Three weeks after being paired, Morrigan was no less cold and Lorry was no less clumsy. They had taken to meeting on Saturdays at Morrigan’s house.
Morrigan’s house was large and had a small gym, so it was the ideal place. She had been working Lorry hard since the day they had been paired. Whether it was self-defense training or just homework, she had a high goal set for the both of them, one Lorry was having trouble achieving.
Lorry cast a glance at his watch. As usual, he was late. It was Carina’s birthday, and he had just picked up her present from the local grocery store. He had the small box securely zipped inside his backpack. Carina was going to love it.
He was about halfway back to the bookstore when his phone rang. The caller ID was blocked. With a sneaking suspicion in the back of his mind, he answered it, “Hello?”
“Hey, kiddo,” said a familiar voice. A smile broke out over Lorry’s face, “Dad!”
Peter Claiborne was the current guardian of the Amulet that kept Glassheart locked away in his prison. He lived in a town far away from Applegate as a precaution to protect his family. The Organization, the governing cabinet of Castelle, required it.
As far as the rest of the world knew, Peter Claiborne had died when Lorry was a toddler and Carina, an infant. Lorry had only seen him twice in person in his entire life, but they talked often.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” said Lorry, still grinning, “Have you called Carina yet?”
“Not yet,” answered Mr. Claiborne, with a dry swallow, “I’m going to try and video chat her tonight.”
“You sound kind of hoarse,” said Lorry, “You ok?”
“I’m fine, bud,” answered Mr. Claiborne, with a nervous laugh.
“How’s Uncle Eric?” asked Lorry, trying to ignore the worried feeling forming in his chest.
Mrs. Claiborne’s older brother, Eric Doyle, was Mr. Claiborne’s personal bodyguard, yet another precaution insisted upon by the Organization.
“Eric’s fine,” said Mr. Claiborne, “He’s his usual gruff self.”
Lorry bit his lip. Something felt very wrong, something in Mr. Claiborne’s tone.
“You sure you’re alright?” asked Lorry.
“Everything’s fine,” answered Mr. Claiborne, his tone stressed, “I’ve got to go. You protect your mother and sister, ok? Love you.”
Lorry barely had time to say “Love you, too” before his father hung up. Usually, their conversations lasted for a good two hours at least, with each trying to savor every second of the other’s company. The worried feeling worsened, tightening around his heart with a chilling grip. Something wasn’t right about their conversation.
“Probably nothing,” Lorry muttered, but the feeling remained.
Lorry sighed as he stepped through the door of Claiborne Books. The little jingle of the bell above the door was barely audible above the din coming from upstairs. He went up the stairs into the living room and found it swamped by middle school girls.
Carina was right in the middle of it, chatting away with her friends like there was no tomorrow. Music was blaring out of the radio. Mrs. Claiborne was busily cutting the cake into pieces.
Lorry dodged the hordes of girls as best he could and gave Mrs. Claiborne a quick peck on the cheek. “Hey, Mom.”
Mrs. Claiborne gave a weary smile in return.
“Welcome to Insanity-Land,” she replied.
She looked more tired than normal. Her skin was pallid. There were bags under her eyes, and they lacked their joyful luster.
“You look tired,” said Lorry. The worried feeling deepened.
Mrs. Claiborne ran a hand over her forehead. “I’m fine. Did you get Carina’s present?”
Lorry produced the box from his backpack. “Mission accomplished.”
“Great,” said Mrs. Claiborne. “Did you get something to wrap it with?”
“‘Course,” answered Lorry.
“Then go wrap it,” She gave him a gentle shove in the direction of his room.
Lorry battled his way through the hordes of girls and slipped into his room.
He placed the box on his bed and began to dig through his backpack, “Now, where’d that gift bag go?”
Something knocked against his window. Lorry whirled around and his jaw dropped. On the fire escape outside his window was Uncle Eric. He didn’t look well.
Lorry moved over to the window in a daze and hoisted it open. Eric was inside like a flash. He shut the window, locked it, and drew Lorry’s curtains.
“Uncle Eric?!” asked Lorry, confused.
“Where’s Sierra?” returned Eric. He had an odd, crazed glint in his eye.
“Where’s Dad?” said Lorry.
“Peter and I were attacked,” answered Eric, “Glassheart is on the rise.”
Screams sounded from the living room. Lorry’s blood, already ice in his veins, froze a second time. Before he knew what he was doing, he was out in the living room.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lorry, shoving his way past through the chaotic mess of shrieking girls. In the middle of the floor, Carina was sobbing and cradling their unconscious mother.
Illustrations by Millie King