Chapter Twenty-two: Avery
As they approached the Veil, Avery suddenly understood why Violet had been feeling so awful this whole time. Wrongness emanated off it - not wrong, actually, but more ancient and cold and foreign. The tear didn't look like much at first: just black darkness, darker than the surroundings, but still missable if you somehow didn't have any other sense in your body.
As they got closer, though, Avery realised that you could see through slightly to the other side: nothing more than a pinprick of moonlight, but certainly the most beautiful pinprick she had ever seen. She could sort of understand why shades had thrown themselves through it - it was alluring, almost magnetic; she could barely tear her gaze away.
"We'll block anyone from going through," her grandmother said, "but it won't hold forever. You need to go now."
Avery was so glad for the necklace she wore and the life that flowed through it, because it meant she could embrace her grandmother one last time, sinking into the familiar warm, soft arms and flowery smell. "Bye, Grandma," she said. "I'm really going to miss you."
"You'll be okay, Avery," her grandma said. "It will get better. But promise me," she pushed Avery back so she could look into her eyes, her hands planted on her shoulders, "promise me that you'll live your life to the absolute fullest. As best as you can."
Her words echoed that of Gabriel's earlier, when he had made her promise not to take anything for granted again. "I promise," Avery said. "I love you."
"I love you too, baby. Now go." Grandma gave her a kindly smile. "Go and save the world."
Hesitantly, Avery began to stumble towards the rip, Violet ahead of her. This close, it was like a whirlpool, roaring and wild, pulling her towards its depths. She threw one last look over her shoulder and met Gabriel's soft dark eyes, big and full of sadness. He raised a hand in farewell, and she waved back. "See you in seventy years!" she called, and he laughed a little, and that was the last she saw of him before the Veil was upon them.
Violet went through first, and Avery watched in horror as her body was pulled through violently, her limbs contorting and her hair whipping around her face, before she disappeared entirely.
Avery took a deep breath. "Now or never," she muttered. "Come on, Avery Bell. You got this." And with that, she broke into a run, quickly covering the last few paces, and took a flying leap into the hole in the Veil.
She had sort of been expecting it to be the same - or at least vaguely similar - to when they had come across into the Shadow Realm - a sort of wind-buffeted stomach-sickening plummet into darkness. It was nothing like that.
This was a ripping, a tearing, a screaming: she was spun around and around, tossed carelessly from side to side; she could feel any remnants of the protection spell tearing right off her. In her ears sounded roaring and hissing and crying, not from any particular source but from the rip itself. If the Shadow Realm had been a living being, it felt like they were hurtling through its veins right now.
Violet was probably ahead of her somewhere, but it was difficult to tell which way was up and which was down - there was certainly no sign of her friend. Not that Avery could see that clearly - the howling winds stung and burned her eyes when she tried to open them.
Screwing them closed, she managed to draw her knees up to her chest and cling onto them for dear life - the last thing she wanted was for one of her limbs to get torn clean off by the sheer force of this thing.
The pulling and pushing got stronger and stronger the further they went. Soon, Avery had now idea how long they'd been there for - seconds? Minutes? Hours? - nor how much longer it would take. All she could do was hope that the others would keep the Veil stable for long enough for them to get this done.
All of a sudden, she was unceremoniously ejected from the rip as if she had just been spat out. She didn't even realise until she was flying through the air, no crazy wind force shoving her around; even then she didn't realise soon enough to be able to land comfortably, and she crashed down directly on top of Violet in a tangle of limbs and clothes.
Violet was sort of thrashing around, and managed to separate them; for a moment, Avery just lay back on the ground, gasping for breath. It was freezing cold; the earth under her was hard and icy. Above her was the night sky, broken up by the silhouettes of dark autumnal trees. Avery turned her head left, then right - yes, they were still at the Jewel. Everything lay as it had been when they had left - so here, on Earth, they couldn't have been gone for more than a few hours.
After a few moments, she was able to regain her breath, and pushed herself up into a sitting position. "You okay?" she croaked to Violet, who had managed to rise to her knees at least.
"Yeah," Violet replied, sounding as winded as Avery felt. "You?"
"Yeah," Avery said. "How long do we have?"
With what looked to be a tremendous effort, Violet heaved herself to her feet and extended a hand to Avery. "Probably minutes."
Avery took her outstretched hand and pulled herself up. Slowly, her energy was coming back to her, although she still felt like she'd gone three rounds with a clothes dryer. "Let's do this then. Should I take the necklace off?"
"Best not to, I think," Violet said. "We can use you to help channel it - don't worry," she added, at the noise of concern Avery made - "you'll be totally fine."
"Alright then," Avery said. "Here." She pulled the necklace out from under her shirt. The golden amber seemed to be glowing; it flashed in the moonlight.
Suddenly, some sort of heavy thing barrelled into her, pushing her backwards and almost knocking her over. Pain bit around her neck, and she cried out instinctively. A second later, Violet was in front of her, shielding her from whatever it was.
A millisecond later, she realised - not a thing, but a man. Mr Brown, her neighbour - or more currently, Titus. And he had taken her necklace. "Avery, get back!" Violet cried.
Titus laughed, an awful deep cruel laugh which was certainly nothing like old harmless Mr Brown's. "You think I would hurt her?" he said. "She's nothing to us. We heard your plans and now we want the necklace."
Fear surged through Avery. It had been at least four minutes since they had passed through the Veil. They couldn't have much longer.
Violet, to her credit, kept him talking. "We?" she said, laughing. "You and what army?"
"We will live again," he said. "You can't stop us, you foolish children." With that, he grasped the necklace in his massive hands, to do what Avery didn't know - tear it from the fittings or crush it in his grip, destroying any trace of magic it might have left in it.
"Wait!" Avery cried, helplessly. He paused and looked up, as if to mock her. "You don't want to do that."
"And why not?"
"Because -" Avery stammered - "because -"
"Because your leader is gone," said Violet suddenly, her voice loud and clear and cold. "I destroyed him. Disintegrated him with my own magic. It'll be years before he can reform."
Titus seemed to have genuinely not known this - surprise and horror flitted cross his face, and he stuttered out - "Alexander is gone?"
A moment of distraction, Avery realised. For a brief second, Titus wasn't focused on the necklace, and Violet used that moment to strike. "Give it to me," she shouted, power rippling through her words so strongly it pushed Avery even further backwards. The necklace rose from Titus' hands before he could register what was happening, and flew through the air. Without even having to look at it, Violet raised a hand and snatched the chain, the pendant dangling between her fingers.
"Don't… move," Violet commanded, her power so intense that even Avery found herself struggling to reach out to where Violet held the necklace. "Not you, Avery," Violet muttered, and the current of power flowing off her parted, allowing Avery to reach through it and pluck the necklace from her hand.
Titus was stock still. Fury burnt across his face, savage rage darkening the eyes he wore. If he could have opened his mouth, Avery had no doubt he would be roaring right now. She couldn't help but laugh a little.
"You have to do this now," Violet said, her voice measured despite her harsh breathing and the droplets of sweat rolling down her face. "You need to contain the Shadow Realm, Avery."
"But -" Avery said - "I don't have any power! I'm just an ordinary person."
"You have the necklace," Violet said through gritted teeth, "and you have me. I can't hold him forever, Avery. I can give you some power, but you need to do this. Take my hand."
One of her hands was cast forward towards Titus, who still struggled against his mental bonds; with the other, Violet reached back towards Avery. Without hesitating, Avery slipped her hand into Violet's, her warm fingers wrapping around Violet's cold, thin ones.
She couldn't help but gasp. The power was like an electric shock, so strong it burnt. Violet must be really strong - stronger than Avery could've ever imagined. It tingled across the palm of her hand, seemingly deciding if it liked her or not, and then all of a sudden she felt it drain through the pores on her skin and race up her veins, buzzing and humming to itself.
A wind picked up around them, blowing Avery's hair back from her face; she barely felt its icy bite, too enraptured by the flames licking up and down the inside of her arm, until the tendrils of power settled over her heart, curling and twisting around it.
She pressed the pendant against her heart, Violet's power flowing into it. "Now what?" she shouted, trying to make herself heard over the wind that was now howling around them.
"Think it!" Violet shouted back. "You're human, Avery, truly human - you may not have power but you're full of life, of creation. Think it into being!"
Avery closed her eyes, trying to pretend that Titus and the storm and Violet weren't there. She imagined the Shadow Realm, floating in somewhere that wasn't space. Mentally, she reached out towards it, letting the tongues of Violet's power lead the way. Against her heart, the amulet was burning hot, glowing like a star; she tuned out the pain and stretched her mind out further towards the shadows.
"Think it into being," she grunted, sweating with exertion. "Come on then, you stupid realm - get in there!" More of Violet's power passed through the pendant, singeing its way out of Avery's heart; it glowed a bright orange-gold, like a bonfire. Avery imagined the power latching on to the edges of the Shadow Realm and pulling, pulling, pulling it towards her, towards the necklace.
It wouldn't budge. No matter how much she tugged at it in her mind, the tendrils of power Violet had left to give - even when focussed through the necklace - weren't strong enough. "Come on -" Avery cried, pulling as hard as she possibly could, so hard sweat began to stream down her face.
Avery prised her eyes open against the storm that was well and truly raging around them now. "Violet!" she yelled. "It's not enough! I need more!"
Violet glanced at her, fear flitting over her face. At that moment of weakness, Titus wrenched free of Violet's magic with an almighty roar. "Watch out!" Avery cried.
Spinning back around, Violet cast her hand back out in front of her, more power rippling from it, immobilising Titus just a few paces from them. "I don't have enough power," Violet panted. "I can't give it to you and keep him here at the same time."
"Where else can we get it from, then?" said Avery.
"I…" Violet stared straight ahead at Titus, keeping him fixed in place. Then a sudden realisation crossed her face. "The town."
"You know how energy flows across the town? And Gabriel was weakening it?"
"Yeah," Avery said.
"We already know, then, that your necklace can take from that. There's a line of strong energy that passes right underneath this spot - tap into that and you can take from there," Violet gasped, exhaustedly.
"Use the necklace," she said. "It was made by my witch family, so it'll use the craft the way we do. Don't interfere with it - you need to feel it. You need to let the necklace feel it. It'll take from the energy by itself. And hurry!"
They definitely didn't have much time left. Minutes, if not less. Avery closed her eyes again and wrapped her hand tightly around the necklace. Feel it, Violet had said. Let it take what it needs.
Avery suddenly thought of Gabriel, left behind in the Shadow Realm; of her grandmother and her soft, warm embrace; of Violet's mother and Gabriel's father. They were counting on her to succeed. She could do this.
As she thought of them, she heard a voice - a cool, British, male voice. "You can do it, Avery," the voice said. "You've got this." Gabriel's voice. At the sound of it, emotions rushed through her - sadness, happiness, love, and most of all a warm, fiery determination. Whether Gabriel was really saying that or not, it didn't matter, because he was right.
Her heart swelled, and as it did, more and more golden power erupted from the pendant, winding its way towards the earth. She let it happen, let it tear through her and knot itself up somewhere deep beneath her feet, feeling its way out of her heart and through the necklace.
She knew it was working when the first surge of power hit her, an enormous, headying, golden rush exploding from the necklace, leaving her feeling like she was floating several feet above the ground. She pictured the Shadow Realm again, and this time, the power easily, greedily caught ahold and began to pull.
More and more flowed through her. Avery was still holding Violet's hand and she squeezed it tightly, hoping that some of the power would go into her to help her. "Any day now would be good, Avery!" she distantly heard Violet shout.
Avery pulled and pulled, hand over hand on the golden ropes of power. It surged out of the earth, out of the town, so much of it that it left her dizzy and weak. But still she pulled, taking as much of the energy as she could - and as she did, she felt the Shadow Realm begin to move, felt it like the Earth was tilting on its axis.
Once it had started moving, it was a little easier to pull it. "Get - in - !" Avery cried out loud, yanking it harder and harder, sucking up more and more energy. The necklace was on fire against her palm, but she didn't even notice the pain as she moved the realm further and further.
She imagined it compressing, shrinking in on itself, and pouring itself into the amber like wine from a jug. And pour it did - shadow after shadow after shadow rushed down the ropes of power and into the necklace. Wind screamed and howled around her, but she couldn't have cared less, so focused was she on unearthing string after string of energy from the town and feeding it into the Realm, pulling it in more and more.
Soon, just a few shadows remained. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew: that was where the rip was, where their friends and family were. She realised she was crying, hot tears streaming down her face and mingling with the energy that poured from her. But the supply was dwindling, the roar slowing to a trickle, and the Shadow Realm still wasn't fully confined.
"Just a little more!" Avery shouted - to whom, she didn't know. "Please!"
She dropped to her knees, exhausted, her body pressing into the cold, hard ground. Somewhere down there, deep within, there had to be just a drop more power. She felt the necklace reaching out too, searching for the last droplet.
And there it was - a weak surge, but a surge nonetheless. With a cry of effort, Avery packed the very last tendril of energy under Cliffwood into the necklace and onto the Shadow Realm, and it pulled and pulled and pulled, so strong but so tired. Achingly slowly, the last few shadows heaved and heaved their way into the necklace, rippling and then vanishing into the golden light.
And then there was just one left, and Avery could have sworn she heard a quiet, beautiful, ancient voice breathe out a "Thank you…" and then it, too, was gone.
Around them, the wind fell quiet.
Avery sucked in an enormous breath, gasping for air. She crumpled, her hand tearing from Violet's, folding herself forwards on the ground, wrapping herself around the necklace.
Dimly, she was aware of an enormous, furious roar, and then there was a sort of whooshing sound, and then she felt her chest being battered from all directions - shades being sucked back into the Shadow Realm, and none of them too happy about it.
When the beating on the necklace slowed and went silent, Avery allowed herself to uncurl, rolling onto her back and laughing somewhat manically. They had done it.
She felt a body crash down next to her - Violet, exhausted, completely spent. She started laughing, too. "I guess that's the college problem solved," she gasped.
"Wh - what?" Avery said, with another bemused giggle.
"You took everything, Avery," Violet said. "There's nothing left in the town. It's completely dry. What once was a town of magic and ghosts and witches is now just another boring rainy place in New England."
Avery could barely respond, gasping for breath. She stared up at the night sky above them, speckled with stars. Earth - beautiful, normal Earth. Gradually, her laughter faded, replaced by tears which fell from her eyes no matter how hard she tried to stifle them. "We left them behind," she breathed. "Gabriel and - and the others. They're really gone."
"Not gone," said Violet. "Just waiting. We'll see them again."
As she reached up to wipe her face, Avery realised her hand was still clutching the necklace to her chest, her fingers cramped and numb. She prised them open, and the pendant fell limply from her hand, tumbling to the ground between the two of them. "What the hell do we do with that thing?" she sniffled.
"Put it in a box somewhere," Violet suggested. "Lock it up and throw away the key. And never, ever let anyone get their hands on that."
"Too right," Avery said, and then winced suddenly. "Ow."
"You okay?" Violet said.
"My hand. It's, like - burnt." She examined it. Sure enough, where she had been clutching the pendant was a jagged portion of pink, blistered skin.
"Ouch," Violet agreed. "We should probably go to the ER."
"You might be right there," Avery agreed. "And then to bed?"
"You don't need to say that twice," Violet groaned, hauling herself upright. Avery clambered up too, her legs aching - no, scratch that, every part of her body aching.
They gathered up their stuff from where it was scattered around the Jewel, and began to walk - extremely slowly - down the hill, the pendant tucked safely into Avery's pocket. After a moment of hesitation, Avery slipped her unburnt hand into Violet's, who glanced over at her, smiling a little.
"You wanna sit with me at lunch next week?" Violet said, laughing.
"Do I ever!" replied Avery enthusiastically.
Laughing, they both made their way down the trail in front of them, leaving the realm of shadows behind them and heading onwards and upwards into a bright and golden future.