And so she decided to ignore Zari’s words of caution even though they never stopped to niggle at the back of her mind. Despite this, Soleil still couldn’t concentrate on anything but the soul seer’s warning. She thought about it over dinner, thought about it while chatting with Ilie in her mind, thought about it while she tossed and turned on her bed, feeling like she was missing something so obvious.
Will you just sleep, the marquis growled in Solei’s mind. I can hear you thinking all the way from here.
Then it’s a good thing you’re not here, she returned, or else you’d be deaf by now. She rolled her eyes. Grumpy, ancient—-
I can hear you, milady.
Ilie chuckled. It almost rhymes perfectly, I will give you that.
She blurted out, I miss you. But actually what she wanted to say was, Come back to me now. Because without Ilie by her side, the world was just a little bit darker, drearier, and scarier, especially when the soul seer’s vision continued to play in her mind.
I miss you, too.
She drew a shaky breath and willed her tears to go away. Come back soon.
And then the connection between them slowly faded.
She, too, slowly drifted to sleep, only to hear someone rousing her.
“Wake up, Soleil! Wake up!”
It was Aurora, calling out from below her window. Her red hair was wet a straggling, and her blue dress created a puddle of water around her bare feet.
Wide-awake now, she threw the window open and said urgently, “Come back inside—-”
Aurora shook her head and interrupted her, saying, “No, you have to be the one to come out. I need to show you something, and we don’t have much time.” There was a crazed look in her sister’s eyes as she gestured for Soleil to come down. “Come on, hurry!”
Sliding her feet into her slippers, she hurried down the stairs and opened the front door. “Won’t you dry yourself first—-”
Despite the shivers racking her body, Aurora still shook her head. “Let’s go,” she insisted between chattering teeth.
“But Aurora—-” Her senses prickled as she stared at her sister. Something was wrong with Aurora, Soleil thought. But what?
Aurora’s brown eyes blazed. “Are you going to leave me here to freeze to death?”
And finally, Soleil realized what was bothering her—-
Aurora’s still dripping gown…was made of blue silk.
She swallowed. “Aurora?”
“What?” Aurora stomped her foot in annoyance. “Are you coming or what?”
Staring at her sister, Soleil heard herself ask, “Why is your gown wet?”
Aurora laughed, answering lightly, “Would you believe me if I told you it was because I fell into the ocean?”
“I see.” Soleil forced herself to laugh even as words of the soul seer’s vision flashed in her mind.
The shade of her death.
Like the sound of the ocean with its crashing waves, like silk tainted with evil and tarnished dreams—-
Soleil said quietly, “You’re not Aurora.”
Even if this woman looked and sounded like Aurora, this person was not her sister.
In front of Soleil, the person masquerading as Aurora became deadly still.
“You found me out sooner than I thought you would.”
Before Soleil could answer, icy fingers gripped her wrist.
“I taught you very well, indeed.”
Soleil jerked. That voice—-
The woman looked down.
When she looked up again, she no longer looked like Aurora.
This time, the woman looked like Crystal but not as Soleil had ever seen her.
Her hair had turned completely white, and her skin was oddly pale. Her lips were a ghastly shade of blue, her eyes red-rimmed. She looked…like how Soleil imagined a wraith would be.
A knife appeared in the air, and Soleil caught sight of her face on its shiny surface—-
Blue, like her dying, haunted eyes—-
The knife went down.
Soleil screamed, but instead of the knife finding its way to her heart it went completely past her.
It was as if Crystal was trying to cut something behind her.
She turned around and gasped when she saw that she was still on the bed, and a thread that seemed to sparkle with every color connected her two bodies.
Instinctively, she tried stopping Crystal from cutting the thread, but it was too late.
The thread snapped.
An invisible force swept into the house out of nowhere, sucking Soleil out of it.
The rest of the soul seer’s words echoed in her mind.
But she was already falling.
An endless canvas of silvery white blankness spread out behind them, while in front of Soleil and Crystal was her bedroom. In it, she was still lying on the bed, pale and unmoving like a corpse.
Her family and the marquis stared down at her, grim-faced.
“Is it the curse?” the baron asked tautly.
Ilie shook his head. “No. This has a different taint to it.” He picked up her wrist, but the faint pulse offered only the smallest assurance. “She’s alive, but barely.” His jaw hardened. “Whoever did it is still here. Somehow, he or she is watching us. I can smell its scent.”