“What?!” I screeched. “What do you know about my mother!”
“Quite a lot, actually,” Meena replied coolly, unabashed by my reaction. “Why did you think we were protecting you? We were watching your mother because we knew about the potency of her blood. There was a strong likelihood her daughter would have powers, so of course we had to watch over you when you arrived here!”
I had calmed down a little. “Why do you need to watch me? I’m not dangerous, I’m not going to expose you and your… whatever. I don’t know if government is the right word.”
“You might have, unwillingly,” Willow contradicted. “And we never said you might hurt people. We’re supposed to protect you, remember, not protect people from you.”
“Oh…oh, yeah,” I muttered, then repeated in a louder voice, “What are you protecting me for, though?”
Meena and Willow traded reluctant and concerned glances. Meena shifted herself into a more comfortable crossed-legs position. The mulch of damp leaves didn’t seem to bother her. She took a deep breath.
“Not for something. From.”
For the first time since their secrets had begun to unravel, I felt a small chill of foreboding. It stood to reason that if they were protecting me from something, that something was dangerous and wanted to harm me. Despite Meena’s assurance, the clearing didn’t seem so safe anymore.
I drew my knees up and wrapped my arms around them, darting a few sneaky looks through the trees to be sure that nobody was surrounding us.
“Okay,” I sighed. “Tell me.”
I watched them exchange doubtful looks and grew impatient, unlocking one arm to pick at a withered daisy poking through the leafy debris. I should have known that something like this was coming; magical powers, immortal beings, of course there would be…something…
“Hey!” I had jumped to my feet, and the two girls looked surprised. It had just occurred to me that I had been willing to believe their story very easily because I had been suspicious about them and it seemed to explain everything. But people could act, and secrets could be false, and things could seem to happen that were tricks of the light.
“Is this all a trick?” I cried, snatching my bag off the floor. I looked from one to the other and their faces were bemused and baffled.
“Why would you think that?” Meena said, scandalised. “We’ve been completely honest with you. We proved it last night, or didn’t you see me turn into a cat!”
“Like I said, tricks.”
“Okay then, tell me how I did it if it wasn’t magic.”
Meena folded her arms and set her lips into a line, waiting. I had to admit that I was stumped. But I wasn’t ready to drop it so easily. I didn’t sit down or put my bag back down.
“I don’t know. Shouldn’t you?”
“Oh, come on, Ruby!” she said scathingly. “Are you really that scared that your magic isn’t good enough?”
“That - what are you talking about?” I said furiously. “I was saying that you’re trying to fool me, not that I doubt my part in your little world!”
“Sounds like the same thing to me,” she shrugged, standing up as well. She took one stride until her angry face was level with mine.
“Fine!” I yelled. “So if it was true then, who’s coming after me? An evil wizard bent on destroying me?”
Willow flinched at the sarcastic comment but Meena didn’t. The anger had drained slowly out of her face. When she spoke it was in a measured calm voice.
“There are no wizards or witches. There are only immortals, I told you.”
My anger that they could be trying to make me look like an idiot wouldn’t go away. I was impatient and irritated, and all I wanted was for them to admit they were lying and disappear so I could get back to school.
“OK, I’ll play,” I said coldly. “What are immortals - apart from the obvious,” I added nastily as Willow opened her mouth. They had better have had a good explanation.