What Emily wants more than anything is to live with her older brother Rab, but after their parents’ assassination, Rab fled with her and stashed her in a human boarding school. She doesn’t know what he’s doing, only that he gave up his job as a spy for the Mirus Council of Races, and that whatever he’s involved in is too dangerous to keep her close by. But all Rab’s precautions don’t matter when his enemies find her and kidnap her to use as leverage against him. Cut off from her world and unable to contact her brother, it’s up to little sister to prove what she’s made of.
*Originally appeared in the Magical Mayhem anthology.*
“—and that is the reason the Western Roman Empire fell, while its brother in the east went on to thrive until the fall of Constantinople nearly a thousand years later.”
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Emily’s pen faltered, as did her concentration as the nearby mockingbird continued to shriek. The view in front of her wavered, like looking through old glass and she began to see the outline of trees through the vaguely transparent forms of her classmates. She clutched the pen and struggled to focus on the classroom a quarter mile below the ridge she perched on, working to maintain the incorporeal projection of herself that currently resided in her assigned desk. It was a dangerous game she was playing, “attending” class while her physical body was elsewhere, pouring most of her consciousness into the double instead of going with the usual split vision of a doppelganger. If anyone tried to touch her or noticed that there was no resistance when they bumped into her, she was screwed. If Rab found out he’d—well, he wouldn’t kill her, but he’d subject her to the mother of all lectures, then make her change schools. Again.
But Emily had needed out. She was suffocating in there. Alone in a sea of ignorant, self-absorbed snobs, who didn’t ever notice she existed even when her corporeal body was right in front of them.
She tuned back in to the lecture, scribbling notes on the weekend assignment as her teacher droned on, his voice sounding a little tinny, like it was broadcast through a transistor radio. As the bell rang, she rose to her feet and began to walk along the ridge, even as she concentrated on navigating her incorporeal half through the crowds without appearing to touch anyone or anything. It was hard to do it smoothly. Following The Rules had kept her out of practice.
A branch beneath her foot cracked like a rifle shot, and Emily suddenly noticed the quiet of the forest. No birds. No insects. Silence, but for the faint creak of branches swaying in the breeze. Her skin prickled in warning. She stopped and her incorporeal self stopped too. Hastily, she navigated her double out of the flow of students in the hallway, into an alcove between two bays of lockers, then her physical self took stock, pivoting in a slow circle, searching for danger. That she saw none did nothing to alleviate her anxiety. She knew better than most that the worst threats were the ones you never saw coming. Her heart sped up to a rat-a-tat rhythm that thudded in her ears, making it hard to listen.
She could pull her double back, use it to scout. But someone might see her disappear, and that would bring attention that she needed to avoid at all costs. Hands fisted with indecision, Emily stared hard at the shadows around her, willing her brain to process, to find the threat. There? Was that patch of darkness more solid than it should be? Was that a metallic glint beyond the ridge above?
You’re jumping at normal shadows, she chided. Find cover, and get yourself back in one body.
A hand came around her throat. A threat. A promise. “What do you think you’re doing, little girl?”COLLAPSE