“What?” I asked, weary of where he was going with all this.

“Kill the oracle sisters.”

The jinn surrounding me gasped. Then a deathly silence enshrouded us. It felt like Sherus had just walloped my skull with a brick.

Kill Pythia? Kill Hortencia?

I couldn’t allow that. I wouldn’t.

“They can see the future,” I said to Sherus, exasperated. “How could the jinn possibly murder them?” Assuming we were even willing to try. “They would have seen them coming already, God knows how many hundreds of years before.”

“That’s for your jinn to figure out,” Sherus said, looking mildly irritated by now. “If I knew how, I wouldn’t be placing the task in their hands, would I?”

His eyes swept over my jinn companions once more before he began to drift away from us. “I will give your jinn three days, Benjamin Novak. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what will happen to you again if they fail…”

Crap.

“Oh, and one more thing to keep in mind,” Sherus added. “We fae have a considerable influence over Earth’s elements—the power to effect natural disasters… Let’s just say I would suggest your jinn don’t fail in this, if you have any affection for your home realm at all.”

With that, he dashed away.

Ben

Natural disasters. What did the bastard mean by that? Was he threatening to cause catastrophes on Earth? Had he been blackmailing me? Or perhaps adding an extra incentive, as if keeping my body wasn’t already incentive enough?

I hadn’t thought it was possible for a man to be put under more stress than I was now. You’re going to get your life stripped from you, lose everyone you love and be kidnapped back to Nightmare Land, and then let’s lump in jeopardizing the entire human planet while we’re at it…

There was no curse word strong enough to use in that moment.

Drawing in a deep breath, I turned to face the others. Everyone looked at me, clueless.

But I knew what I had to do. There was only one thing I could do. I had to try to make contact with Hortencia again—augh—and beg for some scraps to help me figure out this mess.

I thought back to the last time I’d visited her cave. Had that only been yesterday? She hadn’t even been there—something that had come as a surprise to even Aisha. And when she’d revealed herself via that potion, she’d looked so… old.

I wonder…

Could that have anything to do with this? The fae’s intention to kill her and her sister? Had that been why she’d uprooted so unexpectedly?

Placing my hand on the small of River’s back and drawing her to me, I addressed everyone. “We need to head to Hortencia’s cave.” And hope she has another little bottle waiting for me there, containing some clue as to what the hell I’m supposed to do now.

Aisha and the other jinn knew where Hortencia’s cave was located—although none of them seemed to know much at all about her twin, Pythia.

Once we had arrived outside the cave, I decided that it was best for only three of us to enter, the same three as before: River, Aisha and me.

Trudging through the tunnel, we reached her front door. I didn’t bother knocking this time; the door wasn’t locked, anyway. When we strode inside, the small room was exactly how we’d left it. Certainly there were no signs of the oracle having returned. The empty bottle that I’d drunk from still sat on the table, along with the note she’d left.

I gazed around, desperately hoping there would be another bottle here. Another note. Another something.

“Oh, look!” River pointed upward and my eyes shot to the rocky ceiling.

Somebody had scrawled a note with white chalk, so bold and jagged it looked creepy.

“Everyone has something to hide.”

I stared at it, unblinking.

She already told me this last time I had a meeting with her. What does she mean by it now?

“What if she means… herself?” River suggested.

“What would Hortencia have to hide?” I muttered.

River shrugged, then cast her eyes around the room again. “Maybe… Maybe it’s an invitation to dig a little deeper. I dunno…”

“Maybe she’s hiding something in here?” Aisha said, catching on to River’s train of thought.

“Let’s search deeper then,” I said, and the three of us began searching the room—something that didn’t take long, since there wasn’t much to search. When I reached the oven, to my surprise I found a book inside. A thick, dusty, fabric-bound book.

“Look at this,” I murmured, capturing the girls’ attention as I placed the tome on top of the table. A cloud of dust rose in the air as I opened it and turned to the first page, making River cough.

What is this? It must have been old, for the paper was yellowed, and the small black writing—Hortencia’s handwriting—was faded. Not too faded to read, however…

As I began to scan the page, River and Aisha stood on either side, reading along with me. I’d gotten halfway down the first page when I realized that this was some kind of journal that the oracle had been keeping. Much of what I read didn’t even make sense to me, and seemed more like ramblings without a thread of thought behind them. It felt creepy to be reading this, like a window into her mad mind. A dozen more pages in however, the sentences began to make more sense, until I realized that what I was reading were confessions. Retellings of some truly atrocious acts carried out by her and her sister.

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