I lay in bed, my hair as black as my sister’s had been, and strained in the silence to hear the sound of a murderer’s approach. My eyelids drooped. Moonlight fell on the clock on the wall.
“Koo-koo!” the clock called. My heart leaped in my chest. I sat bolt-upright in bed. “Koo-koo!” it called again. My cheeks burned. The clock called ten more times. Midnight. My stomach tingled. He’ll be here soon. I clutched the Pendant of Sleep to my breast and fingered the Cuff of Protection.
Across the room, my sister’s breaths rose and fell in rhythm. A brown curl brushed her eyelid. My chest tightened.
“I’m sorry, Melanie.” My voice trembled. “How could I have let this happen?”
A window slid open downstairs, slicing through the silence. My shoulders stiffened. A floorboard creaked on the landing. Sweat ran down my back. Footsteps padded up the stairs.
I drew a deep breath and let it out. My shoulders relaxed. He has to think I’m asleep. The footsteps reached the door. I breathed again and squeezed my eyes shut. He can’t see them. It would ruin everything. The doorknob twisted. A third breath. My racing heart slowed.
The murderer slipped into the room. His shadow fell over me. I peeked through my eyelashes at him. The tips of his sheathed knives glittered against his chest, like his dagger sharp teeth. Black stripes sliced across his orange arm. He lifted a curved dagger, its hilt shaped like a snake’s head. Clear liquid oozed from its tip. A drop landed on my blanket and sizzled.
He chuckled. “Goodnight.” I swung my legs towards him and kicked off the blanket. His knife sliced through it. The cut sizzled and blackened. I leaped to my feet, grabbed the blanket, and threw it over his head.
I jumped to the floor and dove for my flashlight concealed under the bed. I grasped it. He threw off the blanket and roared. His knife sliced down my arm. Pain seared through it. I screamed.
I swung the flashlight at his head. He dodged and snatched the flashlight away. He kicked me in the chest. I collapsed backwards.
I lay on the floor, temples pounding. I gasped for air. The tiger towered over me. His eyes blazed. He scowled. He crouched to lift my chin with his claws. I squeezed my eyes shut. “So,” he growled, “you’re not her.” His gaze shifted to my sister. A grin snaked its way across his face. He slipped to her bed and raised the knife. I gritted my teeth. I lifted my heel and smashed it down on his tail. He roared and turned on me. He leaped, knife bared. I grabbed my necklace and raised my hand. Tingling surged up my arm, through my chest, and to my palm. Violet light burst from it.
His mouth fell open. Eyes rolled back. He slumped to the floor. His snores broke through the drum of my heart in my ears. I pulled myself to my feet. The veins in my fingers pounded.
Draconis can’t know what happened here. I clutched his knife and pressed it against his neck. I clenched my fist. My stomach churned. I sighed, set down the knife, and trudged to Melanie’s bed.
I closed my eyes and withdrew my power. Blue shimmers rippled across her, leaving her hair black in its wake. I brushed my brown locks behind my ear. I cradled the pendant in my hand and set my hand on her forehead. The tingling crept through my fingers back into the pendant.
Her eyes blinked open. She sat up and yawned. The glow from her eyes pushed back the shadows. Her gaze locked with mine. The room faded and recent memories replayed in my head:
Pedro warning me that the assassin would come to kill at midnight, and his warning being cut off by static. Me, packing the backpacks with rationed supplies and blankets and putting Melanie to sleep. Then waiting in hopes that Pedro would come, clasping on the cuff and necklace for protection, and finally facing the consequences.
She closed her eyes. The glow vanished. I blinked away the light speckles. Dizziness rocked me. I clutched the headboard till the dizziness wore off.
“So, now we have to leave,” she said, tying a piece of cloth over her eyes.
I bit my lip and nodded.
“Draconis will send his forces here if his assassin is not back soon. So, we head for the Deep Haven.” She turned her head to the east. “We try to find it.”
My shoulders slumped. “We don’t even know where it is.”
“No. but we have a map. The cuckoo clock.”
I walked to the wall, reached for the clock, and brought it down. I fingered the hand-carved trees at the top. My throat ached.
“You see the hooked pine tree at the top?” Melanie asked. “That’s a symbol for The Scorpion. And that water droplet in the pool at the bottom is Stillico Island.”
My forehead scrunched. “So, that means the swirl on the cuckoo bird’s door is Scorpion’s Fire?”
“Yes.” She grinned. “Because you’d have to be a koo-koo to go looking for a haven on that island.”
“Do you really think we should follow the map on a cuckoo clock?”
“That clock meant a lot to Dad.” Her head drooped.
I plopped down on her bed and lay an arm over her shoulder.
“Once we find the Haven,” I whispered, “We’ll find out what happened to them.” I stood and slung my backpack over my shoulders. “Get your pack on.”
I walked to the hall window and opened it.
“Wait,” she said. “Koo-koos use the door.”
“Well this koo-koo doesn’t want to be predictable.” I squared my shoulders. Or dead. And we’ve got a long way to go.