And the stench of lilies.
Suddenly the darkness and pressure were gone.
Blinking rapidly, I sucked in a deep breath. Then decided I’d be better off holding my nose. Sitting up, I looked around, trying to get my bearings. We were outside the Raven’s Nest office.
Richie lay beside me, not a speck of sand on him. He grinned at me mischievously, jumped to his feet and ran off like he didn’t have a care in the world.
“You did it!” Conroy hooted victoriously. “I knew you could.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I told the owl.
“Of course you did, otherwise we’d be—”
“I didn’t do anything,” I repeated firmly, slowly getting to my feet. I looked toward where the quicksand was.
That’s when I saw Sol, in human form, lying on the ground. He wasn’t moving.
“Sol?” I called hurrying toward him. “Sol, are you okay?”
He didn’t stir.
“He…there’s no way. Anyone caponem, even a shuhval, couldn’t…” Conroy muttered to himself.
Ignoring him, I dropped to my knees beside the unmoving man. His eyes were closed.
“Shut up and tell me what to do,” I snapped at the talking necklace.
“I can’t do both at the same time,” Conroy pointed out. “I can stop talking…or I can give you instructions.”
I hate when he’s all logical like that. “Fine. Tell me.”
“Is he still breathing?”
I leaned closer, holding my breath, looking for a sign of life. “His shimmer is different,” I murmured. “Bluer. Less red in his lavender.”
“Yes, yes, I can see that,” Conroy said impatiently. “But is he still alive? Find his pulse.”
Hands shaking, I picked up Sol’s limp wrist and pressed my fingers against the inside, trying to find evidence of a heartbeat. My own skipped a tick or two when I couldn’t find one at first, but then I pressed in the right place and felt a steady thudding. “He’s alive,” I whispered.
“You could sound happier about it,” Sol drawled without opening his eyes.
Startled I dropped his hand and leaned back.
Sol opened his eyes, grinned at me and winked before swinging himself into a sitting position. He held his hands up in front of his face examining them and then began to pat his cheeks. “Oh wow!”
“Bravo!” Conroy said. “Excellent job. Amazing really.”
I sighed my exasperation. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Not you, him.”
While the owl spoke, Sol got to his feet. He held out his hand and Erich, his top hat, flew through the air and landed in an outstretched palm. Sol slapped the hat on at a rakish angle and offered both hands to me, a silent offer to help me to my feet.
I eyed him distrustfully and made no effort to move. “What happened? Why wasn’t there any dirt on Richie?” I glanced down at myself. “Why isn’t there are any grit on me?”
A slight scowl pinched his face. “Magic.”
I frowned and shook my head. “And why did Richie act like nothing had happened? What did you do to him?”
“He’s fine,” Sol assured me.
“That’s not an answer.”
“The benevolent boost has a benign effect,” Sol replied with exaggerated patience.
“What does that mean?”
“If magic is used malignantly against a non-magical being, the benign effect erases any harm,” Conroy lectured. “No sand. No traumatic memory.”
“Then why do I remember it?” I countered.
“Because you’re not non-magical,” Sol said through gritted teeth.
“But—” I began to protest.
He raised his eyebrows and waited for me to continue my argument. I looked away. As much as I didn’t wantto be magical, it would seem I had no choice in the matter.
“I am so confused,” I admitted, scuffing the ground with my heel.
“No time for that now,” Conroy said. “I sense trouble approaching.”
I looked around, alarmed, searching for blue smoke. Instead I saw Corporal Welmont barreling toward us.
I scrambled to my feet without assistance.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he bellowed.
Sol stepped between us. “And now you’ve found me. What can I do for you, officer?”
“Not you, errand boy,” Welmont growled. “Her!”
The animosity in his tone set my teeth on edge. My fingers began to curl into fists, but I forced myself to relax.
“Get out of the way,” the cop ordered the magician.
Sol held his ground.
“It’s okay,” I said, stepping around him. I offered Welmont a tight smile. “I didn’t know you were looking for me. How can I help you?”
“I’m charging you with theft,” he announced in a superior tone.
“Of what?” I asked, surprised.
“A-ha!” he yelled, pointing a finger at me.
I fought the urge to deliver a roundhouse kick to his smug face and replied as calmly as I could, “A-ha, what?”
“Only a guilty person wouldn’t declare their innocence.” He took out his cuffs.
“Oh dear,” Conroy murmured nervously. “This is not good. Not good at all.”
Tess and Ernie emerged from the office to find out what all the yelling was about.
I ignored the owl and focused on the cop. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“That’s not what Keith’s uncle says,” Welmont replied, stepping closer to me.
Instinctively I took a step backward, fervently wishing I still had Link so that I could get an answer as to whether I should stay or run. But I’d lost him during the chaos of the past few hours, leaving the decision to me alone.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Tess and Ernie were moving closer to the action, hanging on every word.
“What is it you think she stole?” Sol asked, buying me a moment’s reprieve.
“You’re accusing her of being a thief,” Sol pressed on. “What is it you think was taken?”
“A pot,” Welmont blurted out.
“A pot?” I asked. It was such a ridiculous thing to steal that I began to chuckle.
Welmont didn’t like being laughed at. He closed the distance between us with short, choppy steps. “Put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest.”
“I didn’t steal anything,” I told him defiantly. “And I certainly wouldn’t steal a stupid pot.”
“The uncle says it was a family heirloom,” Welmont said.
Now granted, due to my amnesia, I don’t have any memory of personal family heirlooms, but I doubt that kitchen vessels are high on anyone’s prized items list. But that didn’t explain Conroy’s gasp or Sol’s whole body going stiff at the mention of a family heirloom.
“Ummm,” Tess interjected. “Keith told me he didn’t have any family.”
I shot her a look of gratitude. I wasn’t sure whether she was trying to help me or just stick it to the cop she despised, but either way, I was grateful.
“Told me the same,” Ernie confirmed. “No family. No ties.”
“They were estranged,” Welmont said through gritted teeth.
“Then how did he find out about his death?” I asked.
Welmont grabbed my elbow and swung me around so that my back was to him. I considered the damage a well-place back kick could inflict, but I didn’t need to add resisting arrest to my list of woes. I took a slow, deep breath, trying to calm myself.
“March!” the cop ordered.
“Where to?” I asked, confused. I’d thought he was going to slap his cuffs on me and toss me in the back of his car.
“To your camper,” he said. “We’re going to find that missing pot.”
“You won’t find it there,” I told him.
He shoved my back, causing me to stumble forward. “Move.”
“You can’t—” Sol began to protest.
“Don’t you lay a hand on that girl,” Tess growled. “I’m recording you.”
I glanced over my shoulder to find that the older woman had her phone aimed right at us.
Welmont shook his head. “You always back the wrong side, Tess. I’m not your enemy.”
“You damn well are,” she retorted bitterly.
“Just keep moving,” Welmont said to me, “otherwise I’m going to have to arrest everyone.”
Knowing that Sol needed the safety of the cursed land to hide from the Cullers, I decided to comply with the cop’s wishes. Head down, I trudged toward the pink Princess with a sick feeling in my stomach.
I knew I hadn’t stolen Keith’s stupid pot, but that didn’t mean Mildred hadn’t. I could very well be leading Welmont to the evidence he needed. And if he could “prove” I’d stolen the pot, I’d be a lot closer to being convicted of murder.