A noise next to them brought Branca’s head up. Had she dozed off?
Footsteps. Instantly alert, she tensed. Was there someone on the stairs?
A light turned on next to her and Medoli, sending a sheet of gold under the hidden door. Branca pressed her eye over the hinge. The closet led to Queen Cinthia’s room. She could see the queen’s bed and dresser. Was the queen back? She stirred, ready to call out to her.
“Mirror, I seek the Princess Branca. Where is she?”
That was Evan’s voice! Branca froze. Medoli’s legs were intertwined around her ankles. The other girl was asleep.
Branca held her breath and peered into the room, heart pounding. He couldn’t possibly know about this hidden door.
A dragging sounded over the padded carpet, and Branca stared in horror as Evan came around the bed, eyes fixed on the door. His leg dragged behind him. He’d tied a rag around his arm, and it was stained crimson. Blood ran from a wound on his neck. His eyes snapped furiously, the knife out and high, already dripping.
He’s coming. Branca jerked her feet out from Medoli, shaking her awake. “Medoli! Wake up! We’ve got to run! Now!”
The door flung open, and Medoli fell backwards onto the floor. Evan lifted the knife and plunged it toward her heart.
“Stop!” Branca shouted. A strange sensation prickled her skin, like droplets of moisture from a cloud.
Evan’s hand halted, the blade inches from slitting Medoli’s chest.
Wow. How did I do that? Branca slipped out of the closet. “She’s not the one you want.”
He whipped his head up, eyes widening in recognition.
Medoli grabbed his hand and pushed it backwards, forcing him to plunge the knife into his thigh.
Evan screamed, his head swinging back to Medoli. He jerked the knife out of his leg and backhanded her across the face, cutting her cheek.
Medoli gasped. Evan shoved her against Cinthia’ bed and pushed himself to his feet. Branca straightened and glared at him, daring him to come to her. Spotting a small white ceramic pot on the dresser, she grabbed it and threw it at Evan’s face. He ducked, missing the blow. The pot collided with the Queen’s bedpost, shattering and spraying a strange gray ash.
He shook his head and waved his hands to clear it away, and then he halted in mid-motion. Even as Branca watched, his face and arms developed huge welts everywhere the ash touched. He began to shriek.
Medoli inched closer to the closet. Branca thrust her back inside. “Stay put,” Branca sobbed. She jammed the door back into place. It disappeared into the wall as if it weren’t even there.
“Branca!” Medoli cried, fingers scratching at the door. There was just a slit, right above the hinge, unnoticeable if one didn’t already know where to look. Medoli’s blue eye stared out at her. She slammed her body against the door, but it latched from the outside.
Medoli was safe. Branca turned to examine her escape route.
Evan stood between the bed and the bedroom door, moaning. His bloodshot, swollen eyes were open, and he watched her, bloody knife at the ready. He took a halting step towards her, the useless leg bleeding profusely from a thigh wound.
Branca tried not to panic. Her exit was behind him.