Chapter 56: Stormy Weather
Edie held her breath until they had passed the last of the tables and were in the small clearing before the forest started up thickly again. The same hollow-faced woman who had greeted them was walking slowly around the trees, perhaps pacing the perimeter. She smiled at them, a creepy, death-like smile, but didn’t say anything. Brandon strode confidently directly into what, to Edie’s eyes, were trees too thick to let anyone pass.
“Wait, just a second,” Dawn called after him. “Uh, you guys still can’t see the path, can you?”
Edie shook her head. “Just the trees.”
Brandon’s head and shoulders popped out from the very spot Edie had been looking at, which she would have sworn was a tree trunk with a large knot in the wood, but now seemed to be the space between two trees. In fact, she realized, the tree with the knot had vanished. If you paid enough attention, you could tell it was an illusion—at least, if there was someone else there to confuse it, she figured. If there had been no one passing through, it would have held still. “What’s going on?”
“There’s an illusion—a glamour, I guess—over the path,” Roe said. “We know there’s a path there but we can’t see it. It just looks like a lot of trees to us.”
“Except me. I have the Sight,” Dawn explained. “That’s how we got through.”
“Oh, do you?” Brandon raised his eyebrows. “That explains a lot. Okay.” He stepped out of the trees again, holding out his hands. “Let the blind lead the blind. Come on, don’t be shy.”
Roe shrugged and stepped forward to take his hand. Edie hesitated, then took the other one. He’d stopped the rat-faced faerie from enchanting Corrie, so he couldn’t be too bad.
“Thanks,” said Dawn. “That will make this easier. Okay, you guys hang on to me, and let’s get through.”
The trip down the path was just as nerve-wracking as it had been the first time, now with the added obstacle of Brandon’s speed—he didn’t seem to want to wait for them to find their footing. Of course, Edie kept reminding herself that there was no footing to find; the thick roots and thorny bushes she saw were just glamours, so she didn’t need to worry about tripping or getting entangled. But it still made her hesitate, and she stumbled along behind him.
She was relieved when they finally broke through and came to Leila’s familiar tree. She quickly let go of Brandon’s hand and made a circuit around the tree, hoping to find her girlfriend there, but had no luck. She pressed her hand to the bark, and while she didn’t sense anything that she could think of as Leila’s presence, it did make her calmer. When she turned around, all the others had made it out of the path as well.
“So what was—” Corrie started, only to be interrupted by Brandon.
“Not here,” he said, looking around. “I don’t want the dryad to show up and catch us messing with her tree… you shouldn’t be touching that, by the way. She must have hidden the path for a reason. I don’t know why you wanted to take this one.”
“If you thought it was dangerous for me to touch the tree,” snapped Edie, annoyed, “shouldn’t you have told me before I walked up to it? Anyway, it’s not. Leila is my girlfriend and she’s very happy to have me touch her tree. Professor Lal thinks she put the illusion there to keep me from going to the market accidentally.”
“Whoa, okay,” said Brandon, looking very taken aback with his eyebrows raised. “Really. Well, good for you.” From behind his back, Corrie gave Edie a wink and a thumbs-up. “I still want to get out of here, though. Let’s get back on campus and back on paved land.”
“I figured faeries didn’t like paved land,” said Roe.
He shrugged. “Some of us do, some of us don’t. Those of us that spend time on campus have to learn to live with it. I happen to be a big fan of concrete. At least I know there’s nothing in it listening to me.”
Edie wondered how he could be so sure of that—she wouldn’t be surprised if there were concrete faeries, or ghosts on Chatoyant College’s campus—but she just walked to the other side of the clearing instead of arguing. “Come on, this way.” She set a quick pace through the forest back to campus, feeling an irrational pride over the fact that she was the only one who knew the way. She also knew she was punishing her friends with her speed as much as she was punishing Brandon—the path here wasn’t nearly as smooth as the one they’d just come through—but she couldn’t bring herself to care. He was the one who wanted to hurry, anyway.
They’d just made it out of the trees when the skies opened up. A flash of lightning illuminated the campus, bringing with it thunder and a driving, puddling rain.