Steadfast

By: Claudia Gray

1


NEARLY EVERY GRAVESTONE IN THE CEMETERY OF Captive’s Sound made a promise about forever.

The tombstones said things like Remembered Evermore or Always In Our Hearts. But for all those promises of unending devotion, nobody seemed to visit very often.

Today, though, three people had arrived.

Nadia Caldani stood directly under the cast-iron gate, which bent into curves to imitate leaves, roses, and thorns. Nothing about her wine-red sweater or dark jeans betrayed the most important secret Nadia had: that she was a witch—young and only half-trained, but more powerful than she’d once believed.

Her thick black hair was gathered back into a ponytail, which revealed the bruise on her temple and the small cuts along one cheek. Less than thirty-six hours before, she’d fought the darkest magic she knew of—wielded by Elizabeth, a sorceress, a servant of the One Beneath. Somehow, against all odds, Nadia had won. She knew she should feel elated. And yet fear still flickered inside her, a fire that wouldn’t quite go out.

I got lucky, she thought. But at least Elizabeth’s gone, and we can start picking up the pieces.

Next to her stood Mateo Perez, letter jacket slung over the black T-shirt and jeans he’d have to wear for his shift at the restaurant later. Nadia knew he’d always thought of himself as an outsider in Captive’s Sound, isolated by the curse that followed his family. For a long time, he’d believed he had only one true friend—but that had only been Elizabeth playing games with his mind. Elizabeth had used him, and the curse, for her own purposes.

Nadia had been able to show Mateo what Elizabeth really was. More important, she’d discovered who he really was: someone strong enough to bear the curse. Someone who could serve as her Steadfast, the person who could amplify the strength of her witchcraft. Someone who now could see magic at work in the world, both light and dark. She had known within weeks that she needed him beside her, always. They’d kissed for the first time only days before; she felt like she could taste that kiss, feel his lips against hers, every moment.

We have time now, she thought as he looked sideways at Nadia. All the time in the world. So today isn’t about us. It’s about Verlaine.

Verlaine Laughton leaned against the gate, trying to catch her breath. Her pale hand clung to the cast-iron leaves; around her wrist dangled the white plastic bracelet she’d worn in the hospital and hadn’t cut off yet. Though her dads had protested her going out with her friends so soon after being discharged, she’d convinced them she needed it. “Sunshine,” she’d said. “Fresh air.” That sounded healthy, right?

Now she was about to walk to her parents’ graves for the first time in far too long. Through Nadia’s magic, and maybe Mateo’s abilities as her Steadfast, Verlaine would learn whether their deaths had been caused by dark magic—whether every sorrow in her lonely life, all the way from being orphaned as a baby to having silver-gray hair at age seventeen, was a result of a spell Elizabeth had cast.

Elizabeth’s gone forever, Verlaine told herself. I can’t get back at her now no matter what. There’s nothing we can do to reverse the spell now that Elizabeth’s dead. So what good does it do to find out?

Nadia put her hand on Verlaine’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Verlaine straightened to her full height—several inches taller than Nadia, even a couple above Mateo. “I’m fine.”

“We don’t have to do this now,” Mateo said. “We could come back in a few days. There’s no rush.”

“I know we don’t have to do it now.” The words rattled out of Verlaine, too fast and too shaky, but determined. “We don’t have to do it ever. But I want to know. Let’s just get it over with.”

“All right. Come on.” Nadia put her arm around Verlaine, and that human contact helped her feel better.

Nadia had said that the magical resonance around Verlaine was old, going back very nearly to the beginning of her life. If Elizabeth had been responsible for the spell, they would be unable to break it—now that Elizabeth was dead.

But the magic around Verlaine was an especially cruel one. It kept her from being fully noticed or appreciated. The magic kept her from being loved.

It wasn’t an absolute barrier. Her family, who had loved her from infancy and thus before the spell, still cared deeply for her. And there had been moments during the past few weeks when other, stronger magical forces had temporarily canceled out the effect of whatever it was that had been done to Verlaine—when she felt like her friends truly cared for her.

Those moments were fleeting, however. Even now, Verlaine knew Nadia was here mostly out of a sense of obligation; when her eyes met Mateo’s, she saw the same sense of guilt. It wasn’t their fault any more than it was Verlaine’s. The magic was to blame.

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