what has been protecting her.

 

“Nooo!” The Moirae’s wail ripped through Asphodel, awakening the remaining slumbering inhabitants.

All across the world, they awoke to find members of their families missing. But none were as distressing as the disappearance of the two month old Kore, the young Queen of the Underworld in the care of the Moirae.

Acheron, then a middle aged man, found the three women clustered around an empty crib. Beside the empty one, Hades and Hecate wailed from theirs, sensing that someone special was missing. The three women hurried into Acheron’s arms, Clotho trying desperately to shove a pale yellow blanket into his arms.

“She’s gone,” Lachesis wailed, falling across one of Acheron’s arms. “The young Queen is gone. How could they steal her from us?”

Acheron gathered the women close and looked over at the empty crib. The young Queen was indeed missing. Her parents, Zeus and Demeter, were also missing. That he already knew. He had hoped all of the children would be okay, but, apparently, he was wrong.

“My lord,” a breathless voice said from behind him.

Acheron quickly placed the three women firmly on their feet before turning to face Hermes, the winged messenger god. The young man looked frazzled and his eyes wild, especially when he spied the empty crib.

“Not the young Queen,” Hermes whispered, putting a hand over his chest.

Acheron nodded grimly. “The Queen is gone, but the Lord of the Underworld is still with us.”

Hermes sighed. “At least that’s one good thing.”

“Tell us, Hermes,” Acheron urged. “Who else is missing?”

“A great many of us, Acheron. Zeus and Demeter, Hera and Aphrodite, even Dionysius and Ares. Poseidon is also missing. Half of the pantheon are gone and numerous other lesser gods.”

Acheron gritted his teeth. Whoever had taken members of their world had chosen well. The rulers of the sky, seas, and underworld were gone. Fortunately, they still had Hades, but the boy would constantly be searching for his Queen if she weren’t recovered soon.

“Anyone else, Hermes?”

The man shook his head. “I don’t know. It was Hephaestus who discovered the ones I told you of. He sent me down here. Then I’m off to get a count.”

Acheron nodded. “The only one missing from here is Kore.”

Hermes nodded and took flight to spread the word and to learn who else had gone missing. Acheron turned back to the wailing women.

“Clotho, Lachesis, see to Hades and Hecate. Soothe them and make sure they are well. Atropos, come with me. We go to the Oracle and hope she is still there.”

The three women nodded. Clotho and Lachesis hurried to the infants and swiftly picked them up to attempt to soothe them. Acheron and Atropos turned and swiftly left for the Oracle, the infants’ wails following them until they left the Underworld. They swiftly traveled to the Oracle’s cave and found it already cluttered with other gods seeking the woman’s advice and prophecies.

“Acheron!” one voice cried out.

The man turned to Athena as she hurried to him picking up her skirts as she ran. He nodded to her and waited for her to reach him, glad that at least she remained.

“Acheron,” Athena breathed, clutching at his arm. “The babies.”

He looked at her grimly and panic filled her eyes.

“Kore is missing. Hades and Hecate are fine, but the young Queen is missing.”

“This is terrible,” Athena moaned. “Her parents and Hera are likewise missing. The Oracle says they have all been taken to the same world and we must go through the Gates of Asphodel to find them.”

“We haven’t gone through those gates in many millennia,” Acheron said, frowning deeply. “We haven’t been on that world since the Greeks rejected us. No one goes through the gates anymore. How could they have been taken through?”

“The gatekeeper is missing,” Athena whispered. “Chiron and Apollo have taken to guarding them.”

Acheron nodded as he swept his eyes around the cave. Many were missing, but many still remained. “Has the Oracle spoken?”

Athena nodded. “She spoke only to say that we must go through the Gates of Asphodel to find our brethren. We are welcome to approach her individually, though. Perhaps you should go next. As far as we know, Kore is the only child to be taken and it is most imperative that we know what happened to her. A child of Asphodel on Earth may not bode well, especially for her.”

Acheron nodded and allowed Athena to guide him and Atropos to the Oracle. The girl was covered in white robes with a deep hood thrown over her face. She sat upon a plain raised throne, her arms thrown over the chair’s arms.

“Acheron, Atropos, come,” the Oracle said softly.

“Greetings from the Underworld, Oracle,” Atropos said as she and Acheron bowed. Athena retreated respectfully to join Hestia, Chronus, and Rhea. “We seek your guidance regarding our child Kore.”

The Oracle inclined her head. “Yes. The youngest of our children. It is a grave misfortune that the young Queen is missing. She is on Earth with the others. We must wait a period of ten years for her return. No one may walk through the gates before the age of ten. She will return on her tenth birthday.”

Atropos looked aghast at the news. “But she is a child, just two months old.”

“She will return. But she must be inducted to magic first.”

“Atropos and I will go for her, then,” Acheron said resolutely. “We will do what we can to become her Earthly parents.”

“No,” the Oracle said sharply. “That will be chaos. She will be well. They may perceive her as a little odd, but she is a quiet child. She will be well. Do not worry too much. She will know she does not belong. Ready Hades and Hecate to go to her. They will turn ten before her. It will be best if her intended and constant companion seek her out and induct her. They will bring her home in ten years.”

Acheron placed his hand on Atropos back. They both bowed and retreated. They swiftly made their way back to the Underworld and found that the infants had been soothed for the time being. They quickly relayed what was going on at the Oracle’s cave and what she had said.

Clotho looked down at Hades, whom she cradled in her arms. “Then we will wait. As soon as they are old enough, they will be inducted into magic. And when they reach Earth, they will be inducted again.”

The other two fates nodded in agreement.

The years passed quickly. Several inhabitants of Asphodel were returned, including Poseidon, Dionysius, and Aphrodite. The others, though, remained missing. Small groups left Asphodel yearly in search of the missing, but most returned unsuccessful. They didn’t know why this was so; they should have been able to find them. But they hypothesized that several had been masked in attempts to keep them from being found. This worried Acheron. How would they be able to find Kore if she was masked?

Acheron stood by the River Styx, staring down at the murky waters. The river’s guardian slithered comfortingly around his feet. It was Kore’s fourth birthday. They only had to wait six more years.

“What bothers you, Acheron?” Styx asked, her voice gentle and soothing.

“Today is Kore’s fourth birthday. Yet her whereabouts have not yet been discovered. We have six years still, but what if some harm befalls her?”

“We will go find and protect her,” Styx said.

Acheron looked at the serpent in surprise. “You? How could you find her when no one else has in the past four years?”

“We are guardians,” Styx replied. “We may go anywhere. Kore is one of ours. We know Kore. We can find her.”

“Why have you not said so before?” Acheron asked in anger.

“You did not ask.”

Acheron breathed deeply for several seconds. Though the river guardians were members of the Underworld, they were ruled only by Hades and Kore. They would not freely give information. He should have remembered that. Even though he was the ferryman, he still had no sway over the rivers.

“Then find her and protect her. Take Lethe and Plegethon with you. Stay with her until she knows who she is. Once Hades and Hecate find her, they may still not be able to protect her.”

The serpent inclined her head. “Of course.”

She slithered back into the river and vanished.

The twins grew up quickly, learning magic dutifully for the next six years. The river guardians had reported that they had found Kore and were duly protecting her. They would stay with her until Hades and Hecate came for her. Kore was indeed an odd child to the people of Earth, but she had found a loving family and was developing friendships. Kore didn’t know they were with her, but she could sense something was protecting her, and so wasn’t afraid.

Hades and Hecate studied hard, learning all they could. Hades also learned to become the Lord of the Underworld, but he wanted nothing else than to have his Queen by his side once again. He knew they had ruled well in past lifetimes. This one was different, but he was determined to see it end the same way. Hecate was desperate to be reunited with her friend and lady. She had never been so separated from Kore and it often drove her to tears.

Acheron and the Moirae weren’t sure if they could last until the twins turned ten.

Finally, the day came. The twins were ten and Kore would be ten in just three months. They knew where she was and that she was well. Now they just had to get the twins to Earth.

“Acheron,” a booming voice called.

The ferryman jumped and hurried from the palace to see who was calling. He found Chronus and Rhea standing before him and bowed deeply to them.

“Acheron, the twins are ten today,” Chronus said.

“Yes, my Lord, they are.”

“They are going through the gates, then?” Rhea asked.

“Yes. As soon as we can ready them.”

Chronus gave him a suspicious look. “You are not sending them alone, are you?”

Acheron gave them a puzzled look. “Well, that was the plan. They know how to take care of themselves. I’m sure they’ll be fine. It’s just three months.”

Rhea shook her head. “Acheron, dear man, that won’t work. Earth is very different. The children have parents. They live in homes and go to school.” She turned to Chronus for a brief second. “We will go with them and pose as their parents. We can also induct them into magic on Earth and continue to teach them.”

Acheron scratched his head. “I hadn’t thought of that. You make a good point.” He nodded. “The twins will be ready to depart shortly. They know where Kore is and we have already secured the house next to hers.”

Chronus nodded. “We will meet Hades and Hecate at the Gates of Asphodel.”

Acheron bowed his head as the titans departed. A thrill went through him. Kore would be coming home soon.

“We’re ready, Acheron,” a sweet, yet demanding voice said from behind him.

He turned his head to see the twins walking towards him, dressed appropriately for Earth. He smiled and ushered them to his boat.

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 24

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin. Corey, Aiden, and Cate are caught doing magic by the principal and something bad happens to him. Sent home for the day after the principal’s death, Corey and Terese get to hang out and start planning Corey’s birthday party. Skyler thinks magic might be the key to solving the case and Corey returns to her magic lessons.

 

Corey couldn’t sleep. It was the night before her tenth birthday. As soon as the clock struck two in the morning, she would officially be ten years old and able to use magic. Excitement coursed through her, making it difficult to fall asleep. She twisted and turned in bed, looking at her clock in turns. Two o’clock was taking a long time to come. It was just now midnight.

Corey sighed and crept over to her window. She knelt on the window seat, looking for any sign of Aiden come to get her for a little bit of magic making, but there was no human figure lurking outside of her window. She waited there for a few more minutes before she began to yawn. Quietly, she crept back to her bed and covered herself up. She closed her eyes and felt sleep finally descend on her.

The sun was just beginning to rise when Corey’s eyes blinked open. The glowing sunlight fell across the window seat,lighting on the few stuffed animals settled there, and she lay snuggled in bed for a moment, just staring at it. A smile slowly formed across her face as she realized today was her birthday. She was ten and she could use magic. She looked over at her dresser, to where the wildflowers still bloomed in all their glory. They looked just as vibrant as they had the day Aiden had conjured them for her all those months ago.

Corey pushed herself up slightly so she was reclining against her pillows instead of lying down. She held out a hand and concentrated, her gaze unwavering, her face serious. She called to mind the sensations she had felt when Aiden and Cate had conjured the fire. Ever so slowly, the limber feeling entered her body and a tiny flame blossomed on her hand.

Her smile widened and she let the flame and magic go out. She sighed happily. She could use magic. Of course, she had only worked with fire and air so far, so she would still need Aiden and Cate to teach her earth and water. But it was something.

Corey pushed her covers across the bed and swung her legs to jump down.

An odd sight met her eyes just as she was swinging her legs over. She paused and stared at the black clad body lying face down on her bedroom floor. The head was covered with some kind of hood, so she couldn’t see the face. She wasn’t sure if the person was male or female. It was just a large body sprawled across her floor, gloved hands outstretched.

Corey intently studied the body for a full minute, looking for any signs of life. Finally, she sighed and gave up. The body was dead and had probably been dead for some time. She just sat there and stared at it, her hands folded in her lap, wondering what to do. She was upset that someone else had died, but also curious about why this was happening and who it was that was lying on her floor.

She turned her head to look at her window seat. The window looked intact and it was still locked. She glanced over at the door. It was firmly closed, but the intruder could have closed it after they had entered the bedroom. Corey frowned and studied the floor. As the brightening light continued to flood her bedroom, she finally caught a glint of something metallic.

A knife was protruding from near the foot of her bed. The sun had just touched it. It was a couple of feet away from the dead person’s outstretched right hand. Corey shuddered as she realized this intruder had meant to kill her. She wrapped her arms around her body, contemplating whether to get off her bed or not.

Her bedroom door opened suddenly and Corey swung wide eyes to it, fear temporarily gripping her heart. Her mother’s smiling face peeked in and her mouth opened to wish her daughter a happy birthday. Instead, her eyes fell on the body on the floor, her face crumpled into a horrified look, and she screamed.

Corey put her hands over her ears as her bedroom door fell all the way open and Dimitra continued to scream. Corey heard footsteps rumbling down the hallway and Skyler joined them in no time at all. He came to an abrupt stop and stood gaping at the body. His eyes rose to meet Corey’s.

“Corey, what happened?” Skyler asked as he hugged his wife close, shielding her eyes with his chest.

Corey shrugged. “I don’t know. I woke up and started getting up. That’s when I saw the body.”

“How long ago was that?” Skyler demanded.

Corey shrugged again. “I don’t know. Maybe a couple of minutes ago.”

Skyler nodded and pulled Dimitra from the room, telling Corey to stay put and that he would be right back. Corey nodded and listened as Skyler escorted Dimitra out into the hallway. She could hear her father quietly talk to her mother. A minute passed before Skyler walked back into the bedroom while Dimitra scurried down the hall to call the police.

“Okay,” Skyler said, crouching down near the body. “Let’s find out who this is.”

Looking around, he grabbed a blanket from the back of one of the chairs at the little table. He used it to push the body over and revealed an uncovered male face. He and Corey stared down at a clawed up face, eyes wide open in horror. There wasn’t a single sign of anything else wrong with the body. The clothes were intact. But, remembering Mr. Connors, Skyler pushed up the bottom of the man’s black shirt to reveal a mauled chest.

Skyler sucked in a deep breath before lowering the man’s shirt. He put the blanket aside and looked up at Corey. She was sitting patiently on her bed, her hands folded in her lap and her legs swinging. He flashed back to when he had first met her, when her biological parents had died. About six years ago, Corey had been sitting on the porch swing, eating muffins. Now she was sitting on her bed, looking as though nothing had happened, as though no one had just died in her bedroom.

“Are you okay, Corey?” he asked.

She nodded. “I’m okay.”

“Have you ever seen this man before?” he asked, gesturing to the body.

Corey shook her head, her hair flying around her face. “No. Never.”

“Are you sure?” Skyler asked intently.

“Yes. I’m sure. I don’t know who he is. I’ve never seen him before. How did he get into my bedroom, anyways? My window looks fine.”

Skyler shook his head and stood. “I don’t know. I was in the living room before I heard your mother scream. The front door was fine. All the windows were fine. I don’t know how he got in.”

Slowly, Skyler stood, his eyes never leaving his daughter, his mind whirling. He looked back down at the body and caught sight of the knife. Corey met his eyes as realization dawned on Skyler. Something was protecting her. This man had meant his daughter harm. He probably meant to kill her. And something had protected her from that death. But what?

“Corey,” Skyler asked, very carefully and very slowly. “What is protecting you?”

Corey cocked her head to the side, her legs never stopping their swinging motion. “What do you mean?”

“Listen to me, sweetie. This man meant you harm.” Skyler pointed to the knife. “He probably meant to kill you. But he died instead, in the same way all those other people died. Something is protecting you. What is it?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Dad.”

Dimitra walked back into the room just then, her face pale and her cell phone clasped in her hand. Skyler turned slightly to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“They should be here soon,” Dimitra said quietly.

Skyler nodded. “Something is protecting Corey, Dimitra. But she won’t say what.”

“That’s because I don’t know,” Corey said emphatically. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Maybe we can help,” a slithering voice said from the air. “We are her guardians.”

A billow of smoke rose from Corey and formed three snake-like figures. They were coiled up in the air above Corey’s head. One was a shimmering dark blue and the second was a fiery red while the third was a gold and green mix. Short arms with claws extended from three points on their bodies, two on one side of the body and one on the other. Two wings flapped gently from the middle of their body, each covered with silver feathers and gold scales. The heads were rounded with luminous gold eyes and a wide slit mouth. The voice was slithering, but there was no evidence of a snake tongue.

Skyler and Dimitra clutched at each other as they stared wide eyed at the serpents. Corey was looking up at them with curiosity in her eyes, but she didn’t seem frightened.

“Who are you?” Corey asked curiously.

“We are the guardians from Asphodel sent to protect you,” the blue one said. “I am Styx, guardian of the River Styx.”

The red one lowered its head. “I am Plegethon, guardian of the River Plegethon.”

“Lethe, guardian of the River Lethe. When our world lost you, we were sent to find and protect you from those who meant you harm.”

“What are you?” Dimitra asked, her voice quivering, fear evident.

“Spirits,” Lethe responded. “We are the guardian spirits.”

“Perhaps we can help,” another voice said, this one from behind Skyler and Dimitra.

The couple turned and saw Aiden and Cate standing behind them. Both of them were dressed in long gold robes tied with ropes of silver.

“Are you guardian spirits, too?” Dimitra asked, her fingers digging into her husband’s arms, fear in her voice, face, and eyes.

Cate smiled at her gently and she and her brother stepped into the room. Skyler and Dimitra moved away towards the wall, flattening themselves against it. The twins went to stand near Corey. Aiden looked down at the dead body and shook his head. The twins looked up at the serpents and the serpents bowed their heads. Cate recognized them with a nod.

“You have done your duty well,” Cate said solemnly. “We thank you.”

“Anything for our young Queen,” Styx said, bowing her head.

“You are free to return to Asphodel,” Cate said. “We will be bringing her home very soon.”

The red and the blue serpents bowed their heads and vanished.

“If my Lady approves, I will remain with our young Queen,” Lethe said.

Cate inclined her head and the serpent turned into a wisp of smoke that went back into Corey. The girl made no motion that it had; her eyes just turned to her friends.

“Who are you?” Dimitra whispered.

“I am Hades, Lord of the Underworld. This is my twin sister, Hecate, handmaiden to Kore.” Aiden swept out a hand towards Corey. “This is Kore, Queen of the Underworld.”

Dimitra looked faint and Skyler clasped her tightly to him, his sharp eyes never leaving the three children before him, the three children who were claiming to be ancient Greek gods.

“I think you had better explain this to us,” Skyler said solemnly.

Aiden nodded as he and Cate settled themselves on either side of Corey. “Of course. But, first, you must know we come from another world known as Asphodel. You know of the Greek gods who once ruled this world. They are not stories, but beings from another world, Asphodel. When we were banished from this world, we returned home and each of us is reborn after a thousand years of life.” Aiden turned to look at Corey and Cate. “This happened for my sister and me about four or five months before Corey joined us in the rebirth.”

“Corey had just been reborn when a mysterious force swept through our world,” Cate said, taking over the narrative. “We were infants ourselves when it happened. No one knows what it was, but they attacked our world. We all fell into a deep sleep. When we awoke, half of Asphodel was missing, including Kore…”

 

 

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 23

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin. Corey, Aiden, and Cate are caught doing magic by the principal and something bad happens to him. Sent home for the day after the principal’s death, Corey and Terese get to hang out and start planning Corey’s birthday party.

 

It was past midnight, but Skyler couldn’t sleep. Corey’s principal had been killed nearly two weeks ago the same way everyone else in her life had died. It was a brutal death, one he wouldn’t wish on anyone, no matter what they had done. The cases were really piling up and his supervisor was pressuring him to solve this. Five years’ worth of deaths, of people dying in the exact same manner, and none of them solved.

He picked up the most recent picture. Mr. Connors was face down in the snow. His lips had been bluish and his body was cold and rigid. It looked like he had been standing and had just tipped over and fallen perfectly straight. None of his clothing had been out of place, but his face had been clawed almost beyond recognition. After removing articles of clothing to get a better look at the body, they had found the body had looked like it had been mauled by an animal. But not a single piece of clothing had been torn or even slightly ripped. It was like something had gotten under his clothes and torn up the body.

Skyler shivered and put the picture back down. He started examining each picture, studying each one for anything he had missed.

A soft knock came at the door and he looked up. Dimitra poked her head in and gave him a soft smile, her black hair falling across her shoulders.

“Still awake?” Skyler asked.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Dimitra admitted, stepping into the office and closing the door behind her. “I can’t get Mr. Connors’ death out of my head.”

Skyler’s brow furrowed. “But it happened almost two weeks ago.”

“I know,” Dimitra said softly as she made her way over to the chair across from his desk. “I need to talk to you, Sky.”

“About what?”

Dimitra waved a hand at his open file. “About your cases.”

He frowned at her. “Why?”

“Sky, please. I don’t know if this is important or not right now, but do you remember when you gave me your hypothesis back in December? About someone protecting Corey or maybe trying to get to her through all these people?”

Slowly, Skyler nodded, not quite sure where this was going. His wife had been adamant about not believing his theories. She thought they were farfetched and, sometimes, he had to agree with her. But he didn’t have any other theories.

“I told you Corey asked about magic a couple of weeks ago, right?”

Slowly, Skyler nodded. “Yes.”

“And you said that maybe it made sense. That maybe someone was magically connected to her.”

“Yes,” Skyler said slowly. “I remember that. You didn’t believe me.”

Dimitra looked down as she fiddled with the sash of her bathrobe. “Well, maybe I do. Corey said that she, Aiden, and Cate had been playing under the trees that one day when Rhiannon and I dropped the kids off early because we had to be in the office early. Corey said the principal had snuck up on them and accused them of playing with fire. It was probably some kind of light reflection off of the snow, but he thought they were playing with matches. Corey said he was mean to them, especially to her, and he scared her.”

Skyler’s frown deepened. Instead of answering his wife, he began to hurriedly rifle through the pictures scattered across his desk. He was muttering to himself and Dimitra just gave a puzzled look.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Here,” Skyler said, holding up a picture. He took a long look at it and then handed it over to her. “Take a close look, Dimitra. Do you see what he’s holding?”

Dimitra squinted at the picture. “Is that a matchbox in his fist?”

Skyler nodded. “It is.”

Dimitra looked up at him as she handed the picture back. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. But he accused the kids of playing with matches and he had a matchbox in his fist when he died. I’m starting to think those twins are a bad influence on her. I don’t think I want her to hang around with them anymore.”

Dimitra furrowed her brow. “But they’re such good friends. They live next door. Rhiannon is a lovely woman. The kids are in the same class. How can we keep her from hanging out with them? We can’t just say ‘I forbid you to ever spend time with your friends again.’ No one is going to listen to that. And it’ll make school awkward for her. How can we do that to Corey? Hasn’t she been through enough?”

Skyler’s face hardened. “If it’s for her safety, her protection, I don’t care what we have to do. I don’t want her hanging out with those twins anymore.”

Dimitra pursed her lips. “Fine. Then you’ll have to be the one to tell her.”

“All right. I’ll tell her first thing in the morning.”

“I doubt she’ll take it very well.”

Skyler shrugged. “It’s either she obeys us or we send her to another school.”

Dimitra stared at him. “This is one point I don’t agree with you on. But have it your way. See if she obeys. I’ll be waiting to tell you I told you so.”

With that, Dimitra rose and swept from the room. Skyler watched her go with an impassive face. Then he returned to studying the pictures once more.

 

“Look who I have with me,” Aiden announced as he and Corey stepped into the gazebo.

Cate looked up from where she was sitting on the middle of the floor. She jumped up and hurried to embrace her friend. “Oh, Corey, we’re so glad you’ve come back. You know, you really shouldn’t take two weeks off from working with magic. But we’re glad you’re here. Come and sit.”

Cate guided her friend to the middle of the gazebo and the three of them sat around a tall, red candle.

“Why haven’t you come, anyways?” Cate asked.

Corey shrugged. “My parents got really scared after Mr. Connors died. I didn’t want to worry them.”

“They wouldn’t have known, anyways,” Aiden pointed out.

Corey shook her head. “My father has been up almost every night for the past two weeks. When he’s working, he never falls asleep until almost morning. He would have known something weird was going on if he suddenly woke up at his desk. I couldn’t let that happen.” Corey hesitated and fiddled with her fingers for a few moments before whispering, “And my parents don’t want me to have anything to do with either of you.”

Cate and Aiden stared at her in shock, but Corey refused to meet their eyes.

“What?” Cate asked, confusion in her voice. “I don’t understand.”

“My father thinks you’re a bad influence on me. He doesn’t want me to play with you anymore, for my own safety. My mother doesn’t agree with him, but she does want to keep me safe.”

“But we would never mean you harm,” Cate said.

“I know. But they think something weird is going on with you and your family.”

“Corey, you know what’s going on. I know you can’t tell your parents about magic, but surely you could let them know there’s nothing weird about us.”

Corey shrugged. “It’s either I stop playing with you or I get sent to another school,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t want to leave this school.”

“So, what’s going to happen?” Aiden asked.

“For the sake of my parents, I won’t play with you in public, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop learning magic. If this is a part of me, something my biological parents handed down to me, then I’m not going to say no to it.”

Cate smiled. “That’s a good compromise.”

Aiden nodded. Then the twins looked serious.

“We need to tell you something, Corey,” Cate said seriously. “It’s about Mr. Connors death. There’s something you need to know about yourself.”

Firmly, Corey shook her head. “No. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to have anything to do with that.”

“But, Corey,” Aiden said. “You need to hear us.”

“No,” Corey said, her voice ever more firm. “I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll leave if you insist on saying one more word about it.”

Aiden and Cate looked taken aback. They traded worried looks, but nodded reluctantly.

“Okay,” Cate said. “We’ll agree for now. But you will have to find out about it one day.”

“I’ll find out then. I don’t want to know right now. All I want to do right now is learn magic. Are we still working on fire?”

Aiden nodded. “I think we should teach you how to infuse it with warmth than can fill a room. Since you’re like us and get cold too fast even when it isn’t really that cold, we think you should learn it. It’s a little more complex. It uses some air magic, but I think you should get a good feel for it.”

“Will I be able to do what you’re doing when you’re teaching me? I mean, when I turn ten, will I be able to conjure a flame?”

Cate nodded. “You’re already familiar with the patterns. All you have to do is concentrate, remember them, and then it’ll happen.”

“So, the more I learn now, the more I’ll be able to do when I turn ten,” Corey stated.

Cate nodded. “That’s right. Now we’ll teach you how to use fire to make a room warm, even after putting out the flame. Then we’ll teach you how to use fire to put up a protective wall.”

Corey nodded. “Okay. But I don’t want to stay out too long.”

“Of course,” Cate said. “This shouldn’t take too long. We’re not going to experiment with how magic goes wrong this time, so tonight it’ll feel pleasant.”

Corey nodded as Aiden moved into place behind her. He cupped the backs of her hands with his and held out their hands. Moving them slowly, he and Cate began to breathe together. Corey joined in as the sides of her hands touched each other to form a cup. Cate added her hands, placing the backs of her hands in Corey’s.

Ever so slowly, Corey felt the magic sweeping through her, feeling that pleasant flexible feeling in her spine. It made her feel tall and expansive and she sighed at the sensation. Slowly, a flame grew in Cate’s palms. Corey’s eyes were fixated on it so hard that she almost missed a subtle change.

Cate was adding in strands of air magic, making the flexible sensation in Corey feel lighter and lighter. She almost felt like her skin was shedding around her and she was about to float away. She felt free, as though she could meet the clouds and sleep on them, she was so light. As she was experiencing this, warmth began to seep into her and then it flooded the room.

Across from the flame, Cate smiled. She moved her hands together to extinguish the flame. The flexible feeling was gone, but the buoyancy was still there. She still felt like floating.

“I’m going to make the warmth disappear,” Aiden murmured in her ear.

The warmth began to grow chill as the buoyancy feeling slowly seeped out of Corey’s body. As soon as she felt herself return to normal, the gazebo had gone back to its original temperature. It was cool, but some heat remained.

“How did that feel?” Cate asked, looking at her friend intently.

“It felt good,” Corey replied. “I felt like I could float away into the clouds and that I was so light I could sleep on the clouds.”

Cate nodded. “Sometimes the sensations we feel are similar to the element we work with. When I work with earth, I feel very grounded, like I can sink into the ground. When Aiden uses water, he feels like he’s being swept out to see, but can still keep his head above the water.”

“It’s when I feel like I’m drowning that I know something’s gone wrong,” Aiden added. “As we work with you, you’ll learn how each element feels and how they feel in combination. You’ll also get to know what it feels like when something goes wrong.”

Corey shuddered, remembering the painful feeling of the fire gone wrong. “Let’s just stop for the night, okay? I’m really tired.”

Cate nodded sympathetically. “It can be tiring if you use it after not using it for a while. Aiden, why don’t you take her home? We can work some more tomorrow night, okay?”

“I’ll try my best,” Corey said as Aiden helped her stand. “But it depends on if my father will be awake tomorrow night.”

“Of course,” Cate said quietly. “But do try your best.”

Corey smiled at her as she finished bundling up and let Aiden escort her from the gazebo.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Aiden asked as they walked, leaving behind no trail.

Corey nodded. “I’m okay.”

Aiden looked over at his friend and gently wrapped an arm around her shoulders, keeping her close.

 

 

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 22

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin. Corey, Aiden, and Cate are caught doing magic by the principal and something bad happens to him.

 

Mrs. James’ class had just started the morning’s math lesson and the students were scrambling for their math books when the classroom door flew open. A frazzled vice principal stood in the doorway. She quickly scanned the room and then strode up to the front of the classroom. Slowly, Mrs. James put her dry erase board marker down, careful to cap it, and took a step towards Ms. Grace.

The vice principal lowered her head and spoke softly to Mrs. James. The teacher’s face paled and her hands became visibly shaky. She nodded and murmured something to Ms. Grace. The vice principal gently squeezed Mrs. James’ upper arm and then hurried from the room.

“What’s wrong, Mrs. James?” a red haired girl at the front of the room asked, raising her hand. “Are you okay?”

Mrs. James took a deep breath and folded her hands. She looked out at her students, at each curious face, wondering how they were going to take the news. Most of them had already lost two classmates two years before and their teacher the previous year. What was this news going to do to them? And why was it happening to this cohort?

The red haired girl still had her hand waving in the air. “Mrs. James?”

Mrs. James blinked and gave the girl a small smile. She waved a hand to get the girl to lower her arm and then linked her fingers together.

“I’m afraid I have bad news. Something terrible has happened at this school and the rest of the school day has been cancelled. You’re parents have been notified and are on their way.” As excited murmurs swept through the class, Mrs. James waved her hands to get them to lower their voices. “I’m not finished, class. I’m afraid that our principal, Mr. Connors, has been found on the premises under the trees on your playground. He was found dead in a most horrific way. I regret that I have had to tell you what has happened, but the vice principal believes it necessary that all students should understand and be careful. Please, wait here until your parents arrive and make sure you stick with them. Whoever committed this terrible crime could still be around here.”

With that said, Mrs. James walked to the back of the room to settled herself at her desk. A few nervous students surrounded her desk and she did her best to soothe them. Others gathered in groups to whisper among themselves.

Corey sat at her desk, swinging her legs, with her hands folded on top of her desk. She didn’t seem in the least bit fazed. As a matter of fact, she looked like she already knew what had happened. The news hadn’t come as a surprise to her. Aiden had looked back at Corey as Mrs. James was telling them the news. Now, he grabbed his sister’s hand and they worked their way to Corey’s desk.

Dimitra burst into the room just then. After waving to Mrs. James, the woman marched over to Corey. The girl had already slipped from her chair and had flung her backpack over her shoulders. Aiden and Cate had almost reached her, but Terese and Stacy were still between them.

Dimitra swept down and tightly hugged her daughter. “Your father was called to the school for another mysterious death,” she explained, brushing back some of Corey’s hair. “He called me right away and told me to come get you. Are you okay?”

Corey nodded. “I’m okay.”

“Corey?” Cate asked from just beyond Terese.

Corey looked up and waved to her friend. “My mom is already here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Wait,” Aiden said. “We need to talk to you.”

Dimitra gave them a tight smile. “I’m afraid I do need to take Corey home. She’s been through enough. I don’t want her to linger at school longer than she needs to. Your mother should be here soon, anyways, so you should get ready to go. Terese, your mother asked me to pick you up and take you home with us. Get your backpack, sweetie.”

The blond girl nodded and slid from her chair. She quickly packed up her backpack and slung it over one shoulder before joining Dimitra and Corey as they were heading for the door. Corey glanced back as she and her mother approached the door and saw the twins looking helpless alongside Stacy.

“Come on, girls,” Dimitra said gently. “Let’s get you out of here as soon as possible.”

“I like that idea,” Terese seconded. She shuddered. “I can’t believe someone else from this school died. It’s like everyone here is cursed or something. I don’t like it here.” She lowered her voice so only Corey could hear. “It’s like the bad magic Mrs. James was talking about.”

Corey cast her friend a blithe look before quickly turning away. She gave a sharp nod. “I suppose so.”

“Now, girls,” Dimitra said, “there’s no such thing as magic. There must just be someone around here targeting people from this school.”

“Is that what Dad thinks?” Corey asked.

“It’s one of his theories.”

“Then how does he explain my biological parents and Andy?”

Dimitra hesitated as she ushered the girls to her car. She climbed in and glanced back at her daughter. “He hasn’t quite figured that part out yet.”

The drive back to the Adams’ house was quiet with both girls lost in their own thoughts. Dimitra pulled into the driveway and then helped the girls out of the car. Inside, she settled both of them on the stools and made some hot chocolate.

“Are you okay?” Terese asked quietly.

Corey turned her head slightly. “I suppose. Why?”

Terese shrugged. “I don’t know. You don’t seem that scared or nervous or anything. Like everyone else at school. You don’t even seem surprised.”

Corey shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’m used to people dying.”

Terese shuddered. “That’s kind of creepy. I think I would be freaking out.”

“Then be glad it hasn’t happened to you,” Corey said quietly. “I don’t like it anymore than anyone else does, but it’s happened and I can’t do anything about it.”

Terese gave her friend a wide eyed look, almost in awe. “You’re so mature about it, Corey. I wish I could be more like you.”

“I don’t,” Dimitra said, setting a steaming mug before both of them. “Corey’s been through a lot in almost ten years. It’s made her wise beyond her years and I wish more than anything that I could take those years and make them happy instead.”

Terese turned dancing, brilliant eyes on her friend. “That’s right. Your birthday is coming up.”

Corey nodded. “In a few weeks.”

“Are you excited?”

Corey hesitated. She wanted to be honest and say she was more than excited. She was excited to get to use her own magic when she turned ten. But her mother wouldn’t like that and she was certain it would just scare Terese. Instead, she nodded and said, “I suppose.” She grinned abruptly. “Who isn’t excited to celebrate a birthday?”

“Well, then,” Dimitra said, pulling out a pad of paper from a drawer, “maybe we should get down some ideas for your birthday, then. How does that sound?”

Corey smiled. “It sounds like fun. Terese, do you want to help?”

“Of course, I do!” Terese said happily. “You should have an all-girl party. You know, invite all the girls in our class.”

Corey gave her friend a horrified look. “That’s too many girls. I don’t want that many people. Just you, Stacy, Aiden, and Cate.”

Terese giggled behind her hand. “Won’t Aiden be kind of funny being the only boy?”

“He’s my friend,” Corey pointed out. “I don’t want to leave him out.”

“Well,” Dimitra said, “would you like a sleepover like Terese’s was?”

Corey shook her head. “Not this year. Maybe just a nice dinner and some cake. Chocolate cake with sprinkle frosting. That sounds good to my tummy.”

Dimitra laughed. “I think you’re more excited about the cake than you are about a party.”

Corey gave her mother a shy look. “I don’t really like parties. Can it just be something small?”

“Whatever you want, pumpkin. We can talk about it more when you father gets home.”

“Is he coming home any time soon?” Corey asked.

Dimitra shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on at the school or how long he’ll have to work this.”

“Was it just like all the others?” Corey whispered.

Dimitra pursed her lips. Then she gave a small nod. Corey looked down at her hands, which were wrapped around the warm mug. She took a long sip before meeting her mother’s eyes again.

“I hope this stops soon,” Corey said softly.

“You and me both, honey,” her mother replied.

 

 

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 21

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic. Corey’s magic lessons begin.

 

It was a week before Corey was able to experience magic again. The twins’ parents hadn’t been happy that it had taken Aiden three days to recover instead of the one full day. They had taken it as a sign that their magic was still immature and they needed more practice with their parents. Thus, they had spent the entire week working with their parents and Corey had been forced to wait a week.

But now that week had passed and Corey was getting impatient. She all but rushed them as soon as they walked into the classroom. Terese and Stacy hadn’t arrived yet, so Corey had been sitting alone, swinging her legs at her desk.

“Today?” Corey asked in an excited whisper. “Can we try again today? Are you feeling better?”

Cate just blinked at Corey, still trying to figure out what Corey had said. Aiden just laughed softly and set his backpack down by his desk.

“Sure. We can try again tonight.”

Cate glanced at her brother with a worried frown. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“If not, my parents are dropping me off early tomorrow. My mom has to be in the office really early.”

Aiden nudged his sister. “So does our mother. Since they work in the same office, I guess they’re working on the same thing. Sure, we can do some more stuff tomorrow morning.”

“At school?” Cate hissed. “Are you sure about that? What if we get caught?”

Aiden waved a hand. “We can take care of that. It’s no big deal. Besides, we’ll be here early enough that not that many people will be here yet. We can meet under the trees. Well, we can hide behind the trees. How does that sound?”

Eagerly, Corey nodded and clapped her hands together. Cate’s frown just deepened. It was clear she didn’t like the idea, but she wasn’t willing to spoil Corey’s joy.

“Okay,” the other girl finally said. “We’ll meet under the trees tomorrow.”

Corey found the twins huddled under the trees the following morning. All three of them were bundled up, scarves wrapped around their heads and covering half their faces. The twins were hunched over something growing as Corey approached and glanced up quickly as she approached. Tensions left their eyes as they saw it was Corey. Cate motioned for her to crouch down and join them.

Corey kneeled down in the snow and sighed as the soft glow revealed itself as a floating flame so that it wouldn’t melt the snow, but keep them warm. Corey outstretched her hands to warm them.

“That feels much better,” Corey sighed. “I wish there was somewhere indoors we could use. It’s too bad your parents weren’t willing to let you try anything last night.”

Aiden shrugged. “They just wanted to make sure everything would be okay.”

“So, what are we doing this time around?” Corey asked.

“Do you want to keep working with fire?” Cate asked.

Corey quirked an eyebrow. “There’s more about fire?”

Cate nodded enthusiastically. “Of course. There’s plenty about the elements. Why don’t we work on conjuring today? That’s always fun. At least, Aiden and I really enjoyed it. It can also be a little dangerous if you conjure it the wrong way because you could end up with just about anything.”

“Are you going to make it go wrong on purpose, then?” Corey asked. “How would you do that?”

“Well,” Aiden said, glancing at his sister. “I guess we could mean to conjure up fire, but have it turn into a flower halfway through.”

Cate nodded. “That sounds good to me. It’s what our parents did. I think I can remember when they did.”

Aiden nodded. “Works for me. Corey, sit in front of me. We’ll position ourselves the same way as before.”

Corey nodded and scooted herself over to sit in front of him. Cate moved herself so she was sitting directly in front of Corey. She let the floating flame dissipate, but made sure the heat remained. She started taking off her gloves and Aiden followed suit. Corey gave Cate a dubious look, but at her encouraging smile, Corey drew off her mittens. She flexed her bare fingers and was surprised that they remained warm.

“It’s magic,” Aiden whispered in her ear.

Corey giggled, covering her mouth with one warm hand.

“Okay, you two,” Cate said. “Let’s get into position.”

Aiden moved his hands to cover Corey’s and lifted up her hands with his. He turned their hands over so their palms faced upwards. Cate flexed her fingers and then placed her hands on top of Corey’s, her palms also facing up. Cate and Aiden quickly fell into a easy breathing pattern and Corey fell in with them after a moment.

“Concentrate on a flame,” Cate said softly. “See it in your mind, Corey. We’re going to tap into the image and make it form, okay?”

Corey nodded, her eyes focused on their hands. She forced her mind to think of nothing but a perfect glowing flame. She felt something brush against her mind, like something was trying to intrude in on her. She frowned and blinked a few times.

“It’s okay,” Aiden said softly in her ear. “It’s just me. I’m getting an image of your flame so I can pass it to my sister. Just relax and hold onto the image of the flame. I’ll be gone from your mind in just a second.”

Corey gave a jerky nod and reinstated the flame image in her mind. Her jaw tightened slightly as she felt an intrusion in her mind. It swept through her for a second, and then it was gone. Cate took a deep breath, urging her brother and Corey to do the same.

A tiny flame began to grow in Cate’s palms. Corey bit back a gasp and forced herself to continue to breathe with them. The flame grew a little bigger and a warm tingling sensation flooded Corey’s body. She sighed softly as the recognized the limber feeling. It felt good and she hoped it would stay a little longer as the flame grew just a little bigger.

“How does that feel?” Cate asked.

“It feels good,” Corey said with a sigh. “I like it when magic goes right.”

Cate smiled. “We all do. Having it go wrong doesn’t feel good at all. We don’t like the feelings we get when it goes wrong, either, but we’ve learned to suppress the pain and use it as a learning tool. Don’t worry, Corey, you’ll get there soon enough. It only took us about a month.”

Corey nodded, her eyes never leaving the warm flames.

“What’s going on here?” a deep, male voice asked. “Are you playing with matches?”

Corey gasped and the flame vanished. Cate jerked her hands back and shoved them into her jacket pockets. Aiden wrapped his hands around Corey and pulled their hands back to their bodies. Corey stuffed her hands into her own pockets as Aiden scrambled sideways. All three of them gazed up at the principal with wide, frightened eyes.

Mr. Connors was staring down at them from his impressive six foot something height. He was a thin man with graying dark hair and hard black eyes framed by glasses. He was dressed in a navy blue suit and matching tie with a gray overcoat over his clothes. A black scarf was tied around his neck and he had a hat perched on top of his head. His arms were crossed and his eyes were boring down into them.

“Give them up,” he said. “You know you’re not supposed to play with matches. I’m going to have to tell your parents. And I think a month’s worth of detention is called for. I’ll have to inform your teacher of your misbehavior. Now, hand it over.”

He outstretched a thin hand enclosed in a black leather glove. He wriggled his fingers to try to get them to hand over the matches.

Corey glanced over at Cate with a frightened, helpless look. Cate didn’t look at her; she just stared up at their principal, her face impassive.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cate said sweetly. “We were just playing in the snow. We don’t have any matches. Maybe the light caught the snow in a certain way and it looked like fire to you.”

The principal folded his arms. “I don’t think so, little missy. I know fire when I see it and you were playing with fire. I can’t let that pass. You will have to be punished.”

“Please, Mr. Connors,” Corey said in a trembling voice. “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Mr. Connors turned his eyes on her and he knelt down to be on eye level with her. His eyes bore into hers and she swallowed and withdrew slightly.

“Ah, yes, you’re Cora Adams, aren’t you,” he said in a soft, slightly menacing voice. “The last principal, Mrs. Valence, told me about you. Your parents died the same way two of your classmates and one of your teachers died. Yes, we all know about you. Mrs. Valence filled me in very well. She was concerned about you. I’m suspicious of you. Now, Miss Adams, the matches.”

Mr. Connors held out his hand to Corey. She just stared at him with scared eyes. After a few seconds, she couldn’t take it any longer and her eyes shifted over to Cate. Cate, with a flash of her eyes, told her everything would be okay.

Cate gave an exaggerated sigh, drawing Mr. Connors eyes to her.

“Ah. One of the twins. Cate Asphodel, isn’t it? You and your twin were homeschooled for most of your lives. Yes, I wouldn’t expect you to know the rules, but fire and matches are strictly prohibited on school ground. Now. Who has the matches?”

Cate sighed again and withdrew a hand. Corey stared with disbelief as Cate pulled out a packet of matches, but she quickly blinked it away and dropped her eyes as Cate dropped the package in Mr. Connors’ hand. His hand closed around it and he pocketed it.

“Good girl. Detention for a month. All three of you.” His eyes turned to Corey. “And you, girl. You should have known better. I’m keeping a close eye on you, Cora. Don’t you forget that. Now. Off to the building with you three.”

The three of them scrambled to their feet, grabbed their respective backpack, and ran off back to the school building. None of them dared to turn back; they just ran until they dashed through the doors. Once they knew they were out of Mr. Connors’ line of sight, they slowed and caught their breaths. Corey was trembling badly, so Cate wrapped an arm around her shoulders and they rounded a corner. There, they paused and leaned against the bare wall and looked from one to the other.

“That was close,” Aiden said quietly. “Let’s not do this ever again.”

“I told you,” Cate said. “I told you it was a bad idea. Now what are we going to do? Mrs. James is going to know. Our parents are going to know. And Corey will be in worse trouble of the three of us. Her parents don’t know about magic. They’ll think she was breaking the rules and she’ll be punished twice.”

Corey turned away from them and looked off towards the direction of the trees. A faraway look came into her eyes. Aiden caught the look first and waved to his sister as Cate was opening her mouth to speak once more.

“Corey?” Aiden asked.

“It’s been taken care of,” Corey said softly. “I think we’ll be okay.”

With that said, Corey pushed herself away from the wall and headed over to their classroom. Aiden and Cate traded glances and hurried after Corey. Now was the time to tell Corey something very important about herself. The girl had to learn about it now. They were certain it would explain a lot about herself to her and they knew she needed that.

But they didn’t get the chance. Corey ran into Terese as they rounded a corner and the blond girl squealed as she embraced her friend.

“Hi, Corey! Hi, Aiden, Cate. Wow. You guys are here early.”

Corey smiled, back to her old self. “You’re here early, too.”

Terese shrugged. “Yeah. My mom has to go take care of her sister’s kids. My aunt has the flu or something and she needed my mom to take them to school. So, I got dropped off early. What about you?”

“Our moms had to go to work early,” Corey said as they walked into their classroom.

Behind the two girls, Cate and Aiden traded frustrated glances. Now would be a good time to tell Corey, but it didn’t look like they would have a chance. They would have to try again at some other point, preferably a time that was relevant to what they had to say.

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 20

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins. Aiden and Cate explain magic isn’t bad and induct Corey into magic.

 

“Shh!” Cate hissed, though her eyes danced playfully as they glimmered in the soft fire blooming between her, Aiden, and Corey.

Two nights had passed since Corey’s induction and now the three of them were gathered in the gazebo. All the decorations from the induction were gone, but a sweet, fruity smell still lingered.

Cate waved her hand as Aiden and Corey giggled. She glanced back at the house to make sure the windows were still dark. “Come on, you two,” she whispered. “We have to keep it down.”

“Do your parents know you use magic?” Corey asked curiously.

“Oh, of course,” Cate replied. “They inducted us. Magic tends to run in families, but not everyone can use it. They were thrilled when they realized both of us could use it. We were inducted almost a year ago and gained full use of our powers about three months ago.”

Corey gave her a dubious look. “And you’re going to teach me now?”

Aiden shrugged. “Our parents thought it best if you learned it from us.” He traded a glance with his sister. “They teach us and we teach you.”

“As long as we remain quiet,” Cate added. “They don’t like to be awakened in the middle of the night. If we’re too loud, then our own lessons will be suspended for a week.”

“Oh,” Corey said with a stricken look. “I wouldn’t want that to happen. So, what do we do first?”

Aiden shrugged. “You pick an element to learn first.”

“What?”

“We always start with the elements. You know, earth, air, fire, and water. Once competency is gained with those four, you can combine them and do other things. Those four always form the basis of magic. They’re also the most difficult to handle. If you can handle all four, then you’re good to go.”

“What he means,” Cate broke in, leaning forward over the flame, “is that magic isn’t restricted to the elements, but they are the hardest to use. If you can use them, you can handle any kind of magic and do just about anything.”

“I just said that!”

“Shh!” Cate hissed again, waving a hand at her brother and glancing back at the house again. “You know our parents are light sleepers. Now, keep it down, Aiden.”

Aiden only gave her an impish grin. Cate scowled at him and then turned to Corey, her frown melting into a smile.

“So, which will it be?” Cate asked.

“I can pick any of them?”

“Yes, any,” Cate said with a nod.

“I want to try fire first.” She smiled shyly. “I figure I can use it to keep warm in the winters. I turn ten in March, when it’ll be getting a little warmer, but I still get cold until April or May.”

Cate nodded. “That’s a good choice. Okay. We’ll start with fire.”

“How does this work?” Corey asked. “I can’t actually use any, so what do I do?”

Cate nodded to Aiden and he moved to sit cross legged behind his friend. Cate repositioned herself so she sat directly across from Corey. She fanned her hands, keeping the warmth in the gazebo, but making the flames a little lower. Then she passed her hands over them and reached for Corey’s hands. Aiden placed his hands on the backs of Corey’s and, together, they raised their hands to meet Cate’s.

“We’ll guide you,” Cate said. “Our magic will course through you so you can get a feel of it. When you do magic right, it feels a certain way. When you do it wrong, it feels differently.”

“So you always know when you’re doing it right or not.”

“Exactly. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it. It feels different for everyone, so you’ll get to know what it’s supposed to feel like for you. What we’ll do tonight is let you know how it feels, for you, when magic is done right. Then we’ll let it get a little out of hand so you can feel that, too. Okay?”

Corey nodded. “I’m ready.”

Cate nodded to her brother and, together, they took a deep breath.

“We breathe to synchronize ourselves,” Aiden said as he breathed. “Since we’re twins, we can work in tandem, but only if we breath together.”

“Don’t worry,” Cate said through her own breathing. “You don’t have to do this, but it can be helpful to align yourself with your teachers.”

Corey nodded and began to breathe along with them.

“Okay,” Cate said slowly. “Here’s magic done right. Pay attention to how it feels. We’re going to make the flames rise over our hands, but it won’t hurt us. Ready?”

“Yes,” Corey whispered.

She felt something warm tingling down her arms and up her spine. It feel extremely soothing and made her body feel overly limber, like she could fold herself into pleats and knots and still feel good. Warmth blossomed throughout her body and she exhaled on a sigh. The flames before her rose and engulfed their hands. The flames made her skin tingle with warmth, but she didn’t feel or see anything else.

Cate smiled at Corey from across the flames. The three of them continued to breathe together, each exhalation making the flames grow bigger and bigger until they were engulfed as well. Corey squealed as the flames licked her cheeks, but all she really felt was a warm tingling. Then, with every inhalation, the flames began to die down and continued to do so until the flame returned to its original size.

“How did that feel?”Aiden asked softly from behind Corey.

“Tingly,” Corey whispered. “It felt like I was twisting myself in knots, but it felt so good. I felt so flexible and it felt so warm.”

“Are you ready for what it feels like when magic gets out of hand?” Cate asked.

Corey swallowed and nodded. “I’m ready.”

The twins settled back into the breathing pattern. Hesitantly, Corey joined in. After a few minutes, the flames began to twist. Corey whimpered and had the sensation that her spine was twisting itself into pretzels. Unlike the first limber sensation, this one was almost painful. She felt certain that, after this, she was going to try to never let magic get out of hand.

The flame scorched the stone floor and Corey cried out as the pain increased. Abruptly, Cate took her hands from Corey’s and Aiden slowly lowered Corey’s hands to her lap. He held her and gently rocked her as tears ran down her cheeks. She lowered her head to her chest and they let her cry for a couple of minutes, Aiden holding her and Cate watching with sympathetic eyes.

“Are you okay?” Cate finally asked.

Corey nodded and raised her head. “It hurt. It felt like my spine was turning into pretzels. It really hurt.”

Cate nodded sympathetically and reached out to gently pat Corey’s knee. “It usually does. That’s how we know we’ve done something wrong or let something get out of hand. It usually prevents us from doing something bad.”

“I think that’s all we should do tonight,” Aiden said softly. “We should probably let Corey rest for a few days.”

Cate nodded. “Of course. The first time is always the hardest. Don’t worry, Corey. It’ll get better with time. You’ll learn to control the pain and let it be a warning sign that something’s gone wrong.”

Silently, Corey nodded.

“Come on,” Aiden said. “Let’s get you home.”

He helped Corey stand and he and Cate bundled her up. Then Aiden, using magic, easily lifted Corey into his arms and cradled her against his chest.

“I’ll take her home,” he said to his sister. “Cover our tracks?”

Cate nodded and walked with them to the door. She unlatched it and flung it open, shivering as the cold swept in. She nodded to her brother and he stepped out, leaving the door to swing shut and keep his sister warm. Aiden quickly carried Corey back to her home and helped her back into her bedroom. By then, the girl had recovered enough to settle herself back in for the night. Aiden smiled and spelled her into a deep, restful sleep to last until the morning.

 

The following morning, Cate cornered Corey as Corey was settling herself into her desk. Corey looked up into the intense eyes of the other girl.

“Are you okay?” Cate asked.

Corey gave her a smile. “I’m okay. The sleep Aiden put me into was really helpful.”

Cate nodded. “I’m glad. But that spell can’t be used too often. It’ll get you into bad sleeping habits that will eventually hurt you.”

Corey nodded. “I understand.” She looked around. “Where’s Aiden?”

“He’s out sick today.” Cate looked around and then lowered herself and her voice. “That’s another side effect of the spell. It wears out the caster. Our parents weren’t too pleased, but, after we explained our midnight magic-making, they understood. Aiden should be back tomorrow.”

Corey nodded as Terese skipped up to them.

“Good morning!” the blond girl said brightly. “Looks like it’s an all girls day for us. Not that I don’t like Aiden, but it’s nice when it’s just us girls. By the way, my birthday is this Saturday. I’m having a sleep over party. It’s going to be us and Stacy. Sorry, Cate. Aiden can’t come.”

Cate giggled. “That’s okay. I don’t think he’s into girl stuff anyways.”

“You’ll be there, then?”

Cate nodded. “Probably. I just have to ask my parents.”

“Me, too,” Corey chimed in.

“Great! I can’t wait. Hey, Corey, your birthday’s in about a month. Are you planning anything yet?”

Corey cocked her head to the side. “No. It’s still a month away.” She shrugged. “I’ll figure something out with my parents later.”

“Okay, class,” Mrs. James said brightly. “Have a seat, everyone. Good morning!”

Quickly, everyone scrambled for their seats as their teacher began the day. The morning passed quickly, with Corey keeping quieter than usual. Her mind was still reeling from the magic she had experienced the night before. She knew she would have to wait a couple of days before she could experience that again, but she was hoping it would come sooner than that. Magic was exciting to her and she was realizing it really wasn’t bad in the way Mrs. James had talked about it. Magic hadn’t hurt her and she wasn’t going to hurt anyone with it. It didn’t matter that people used to die because of it, because she wasn’t going to get caught.

It was a surprisingly warm day, so Corey went out with her friends to the swings. She was bundled to the point where she felt like she was drowning in material, but it was better than freezing into an ice cube. Corey took her usual swing on the end while the other three girls filled in three of the four remaining swings.

“I bet I can get higher first,” Stacy said, daring the other girls to swing higher than her.

“You’re on!” Terese said. “Corey?”

“Sure,” Corey said with a shrug. “Cate, will you be our referee?”

Cate nodded and counted down for them. As soon as she yelled for them to start, the other three girls began to furiously pump their legs.

“I can’t go any higher!” Stacy announced a minute later. “Do I win, Cate?”

Cate was standing before them, hands on her hips. She looked up and shaded her eyes from the bright winter sun. She made a thumbs up sign, but it was difficult to tell from her gloved hand. “I think so. You’re really high, Stacy.”

As the girls began to slow down and drift lower to the ground, Terese turned to Stacy and shook her head.

“How on earth do you always manage to beat us?” Terese asked. “It’s so weird.”

Stacy grinned. “I guess I have stronger legs.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I also have a swing set at home.”

Terese groaned while Corey laughed. Cate resumed her seat on her swing and began to lazily pump her legs.

“Okay, that’s enough racing for me,” Terese announced. “I think I’m going to have to practice more if I’m ever going to beat you.”

The other girls laughed.

 

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 19

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret. Turns out Corey isn’t a great secret keeper and grows suspicious of the twins.

 

Cate didn’t return to school until the following week. Aiden had returned the following day, but Corey did her best to avoid him. After talking to Mrs. James and learning about bad magic, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be friends with Aiden and Cate anymore. They might be devil worshippers and Dimitra thought magic was bad like Mrs. James. She felt bad because Aiden didn’t realize what was going on, but she just couldn’t bring herself to talk to him.

“Corey, we need to talk,” Cate said as Corey was about to curl up with a book during recess.

Corey looked up from her seat of pillows and stared up at Aiden and Cate. She immediately wished she had braved the cold and gone out to swing with Terese and Stacy. But after three days of that the past week, she didn’t think she could take the freezing weather anymore. It wasn’t actually that cold out, but, for Corey, it was frigid and she was tired of blue lips and her mother’s lectures.

“No, we don’t,” Corey said, stubbornness on her face.

Aiden and Cate looked at each other and then joined Corey on the floor. Corey scooted back until her back hit the wall. She held up her book and tried to blot out the twins. But they weren’t having any of that.

“We not kidding, Corey,” Cate said. “We need to talk to you. Why have you been avoiding us? Why were you avoiding Aiden last week? I thought we were friends.”

Corey didn’t answer. She just stared with blank eyes at them while Cate held the book down with a heavy hand.

“Corey? Hello? Can we talk to you?” Aiden asked.

“No,” Corey said stubbornly. “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t ever want to talk to you. Ever.”

“But why?” Cate asked, confusion lacing her voice.

“You lied.”

“Lied? About what?”

Aiden and Cate traded confused looks. They shook their heads and then turned back to Corey.

“We don’t understand,” Cate said patiently. “Can you explain it to us?”

Corey looked at them stubbornly. She considered not answering them, but then wondered where that would get her. They likely wouldn’t leave her alone until she told them what was going on.

“Mrs. James said magic is bad and that only bad people called witches used it.”

Fury immediately dropped over Aiden’s face while Cate just sat passively, studying her friend.

“We told you not to tell anyone,” Aiden said, his voice low and angry. “You promised you wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Cate laid a hand on his arm, making him swivel his head to her. “Calm down, Aiden.” She turned back to Corey. “Let’s hear the rest of it, Corey. Why were you talking to Mrs. James about magic?”

“I was cold, so Terese and I came back in from recess. I wanted to read some books about magic. I thought it was really interesting after you told me about it. So, we asked Mrs. James if there were any books on magic here. She said there wasn’t and that the parents wouldn’t be happy if she taught us about it. She told Terese and I about witches and the Salem witch trials where people were hung because they did bad things to people.”

Cate settled back on her heels and Aiden’s face lost its anger. He actually gave her a small smile and chuckled a little bit. Corey gave them a bewildered look.

“Magic is bad,” Corey insisted. “Don’t you see? It does bad things to people.”

“Oh, Corey, not out magic. And those people way back then didn’t have real magic. People made all of that up. Our magic is good and it is very real.”

Corey only gave them a suspicious look. Cate sighed and turned to her brother. She murmured to him so quietly that Corey couldn’t catch her words. But Aiden nodded and got up to leave. Corey watched him walk back to his desk and sit down.

“Corey, listen to me. People don’t want to believe in magic. they think it’s scare and, well, not normal. But for some people, it’s a gift that we have been given. We don’t ever use it to hurt anyone. We use it to protect ourselves and others. Magic is neither good nor bad. It just is. We can use it’s gifts and so can you. That’s why we’re here. We are supposed to teach you, induct you into our ways, so you can learn the good way of using magic.”

Corey was still giving her a suspicious look, but Cate could tell she was getting to her friend.

“You mean you never harm anyone in any way?”

“Absolutely not. We do little things, like the flowers Aiden conjured for you. We do innocent things. And we want to teach you. Will you trust us?”

Corey bit her lip. “I don’t know if I should.”

“Please trust us, Corey. We would never hurt you or lie to you. You’re very important to us. And it’s very important that you learn magic from us. Do you understand?”

Hesitantly, Corey nodded. Cate smiled and patted her hand.

“Okay, good. Can you meet us at midnight in our enclosed gazebo tonight?”

“I’ll be sleeping at midnight. My bed time is eight-thirty. Can we meet before then?”

Cate shook her head. “It has to be midnight. You will have to sneak out.”

“Sneak out?”

Cate nodded. “Yes. Don’t worry. Aiden will help you.”

Corey gave her a dubious look, but agreed. Cate smiled and rose to return to her brother. After a moment, Corey returned to her book, but her eyes wouldn’t focus on the words on the page. All she could think about was being inducted into magic that night. And sneaking out of the house at midnight. She knew that if her parents caught her, she’d be grounded for the rest of the year.

She just hoped Aiden was really good with magic and could help her.

Corey was expecting the light tap on her window that night, but it still startled her. She had gone to bed at her usual time and let her mother read her a book and tuck her in. She had dozed for a couple of hours, until she heard her parents go to bed. Then she had slipped out of bed and changed into warm sweat pants, a turtleneck, and a sweat shirt. She had her coat, scarves, mittens, and ear muffs all ready for when Aiden came knocking. Now she was lying under the covers, just waiting.

At the first tap, Corey was springing out of bed. She rushed over to the window and waved to Aiden. She motioned that she would just be a minute and she could barely see his nod.

Quickly and quietly, she slipped her shoes on and then wound a scarf around her neck, securing it with a knot. Then she drew on her heavy coat, dropped her ear muffs over her head, and pulled the hood of her coat up, tying the drawstrings in a knot under her chin. She walked back over the window as she drew on her mittens.

Aiden was still waiting there. He smiled at her as she nodded that she was ready. He stepped closer to the window and waved a hand over it. Then he stuck a hand in to help her out. Cautiously, Corey stepped onto the window seat and then carefully moved her foot to the sill. She took Aiden’s hand and he helped her down, putting a block of air under her feet and urging her to walk as though going down a couple of stairs. Once her feet were firmly planted on the ground, Aiden turned back to the window. He flung out a hand, sprinkling colorful dust, and then waved his hand over the window again.

“The dust will make sure your parents won’t awaken until the morning,” Aiden whispered as he took her hand. “Are you ready to go?”

Corey nodded and they turned their backs to the house. Corey blinked when she realized she didn’t see any footprints in the snow. She glanced up at Aiden questioningly. He grinned at her and urged her forward.

“Magic is covering our tracks. That’s Cate’s doing. She’s very good at hiding things. Don’t worry. No one will ever see them, not even us.”

Corey nodded and allowed him to lead her over to his home. They slipped in through the back gate and met up with Cate. Quickly, they raced over to the enclosed gazebo. Cate opened up the door and ushered the other two in before closing and locking the door. It was warm inside and Cate helped Corey take off her coverings.

The large windows of the gazebo had been frosted, so no one could see in and it was difficult to see out of it. There were stone benches running along the perimeter and they were all covered with large deep green leaves topped with pomegranates and wildflowers. On the ground in the middle were three red candles, all of the lit. A fluffy burgundy pillow with gold trim sat before each candle.

“This looks pretty,” Corey said, looking around at all the decorations.

“Come, Corey.” Cate held out her hand so she could lead Corey to a pillow. “All of this for the induction ceremony. Have a seat.”

Corey sat cross legged on the pillow before her and warmed her hands over the flame. Cate and Aiden sat likewise on either side of her. Corey glanced from one to the other before slowly withdrawing her hands from the flame. She folded them demurely on her lap and waited for her friends to tell her what to do.

From her pockets, Cate drew out a knife, a deep blue flower, and a pomegranate. She placed them in the space between the candles while Corey eyed the knife dubiously.

“Is this going to hurt?” Corey asked.

“Only minimally, but we’ll heal you right after,” Cate replied.

Cate finished placing the three items, putting one by each candle. Then she held out a hand, palms up, to Corey and Aiden. Corey watched Aiden place his hand in his sister’s and the placed her own in Cate’s. Cate closed her eyes and chanted softly. Corey watched as the candle flames grew brighter and larger until the gazebo was filled with heat and light. Then Cate released their hands.

Corey watched the girl closely. Her face was serene and her eyes were glassy. She looked like she was either staring at something far off or something was possessing her. Suppressing a shiver, Corey turned to look at Aiden. He was sitting with his back straight and his hands resting on his knees. His eyes were focused on the fruit in front of his candle. Corey’s eyes fell to the blue flower in front of her candle as Cate reached forward and picked it up.

“Take this,” Cate said, her voice sounding oddly hollow. “Lay it across your palm.”

Corey did as she was asked, holding her hand out. Cate reached forward and pulled Corey’s hand forward so it was hovering over the fruit and the knife.

“Magic is not something to trifle with,” Aiden said. “Do you agree to learn and use it as we will teach you?”

“Yes,” Corey said, her voice quivering.

Aiden nodded to his sister and she passed her hand over Corey’s. Corey gasped as the flower’s stem grew and twined its way around Corey’s palm and fingers. It was a tight wrap, but not tight enough to leave any marks. The flower bloomed even larger and sparkled in the shimmering light around them.

Cate picked up the knife and fruit. She passed the knife through each candle flame before cutting off a slice of the pomegranant. She placed the slice beside the flower on Corey’s palm and leaves bloomed from the stem to enclose the fruit. Corey had an odd feeling that the flower and fruit slice were a part of her.

Cate cut another slice of fruit and handed it to Aiden. He took a nibble and the held the rest of it to Corey’s lips. Unsure of what to do, she opened her mouth and he popped it in. Slowly, she chewed it and swallowed, looking from one to the other.

“Our blood sings to yours,” Cate said softly, her voice still sounding odd.

“Our magic calls to yours,” Aiden said, just as quietly, but in his normal voice.

“We call to you and welcome you,” Cate intoned.

As she said the last words, she made a small slice across her palm and held her hand over Corey’s until three drops fell on the flower. The flower’s light flickered and the light traveled down the stem and into Corey’s flesh. It felt warm and tingled and all she could do was gape at it.

“My blood strengthens yours,” Aiden murmured as he took the knife and sliced across his palm.

Aiden held his hand over Corey’s. As three drops fell, he quickly lowered the knife and sliced across Corey’s palm, cutting through the flower and the fruit slice. Corey gasped and squinted to keep from crying. It stung as the knife cut into her and as the flower and fruit juices welled into it.

The light in the flower and stem intensified and Corey’s skin began to glow. Slowly, the blood from her palm slowed and she could actually feel it healing. Aiden placed his hand over Corey’s and clasped it tightly. Cate placed her hand lightly atop his, both of their cuts healed. The flower and the fruit slice fell away, leaving only three clasping hands.

“Is that it?” Corey asked, her voice trembling and little more than a whisper.

“That’s it,” Cate said quietly, her voice returned to normal. “You can’t use magic yet without us conducting it for you, but, when you’re ten, you’ll have control of your own reserve.”

“Why ten?” Corey asked as the twins removed their hands. Corey turned her hand over and studied the unblemished flesh.

Aiden shrugged. “It was written a long time ago. Those with magic will only gain access to their reserve when they turn ten.” Aiden sighed and struggled to his feet as the light and heat began to dim. “We should get you back, Corey.”

Corey nodded and Aiden helped her up. Cate began to clean up while Aiden helped Corey bundle up.

“Don’t worry,” Cate said. “The spell has kept.”

Aiden nodded and he escorted Corey out of the gazebo. Quietly, they made their way back to Corey’s home and he helped her back into her room the same way he had helped her out of it.

“Good night,” he whispered as he replaced the window with a wave of his hand. Corey waved to him and watched him vanish into the night.

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 18

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner. Corey has a chance to chat with the twins and learns magic is real, but it’s a secret.

 

Corey quickly tossed her backpack into her room and hurried over to her dresser. Her reflection mirrored her smile back to her, but she wasn’t paying attention to the glass. An aquamarine vase sat in the middle of the white dresser, brimming full of the red and violet blossoms, just as Aiden said she would find them. She reached out and gently touched a red flower, feeling it’s silky texture.

“Corey, your hot chocolate is getting cold,” Dimitra called from the kitchen.

“I’ll be right there,” Corey called back.

Quickly, she leaned down and inhaled the light, sweet scent. Then, smiling to herself, she skipped from her room, leaving the shimmering flowers behind, but knowing they would always be there, because she didn’t want them to ever go away.

“Thanks, Mom,” Corey said, hopping up onto a stool. “Can I have some cookies, too?”

Dimitra smiled and dried her hands on a towel. “Chocolate chip or sugar?”

“Chocolate chip, please!” Corey said as she took a sip and felt it warming her stomach.

Dimitra turned to the cookie jar and placed three cookies on a little plate before setting it beside Corey’s mug. Then she went back to finishing the dishes and stirring the spaghetti sauce.

“Can I ask you something, Mom?” Corey asked, slowly, not looking up from her snack.

“Sure, sweetie. What’s on your mind? Cookie dough?”

“Well, now that you mentioned it, we are running a little low,” Corey said.

Dimitra laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll talk to your father about ordering some, okay?”

Corey nodded. “Okay.” She paused. “But that wasn’t really my question.”

“Then what is your question?” Dimitra asked patiently. “And you’d better hurry up. Homework time starts soon.”

“Does magic exist?” Corey asked slowly.

Dimitra abruptly stopped what she was doing and slowly turned to face her daughter. Her face was unreadable. “Why do you ask?”

Corey shrugged. “Just curious, I guess.”

Dimitra nodded and seemed to relax a little, but she still looked tense. “Of course it doesn’t exist, Corey. There’s no such thing as magic.”

Corey cocked her head to one side, thinking of the bouquet of flowers sitting on her dresser. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, Corey. Magic doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as magic. Just put it out of your mind.” Dimitra turned back to the stove and muttered, “I’ll have a talk with that teacher of yours.”

“Mrs. James didn’t tell us about it,” Corey quickly said.

Dimitra turned back around, a wooden spoon clenched in one hand. “Then where did you hear it from?”

Her daughter shrugged and looked down at her hot chocolate. “Just some kids at school. They were talking about it.”

Dimitra looked a little shaken, but Corey couldn’t figure out why. Then her mother turned back around.

“Just put it out of your head, Corey. There is no such thing as magic. It does not exist. And don’t ever mention it again, you hear?”

“Yes, Mom,” Corey said. She picked up a cookie and began to nibble on it.

Dimitra sounded a little scared, but Corey couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was just because she was an adult and didn’t understand it. Maybe she was too old for magic. Maybe it was a child’s thing. And that child had to be just old enough to understand it, but not too old. Cate and Aiden’s words would make more sense then. Yes, that must be it.

Corey finished her snack and then wandered back into her room for her school books. Instead of going for her backpack, though, she went over to her dresser and touched the delicate blossoms again. They were real, and so was magic even if her mother denied it. Magic was real.

 

“Corey was talking about magic today,” Dimitra said quietly to Skyler as they were lying in bed that night.

He turned his head to her. “Magic? What about it?”

Dimitra hesitated before answering. “She was asking if magic exists.”

“And what did you say?” Skyler asked slowly.

“That it doesn’t exist, of course. And I told her to never mention it again.”

Skyler was so quiet that Dimitra pushed herself up and look over at his pensive face. “What are you thinking, Sky?”

He moved his hands to pillow his head on them and made a shrugging motion. “I don’t know. Maybe it makes sense. I mean, someone is killing the people around Corey. Maybe they’re magically connected to her or something.”

He turned his head and met her terrified look.

“You can’t mean that, Sky. There’s no such thing as magic.”

Gently, Skyler reached out and guided her back to a lying down position. She only turned her head to gaze at him with wide, scared eyes.

“Well, we can’t know that for sure, Dimitra. I’ve seen some pretty weird things. We do have a lot of cold cases.”

“Skyler, no. Magic doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing. And don’t you go talking about it to Corey.”

He rolled over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Dimitra. I won’t say a word to her. But it does give me food for thought. Where did she hear about it, anyways?”

“At school. She said she heard some students talking about it. Older students, I think they were. Maybe they saw it on TV or something. You know, kids talk about TV shows.”

Skyler nodded. “That’s true. Maybe she was just intrigued.”

“Yes, maybe.”

“Go to sleep, honey. You have a long day in court tomorrow.”

 

“You okay, Corey?” Terese asked the following day. She had turned in her seat to look at her friend, a worried frown on her face. “You don’t look that great.”

Corey blinked and snapped her eyes over to her friend. At Terese’s worried look, Corey smiled and released the tension in her body. Aiden and Cate were apparently out for the day, a day when she wanted more than anything to talk to them.

“I’m fine, Terese,” Corey replied. “Just couldn’t sleep last night.”

The blond girl tilted her head to the side. “Really? That’s strange.”

Corey’s ears perked up. “Why is it strange?”

Terese shrugged. “My mom’s a nurse in the ER. She said Aiden and Cate were there last night. Apparently, they couldn’t sleep. They were very hyper last night and ended up falling off their beds. Aiden sprained his wrist and Cate bruised her shoulder. She also hit her head and blacked out. They’re keeping her at the hospital to make sure she’s okay. That’s why the twins aren’t here today.”

Corey frowned. “Are they okay?”

“I guess so. My mom said they were.” Terese laughed. “She said Cate was demanding to be let go, but the doctor didn’t want to take any risks. They think she might have a concussion.”

“What’s a concussion?” Stacy asked, leaning forward as she put her backpack down and sat behind Corey.

Terese shrugged. “I’m not really sure. I think it has to do with the head, but my mom was kind of confusing.”

“Maybe Mrs. James will know,” Stacy said.

Corey nodded and was about to rise from her desk, but the school bell rang just then and their teacher called the class to order.

“Good morning, class. I just have a little announcement before we get started. Unfortunately, Aiden and Cate will be out for today and possibly tomorrow. Cate fell off her bed last night and the doctor thinks she might have a head injury, so she’s being kept at the hospital for a little bit. She’ll be fine, but I thought we could all sign a card for her.”

Mrs. James held up a cheerful card of birds and butterflies and started passing it around. “Make sure everyone signs it. I’ll be taking it over after school.”

Corey’s hand shot up. “Can students go with you?”

“I’m sorry, Corey, but that’s something you would have to ask your parents. Okay? Any other questions? Good. Let’s all get out our spelling books. We have a big test in two days!”

The morning went by quickly and, before they knew it, they were running out the door for recess. Corey trailed behind her friends as she carefully bundled up in her thick jacket, scarves, mittens, and ear muffs. It seemed that the colder it got, the more bundled she became to the point where she wasn’t quite sure why she bothered going outside for recess.

“Are you coming?” Stacy asked as she and Terese walked ahead of Corey.

“I’m coming,” Corey muttered as she tried to catch up to them. “It’s just that it’s hard to move in all these layers. Hold up a bit!”

Terese and Stacy stopped long enough for Corey to catch up. Both girls grabbed one of Corey’s hands and walked along with her, slowing their steps and quickening Corey’s. Corey muttered to herself the whole way to the swings about how cold it was. Her cheeks were rosy and chilled by the time she took her usual swing.

“Are your teeth chattering?” Terese asked as she stood by her friend.

“It’s really cold,” Corey said, rubbing her hands together.

Terese turned to where Stacy was already swinging. “Maybe we should go back to the classroom. Corey’s looking like she’s going to freeze over any minute.”

“You guys stay,” Corey insisted. “I think I will go back inside. I’m freezing!”

“I’ll go with you,” Terese quickly said. “Stacy?”

Stacy pumped her legs a few more times. “Okay.”

“No, stay,” Corey pleaded. “I know how much you like the swings. We can play together next recess.”

Stacy nodded. “Sounds good. See you later.”

Corey hopped down from her swing and took Terese’s outstretched hand. Both girls trudged back to their classroom, Corey trying desperately to scratch at an itch on her very well covered arm. Back in the classroom, they joined a handful of other students playing board games and reading books.

Terese quickly took off her coat, scarf, and gloves and then helped Corey take everything off. Corey smiled in relief as she was finally able to scratch her arm.

“What do you want to do?” Terese said.

“Let’s read stories about magic,” Corey said, her eyes shimmering.

Terese gave her a funny look. “Magic? I don’t even know if we have magic books.”

“We can ask Mrs. James.” Without waiting for a reply, Corey dashed off for Mrs. James’ desk, leaving Terese to follow behind. “Mrs. James, are there any books about magic?”

Her teacher looked up at Corey and Terese. “Magic? Hmm. I’m not too sure. Why?”

Corey shrugged. “I heard about it on TV and was really interested in it. Do you know about it?”

“Do you mean magic tricks, like card tricks and making rabbits and birds come out of tall hats?”

Corey shook her head. “No. Not like that. I mean about making fire appear out of nowhere. Or making flowers never die. Or making weird things pop up from the ground.”

“Oh,” Mrs. James said quietly. “That kind of magic. The kind of magic witches have.” She shook her head. “That’s bad magic, Corey.”

Corey blinked and leaned back slightly. How could something as marvelous as what Aiden and Cate showed her be bad? “Bad? What do you mean?”

“Corey, have you ever heard of the Salem witch trials? About witches and ghosts and evil spirits?”

“I’ve heard of ghosts,” Corey said in a small voice.

“Salem is a place in Massachusetts. A long time ago, they hung people because they though they were devil worshippers. They thought these people, who they called witches, were doing bad things to people, like making them sick. Of course, magic doesn’t really exist, but it scared a lot of people way back then.”

“Is it bad?”

“It’s not something people believe in, Corey. It doesn’t really exist. It’s a nice fantasy, but it isn’t real. I don’t encourage the belief in magic. Parents don’t like it when they kids come home talking about it. So, I don’t teach it and I don’t have any books about it.”

Corey drew back. “Oh. Okay. Then we can go read about horses.”

Mrs. James smiled at Corey and Terese. “That’s a very nice subject to read about. There are plenty of horse books.”

Terese grabbed hold of Corey’s hand. “That sounds like a lot of fun. Let’s go, Corey.”

Corey let Terese lead her off, though her mind was still reeling about what Mrs. James had said.n

 

“Do you want to go visit Cate in the hospital?” Dimitra asked as Corey climbed into the car after school.

Corey settled herself in her seat and strapped in. She shook her head. “No. That’s okay. I have a lot of math homework today. Maybe I can go visit her tomorrow.”

“Are you okay?” Dimitra asked, looking at her daughter in the rearview mirror.

Corey nodded and just turned to look out the window. Dimitra shrugged and pulled the car from the curb.

They were almost home when Corey finally spoke up. “Do you really think Cate has a concussion?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. Maybe. It depends on how hard she hit her head. It’s possible she does since she did black out.”

“Will she be okay?”

“I think so. Maybe her parents will keep her out of school for a few days just to make sure she’s okay. But I think she’ll be just fine. Are you sure you don’t want to go see her today?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.”

“I won’t. I have a lot of math homework.”

Dimitra glanced back at her in the rearview mirror once again. Corey was staring out the window, sadness and confusion warring on her face.

Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 17

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner.

 

“When’s your birthday?” Aiden asked.

Corey looked up at him sharply. They were walking to the office on an errand from their teacher. The halls were quiet and all they could hear were soft murmurs from behind the doors they passed by.

“Why?” Corey asked.

He shrugged. “Just curious. My sister and I just turned ten three months ago.”

“March seventh,” Corey answered.

Aiden was silent after that. He gave a distracted nod as they walked along and linked his hands behind his back. Like her, he was dressed in the school’s navy blue uniform, but, unlike her and her navy blue sweater, he only wore the thin white button down shirt.

“Aren’t you kind of chilly in that?” Corey asked.

Aiden shrugged. “Maybe a little, but I’m trying to get used to the cold. Who knows how long we’ll be here for?”

“Is your family planning on moving again?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? I hope not, but my parents go wherever they want.”

Corey was silent as they continued on to the office. They walked in and met the secretary. After confirming they were from Mrs. James’ class, the gray-haired woman handed Aiden a stack of papers and Corey a second stack.

“What are all of these?” Corey asked.

The secretary smiled at them. “Picture day is coming up. Order forms are going home today. We just got them in, so all the teachers are sending students to pick them up.” The woman nodded towards the door. “See?”

Corey and Aiden turned and saw two more students walk in, but they were a couple of years older than Corey and Aiden.

“But why are there so many?” Corey asked as she watched the secretary hand off two more stacks of paper. “Our class only has twenty-seven students.”

“There’s also our winter fundraiser. That’s what this young man is holding.” She gave them a smile. “Tell your parents we’re sorry. The scheduling is a little off this year. We’re using a new company for the pictures and they insisted it had to be done this month, so we got stuck having to send out picture order forms and cookie dough order forms.”

“Sounds good,” Aiden said, licking his lips. “I love cookie dough.”

Corey nudged him with her elbow. “I think the dough is supposed to be baked before you eat it. Come on, we should head back to class before Mrs. James starts to wonder what happened to us.”

Corey smiled at the secretary before leading the way out of the office. She heard Aiden say good-bye to the lady and she hoped he was following her back. Mrs. James wouldn’t be too thrilled if they took too long.

“So, these school pictures,” Aiden said, catching up to her.

“What about them?” Corey asked when he didn’t continue.

“I assume they take pictures of us?” He gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry. Cate and I have never done this thing before.”

Corey shrugged. “We’re supposed to dress our best that day and have our pictures taken. Then our parents can buy the pictures in different sizes.”

Aiden looked down at the navy blue uniform pants he was wearing. “Does that mean we don’t have to wear uniforms then? They start to itch after a while.”

Corey laughed and shifted the stack of papers in her arms. “I wish! No, we still have to wear them. But I guess the girls can put their hair up really nice.” She shrugged. “Helen always put my hair up with bows. I’m not sure what Dimitra’s going to do. I think the boys usually put on a tie,” she said with a small smile up at him.

“A tie,” Aiden said musingly.

“You do have one, don’t you?”

“I’ll have to ask my mother.”

They reached their classroom and Aiden opened the door for her, carefully balancing the stack of papers in the crook of one arm. As soon as they entered, Mrs. James asked them to hand out the papers and forms before taking their seats.

 

“Corey, come with us,” Cate said, extending her hand at the end of lunch. The two were sitting with Aiden, Stacy, and Terese, their desks pushed together. Cate was standing beside Corey’s desk and was staring down with her piercing eyes. “We’d like to talk to you during recess.”

Corey glanced at Terese and Stacy, who were still eating. Terese shrugged. Stacy was in the middle of taking a bite of her sandwich and stared up at her with large, questioning eyes. Aiden was getting up from his desk and brushing imaginary crumbs from his pants. Corey finished putting her lunch box away and then rose.

“Don’t worry,” Cate said, “we’ll catch up to Terese and Stacy afterwards. We just want to talk to you about something important. The weather’s nice out, so we’re just going to talk under the trees, okay?”

“Okay,” Corey said slowly. She turned to her other two friends. “We’ll meet you at the swings?”

“Sounds good!” Terese said brightly. “It’ll give Stacy a chance to finish her lunch this time.”

“I can’t help it if I’m a slow eater,” Stacy complained. “My whole family eats slowly.”

Terese reached out and patted the girl’s shoulder. “That’s okay. I wouldn’t want you to get a tummy ache anyways.” She turned to Corey. “Take your time. We probably will, too.”

“I don’t mean to be slow,” Stacy insisted.

“That’s okay,” Corey said emphatically. “We’ll see you a little later by the swings?”

Terese nodded with a bright smile. Cate took Corey’s hand and all but dragged her towards the coat rack. Aiden followed behind.

“Here you go,” Cate said, holding out Corey’s coat.

Corey gave her friend an odd look, but let Cate help her put her coat, scarf, and hat on. While she pulled her mittens on, Cate and Aiden likewise bundled up. They waved to Mrs. James and then headed out of the classroom. Pulling Corey along behind then, the three of them dashed down the quiet halls towards the doors to the playground. But they didn’t stop running; they ran across the yard to the large shade trees with bare branches and a couple of stone benches under them.

Aiden quickly brushed away some lingering piles of snow from one bench while his sister pulled a fleece blanket from under her coat. Together, they spread it over the bench. Corey stood awkwardly by them, watching them and toying with the drawstrings of her coat. She wanted to help, but wasn’t sure what she could do. They looked like they had everything under control and were moving with a silent speed and efficiency she hadn’t seen from them before.

Finally, Aiden gestured for her to sit. Slowly, she went over to the bench and sat in the middle so the twins could flank her. As she sat, they took their places and plopped down onto the bench.

“What’s going on?” Corey asked, turning from one to the other.

Cate gave her brother a nod while she repositioned herself to look at the two of them. She folded her gloved hands in her lap, looking every bit a lady with a straight posture. Her eyes were resting on Corey, concern flickering in their depths. Corey’s brow wrinkled and she turned to Aiden, waiting for some kind of explanation.

“It’s cold out here,” Corey said. “Is someone going to talk or not?”

“Aiden,” Cate said insistently.

The boy sighed. “I just don’t know how to start.”

He tried scratching his head with his gloved hand, but it didn’t work out too well. His hair was messed up and stuck out a bit. Corey giggled and covered her mouth while Aiden tried to fix his hair.

“You’re stalling, Aiden,” Cate said, disapproval in her voice. “The poor girl deserves to know.”

“Okay, okay. Corey,” Aiden said, his voice suddenly hushed. “You can’t tell anyone else about this, okay? They wouldn’t understand and would only get scared. Okay?”

Slowly, Corey nodded. She didn’t like where this was going, but she promised herself she’d tell her mother anyways. Her mother would know what to do with whatever Aiden was going to tell her.

“Magic is real,” Aiden whispered. Corey’s eyes widened. “It’s as real as you and me. It’s what brought Cate and me to you. We’ve been looking for you.”

“You’re a kindred soul to us,” Cate broke in, turning Corey’s wide eyed gaze to her. “We’ve been looking for someone like you, someone we can talk to about magic.”

“You have magic?” Corey squeaked out.

Cate nodded and looked over at her brother. “Show her.”

Corey turned back to Aiden. He held out a hand and a small flame appeared in it. Corey gasped, but leaned forward to examine it.

“Is that real?” she asked in a hushed tone.

“You can touch it,” Aiden said. “It won’t hurt you.”

Hesitantly, Corey reached out her mitten covered hand and gently touched the flame. It felt warm and danced around the edges of her mitten, but didn’t burn her.

“It’s a magical flame?” she asked.

“It’s just magic,” Aiden said, closing up his hand to extinguish the flame. “Magic is very real, Corey. We think you can learn it, too. But you can’t tell anyone.”

“Are you frightened, Corey?” Cate asked gently.

Corey turned bright eyes on her friend. “No. I’m not scared. This is really exciting.”

Cate smiled over at her brother. “She’s young enough, Aiden. She’s not truly old enough yet, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“What do you mean?” Corey asked, turning from one twin to the other.

Cate just put a hand on Corey’s shoulder and smiled. “Nothing, Corey. We do think we can teach you magic and, at some point, you can be inducted into it to learn, too.”

“Really?” Corey asked excitedly.

She turned to Aiden and saw him balancing a little flame on the point of each of his fingers. He grinned at Corey before putting them out and folding his hands together. A little bouquet grew out of it, blooming with red and violet flowers. He held the bouquet out and then it vanished.

“Really,” Aiden said. He smiled at her and dipped his head a little bit. “Don’t worry. You’ll find the flowers in a vase in your bedroom when you get home. They’ll last for as long as you want them to. Just a little token from me to you.”

Corey smiled up at him, thrilled to her heart. Oddly enough, she felt settled, like she had finally discovered her purpose. Each day she spent with the twins, she came a step closer to figuring out where she belonged in life. Knowing magic existed made her feel like she was in exactly the right place.

“Are you okay?” Cate asked, concern filling her voice.

Corey turned to her with a soft smile. “Yes. I feel like I’m going home,” she said, her voice dreamy.

Cate smiled at her brother over Corey’s head. It was almost time for Corey to go home. They still had to wait a little over a month, but the time was coming. Aiden nodded and beamed back.

Aiden nudged Corey, returning the girl to Earth. “Come on. Terese and Stacy are on the swings. And, don’t forget, not a word of magic.”

Corey mirrored his gesture of raising a finger to her lips, except her mittens made her raise her entire hand to her mouth. “Don’t worry,” she said, her voice equally hushed. “Not a word.”

The twins smiled and they got up. Cate sent her brother on to the swings while she gathered up the blanket. Aiden and Corey raced over to Terese and Stacy, but Aiden’s long legs got him there faster.