Star Cursed - Page 70/73

My pulse races. I think of Tess, playing chess with her friends in the sitting room, and of Sister Gretchen, keeping vigil over the dying Cora. What if it’s all gone wrong at the Head Council meeting, and Maura’s been captured, and we’ve all been exposed?

No. I can’t think about that. I have to see this through.

“We’re going to ring the fire bell in a minute. Don’t be scared—it’s just to get all the nurses in one place. Rory will stay with you, and then you’ll go get her sister. You remember Sachi?”

“Three sisters,” Brenna muses. “One brings healing and death. One brings ruin. The strongest will bring peace, but it will require a sacrifice. That’s what the prophecy says.”

The hair on my nape rises at the word death. I cannot stop my limbs from trembling, my teeth from chattering.

I flee, spooked, without another word to Brenna. Rory swings in the door behind me, and I hear the cousins chattering, happy at their reunion.

In the hallway, I take deep breaths. I can do this. I only have to get them out, and then we will go home and face whatever comes next. There will be no murder and no sacrifice tonight.

Elena pulls the fire bell, which lets out a series of piercing clangs. The alarm runs on ancient ropes and pulleys throughout the asylum; soon we hear its echo from downstairs. Rilla re-creates my glamour, and she and Finn and Elena and I hurry out into the hallway. The two uncooperative ward nurses and the isolation wing nurse are already halfway down the stairs, and I wonder what they would do if there were a real fire. Would they let the patients out or leave them here to burn? On the second-floor landing, Mrs. Harris and the rest of the nurses are all gathered.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt your examination, sir,” she says to Finn, obviously having identified him as our leader. “We hope it’s only a false alarm, but it wouldn’t be the first time one of the girls got hold of matches and tried to burn the place down.”

Elena slips her hand into mine, offering me her power. I take a deep breath. Ten subjects. Even together, can we manage so many? But this isn’t the time for hesitation.

Follow us into the uncooperative ward, I command. That’s where the fire is.

All ten of them turn and rush upstairs.

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Harris says, her double chins wagging. “Those girls would burn us all in our beds if we gave them half a chance. What have they done now?”

I sway going up the stairs, dizzy from the magic, and have to hang on to the railing for dear life. Finn notices and falls behind me, making sure I don’t tumble back down, ready to catch me as always.

“I’m fine,” I whisper, and he brushes a hand against the small of my back.

Mrs. Harris takes the brass key from around her neck and unlocks the door to the south wing. They all rush in and then stop abruptly, faced not with a cloud of smoke but with dozens of unusually alert prisoners stampeding toward the door, which Finn holds open.

“What are you doing? Shut the door, before they get out!” Mrs. Harris scolds Finn.

“That’s what we want,” Finn confesses. “They’ve been trapped here long enough.”

“You’re not real Brothers, are you?” one of the nurses demands, her dark eyes terrified.

“No.” Elena turns to the patients. “Don’t be frightened; we’re witches, and we’re here to help you escape. This is your chance.”

“The witches are here! The witches have come for us!” the patients shout, pushing and shoving each other in their frenzied excitement.

Zara has obviously spread the word of our escape.

“Lord save us.” One of the nurses kneels, while the rest form a befuddled huddle.

“Bless you. Thank you,” some of the patients mumble, but most are understandably intent on escaping this room that has served as their cage. I grin as I spot little Sarah Mae skipping past. A few women still lie curled in their beds, but other patients help them up.

Elena rips the key from around Mrs. Harris’s neck, breaking the chain.

“What are you doing?” Mrs. Harris yelps, her hand flying to her wrinkled neck.

“You won’t be needing these anymore,” Elena says, and another key flies out of a nurse’s pocket and into her waiting hand.

“It’s your turn to be shut up in here now!” One of the patients shrieks, shoving a nurse to the ground as she passes. “We ought to set the whole place on fire!”

“No—no—don’t let them have us,” one of the nurses begs, scrambling for the door.

Finn blocks her way. “No one is setting anyone on fire, but you’re staying in here.”

“Don’t worry. We’re taking them with us.” Elena turns to me. “Why don’t you go make sure everything’s going smoothly?”

Dozens of girls stream out the door and downstairs. Waiting my turn, I bump into the beautiful Indo girl I noticed on my first visit. One of Brother Cabot’s favorites, the nurse said, and something clicks in my memory. Parvati Kapoor was accused of doing mind-magic on a Brother Cabot, trying to get him to blind himself with the matron’s letter opener.

“Pardon me. Are you Miss Kapoor?” I ask.

Parvati nods, her brown eyes fearful. “Are you really a witch? Where are you taking us?”

“I am taking you.” As Rilla comes out into the hall, she lets both of our Brotherly illusions fade, revealing us as a tiny brunette in orange brocade and a tall blond in a gray dress with a cornflower-blue sash. Parvati gawks at us. “We have a safe place in the city, where there are dozens of other witches. You can come with us if you like, or there will be wagons going to other safe houses.”

Parvati smiles slowly. “I’d like to come with you, I think. I want to learn how to use my magic. How to protect myself.”

I leave her with Rory and Brenna and Rilla and join the flood of girls downstairs. At the second-floor landing, I pass Mélisande, Vi, and Daisy fighting the current on their way up. I’m relieved to see that the other carriages have arrived safely.

“Sophia and some of the others are trying to organize girls at the front door. Some of the patients are just running off, though,” Mélisande reports.

“That was bound to happen, I suppose. I can’t blame them for not trusting anyone,” I say, though I worry they’ll only get recaptured. Vi breaks off to go into the south wing, and I follow her.

To my surprise, patients already fill the hallway. I spot Zara moving from door to door, letting the women out of their cells.

“Zara!” I call, and she rushes toward me. “How did you get out of your room?”

She grins in a way that transforms her angular face into beauty. “My magic’s back.”

We work together, opening the doors, while Vi starts at the opposite end. Most of the patients on this floor are older women who have proven themselves cooperative and who have been granted the “privilege” of working in the laundries or kitchens. Some, bent and gray-haired, sprint toward the door like girls half their age.

“Olivia,” Zara says as she unlocks the room of the curious brunette from the kitchen, “this is my goddaughter, the one I told you about. Cate, this is Livvy. She’s a witch.”

“Zara told me all about the Sisterhood,” Livvy says. “She said I could come with you.”