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Witch & Wizard: The Fire

Whit and Wisty Allgood have sacrificed everything to lead the resistance against the merciless totalitarian regime that governs their world. Its supreme leader, The One Who Is The One, has banned everything they hold dear: books, music, art, and imagination. But the growing strength of the siblings' magic hasn't been enough to stop the One's evil rampage, and now he's executed the only family they had left.

Wisty knows that the time has finally come for her to face The One. But her fight and her fire only channel more power to this already invincible being. How can she and Whit possibly prepare for their imminent showdown with the ruthless villain that devastated their world-before he can truly become all-powerful?

In this stunning third installment of the epic Witch & Wizard series, the stakes have never been higher—and the consequences will change everything.

Book One | Blood Holiday

Chapter 5

Whit

I'M ABOUT To tell off Pearl Marie for her cruel pronouncement when the door slams open. Instinctively I tense up in an offensive position.

But this posse isn't N.O. It's family. I can hardly blink before Pearl disappears in a sea of embracing bodies, and a big hand grasps my shoulder and spins me around.

An older gray-haired man looks me up and down and shakes his head. "Mama May isn't going to like this one bit," he warns, his face serious, but I can see that his eyes are more amused than angry. Before I can ask who Mama May is, he spots Wisty in the corner, blood all over the front of her shirt, and winces.

"That your girl? In bad shape, isn't she?"

"My sister." I nod, not sure if I can say anything else without totally losing it in front of this man.

"She's a trouper." There's a long, silent moment between us that seems to acknowledge just how screwed Wisty really is.

Too long. Too silent. I notice a group of women across the room with the same dark, lank hair as Pearl. They're all giving me sidelong looks and whispering.

They hate us, I think. They're all just waiting for Wisty to die so they can go back to feeling at least a little bit safer.

I'm almost starting to resent this man, but then he grabs my hand in the strongest handshake I've ever felt and looks at me intensely. "I'm Hewitt," he says. "If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask." He glances at the women staring at us and chuckles. "Don't mind them. They're just paranoid. Mama May will set it right."

Mama May, I soon learn, is Pearl Marie's mom. The moment she enters the room, it gets warmer. She takes up space. Literally. Her big girth is a sharp contrast to the rest of her spaghetti-legged family, but she's also got presence. Her full, hearty laugh could almost make me believe we're not orphaned in a world controlled by a psychopath with a God complex. It could almost make me believe we're home.

But Mama May takes one look at Wisty and me, and her face blanches, and she frowns so deeply she looks like a big, disapproving grouper.

"Pearl, honey, c'mere. I'm not so sure this is the best idea..." Mama May cocks an eyebrow in Wisty's direction. "We've lost so many to the Blood Plague already, and with them being wanted and all..."

Pearl puts on a face of such innocent longing it almost looks like a mask; it's a face only a youngest child can master. "Mama, please let them stay. If we were going to get the plague, we'd all have it by now. And look at her. She'll probably die in a few minutes anyway."

I notice she brushes right over the fact that we're wanted fugitives.

Pearl's hands are on her hips, and her big eyes are pleading. Even against Mama May, she's certainly got clout, and even before she says, "It's the Holiday. We have to do the right thing," I know Mama will cave.

Half an hour later, despite Mama May's ruling in our favor, most of Pearl's dozen or so family members are still glaring at me with nervous hostility. I mean, they look like every other family that has gone through hardship under the N.O.: they have deep creases in their faces from watching their children carted off to disciplinary prisons; bruises under their eyes from sleepless nights, expecting raids; and with no more music, art, or expression in the world, their muscles don't remember how to smile. But there's something else, too. They look straight-up terrified.

It's the eyes. That silvery gray is mesmerizing and demands accountability, and I can't look away. They're haunted. I pull Pearl off to the side and gesture at the onlookers.

"Hey, what's going on?" I ask. "What's everyone afraid of? I mean, I realize we're wanted criminals, but they know nobody knows we're here, right?"

She glares back at me fiercely. "What do you mean, what's everyone afraid of? What is everybody in the entire overworld afraid of? It's not about you being on the run. It's because you've been involved with him."

"You mean The One? But why would he—" I want to say that surely the Needermans are small potatoes to the New Order. They're not Resistance anyway.

"Shh!" she hisses, eyes wild. "We don't say that name in this house." She grips my arm and drags me over to a corner, even farther away from the others, but there's an audible increase in whispering.

"We're almost all that's left," Pearl says gravely. I look at her, not understanding, and she gestures impatiently around the room at the candles, the figures, the signs of their devout religion. "The only ones who still believe in the Holiday and everything it stands for, who still keep the faith," she says. "And his spies are everywhere."

"But there must be other people who still...practice," I press, thinking of the illegal Holiday decorations present in the square, the obvious signs that there are other religious families still holding on.

She shakes her head. "Everyone just believes in him now. In the beginning, we gathered in one of the halls. We thought we'd be safe there, that they'd respect the holiness of the place. Instead it just made us a giant target. He sent his henchman to do his dirty work."

Pearl looks mesmerized, as if she's watching the events unfold in a movie. "One of them had learned some of his evil magic. He wanted to put his hands on our heads. Some of the kids went right up to him, because it was like being blessed, like we were used to at the hall. I stayed behind, but not my brother, not Zig. Ziggy was smart, but he had more faith than any of us." Pearl smiles faintly, remembering, but then her expression darkens.

"And the evil man—he wouldn't stop smiling—put his hand on Ziggy's forehead. Ziggy was smiling, too. And... and then Ziggy's face...it started..." She swallows, her eyes unfocused. "Melting...just melting off." She takes a breath. "I kept screaming for Ziggy, but...then someone grabbed me. And then we were running. That's all I remember."

I'm almost too horrified to speak. Pearl is staring straight ahead, her mouth a thin line.

"But you're here now," I say. "You're safe."

She laughs, and it's cold, harsh. "Yeah. Safe..."

I look around at the frightened faces, the spooked eyes, and I finally get it. I'm one of the dark ones, with this terrific power I possess. My magic makes me like him, regardless of how I use it.

Hewitt approaches us and looks at Pearl's angry little face. He raises an eyebrow at me but lets it go. "Here." He hands me a sorry-looking candle made of some kind of fat. "We light these every night. For the dead. We're about to begin."

I want to ask Pearl more questions—about Ziggy, and above all about the horrifying smiling man who melts children's faces. But she's already standing up to join her family in a big circle. And it's clear from that determined expression setting her lips in a tight little knot that that's the last she's ever going to say about poor Ziggy Neederman.

Copyright © 2011 by James Patterson

Read by Elijah Wood and Spencer Locke

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