Sarah fought to keep herself from screaming in front of Thomas. He had been a friend, which was why she was so angry with him now. He should have confided in her. That he hadn’t, worried her.
“What should we do about Julia?”
At first, his words didn’t make any sense. She blinked a couple of times to bring him back into focus.
“Julia? I was thinking I should deliver your head to her. Might calm her down.”
“This is no time for jokes. We need . . .” He wasn’t even looking at her.
“Who’s joking?” Through sheer force of will, she kept her voice low and even. “She thinks you betrayed her. And Jason. From where I’m standing, I don’t see how she’s wrong.”
“We can cast blame later. Right now, she has control of our house!” He was unwilling, or unable, to match her calm.
“Do not raise your voice to me.” She drew herself up nearly to his eye level. “You are not my master. We are peers, and you will treat me with respect.” Daring him to contradict her, she glared at him. He met her gaze for a few moments before looking away.
“Fine. But we need to do something about Julia. She’s putting the whole house at risk.”
“Yes. And I will handle it.”
“To start with, I won’t treat her like an adversary. She’s upset. With reason.” Thomas started to interject but promptly changed his mind. “She deserves to be heard. And you can’t be involved.”
“But . . .”
The look she gave him was enough to make him stop.
“There is nothing you can do that will help. She blames you. If we’re very lucky, she blames only you.”
“And if she blames everyone?”
“Then we’re in trouble. She’s already let a real demonic bear loose in the house. The hallways are not responding to the sigils. I’m not certain I can even get to her. But I’m going. Alone. It’s the only hope I have of getting through to her.”
“What would you have me . . .”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Stay here, in your rooms. If she sees you leave, she is likely to assume the worst. Just stay put.” Without giving Thomas a chance to argue, Sarah turned and walked out the door.
Once back in the hall, her bravado deflated some. How could she make it to Julia if the house itself wouldn’t let her? Asking Thomas for help was not an option, so she would have to make the attempt.
A possibility occurred to her. If Julia was turning the house against them, she might be using the sigils to track them. Perhaps she had inverted the spells protecting the house. If so, then getting rid of her sigil might give her the freedom to move around.
The chance seemed remote. Julia may simply have removed the exception for the sigils. Sarah didn’t know the details of the spell well enough to know which solution was more likely, or what Julia’s frame of mind would lead her to do. Still it was the only idea she had at the moment.
Sarah opened a small pouch she kept hidden in her clothes and dropped the sigil in it. The pouch was designed to hide its contents from magical detection. In theory, the sigil would no longer function. Then she turned her attention to the wood floor. As she walked down the steps, she tried to focus on the grain in the floorboards to keep herself anchored to this area. If she was careful, and if Julia wasn’t paying attention to her, it might be enough to keep her in the house and out of the long hallway.
Her slow progress was frustrating, but she dared not move any faster. As far as she could tell, it was working. She made it to the second floor and was steadily moving closer to Julia’s room. She rounded the corner and caught sight of Rebecca and the rabbit David possessed. Before she could say anything, the scene shifted, and she was trapped again.
“No!” All of her pent up anger poured out in her scream. “Dammit, Julia! I’m trying to help you!” The only response she got was silence. Unwilling to play along, she sat down right where she was. If she followed the hallway, she would end up with the dire bear again, and she had told Thomas not to leave his rooms. If Julia was keeping tabs on her, she might as well talk to her here.
“Julia, if you can hear me, please listen. Thomas was wrong to keep all his secrets. I can’t bring Jason back, but I still want you to be part of this house. Talk to me so we can find a way forward.”
More silence. Sarah thought about what she had said. Did she mean it? Earlier today, she had been considering leaving the house herself. Why was she now fighting to save it? Why not just wash her hands of this whole mess?
Maybe she should. Maybe that’s what it would come to. But not yet. Not like this. If she were to leave, it would be by her choice, not because she was driven out.
Another question forced its way into her consciousness. How were Rebecca and David walking around in the house? Why weren’t they trapped in the long hallway with her? Was Julia only targeting her? Or were the sigils working again? She quickly retrieved the sigil from the pouch, and as soon as she had, she was back in the house. Whatever had gone wrong had been corrected. Had Julia even done anything? Was Thomas wrong about her being behind it? She wasn’t going to find any answers just sitting around, so she stood and hurried to Rebecca’s door.
Rebecca answered the knock immediately.
“Sarah? What’s going on? We saw you briefly in the hall, but you vanished.”
“Got stuck in the long hallway, but it seems to be sorted out now. Has anything happened?”
“Uh . . . You better come in.”
Rebecca was visibly shaking. Even though Sarah was eager to find Julia, this seemed important as well. “Okay. Talk to me.”