Authors: Randi Reisfeld,H.B. Gilmour
Building a Mystery
© 2001, 2012 H.B. Gilmour and Randi Reisfeld.
All rights reserved.
First published by Scholastic in 2001.
THE AUTHORS WOULD LIKE TO THANK FLEDGLINGS BETHANY BUCK, CRAIG WALKER, PHYLLIS WENDER, FRAN LEBOWITZ, SUSIE COHEN, AND DOROTHY DUBRULE, FOR THEIR SUPPORT OF AND CONFIDENCE IN T*WITCHES.
"Witch Island," people on the mainland called it.
Of course, none of them had ever dared set foot there. Few had even seen it clearly.
It was one of a dozen small islands off Lake Superior's frigid shore. The only one often surrounded by a mysterious gray mist.
This gloomy curtain made it impossible to see from a distance that the island abounded with lovingly tended gardens, enchanting stone cottages, and a quaint village brightly painted in a rainbow of joyful colors.
Coventry Island was its real name.
On a crisp day in early September an old man with paper-thin skin and nappy white hair and his apprentice, a beautiful young woman in a billowing blue cape, tramped through Coventry's forest, heading for the fog-shrouded lake.
The old man carried two suitcases. Both belonged to his companion, who, even in these dark pine woods, was wearing outlandishly large sunglasses. In preparation, no doubt, for this sudden trip to California she'd insisted upon.
He'd given up trying to walk beside her. He was content to lag behind, catching just a word or two of her jabbering.
"I don't see why you won't let me try it." The young woman spun around abruptly. "The Council said I must play a more active part in the girls' lives and training—"
"And indeed you will, Ileana." There was no pretending he hadn't heard her. She was an excellent clairvoyant, and had been able to read minds since late adolescence. "In fact, wondrous witch, I have just the mission for you—"
"Goddess," Ileana corrected her aged teacher. "It's not fair. Not fair at all. You've said yourself that I'm far more talented than most guardians. And the twins, whose well-being I'm responsible for—while amazingly gifted young witches—are extremely difficult to control. Don't you see, Karsh, if I know how to transmutate..."
Transmutation. There it was again. She was far too impulsive to be taught such an advanced skill. "Transmutation is the trackers' art, Ileana," he told her once again. "The art of changing one human being into another."
"Well, you're a tracker," she shot back at him. "Yet you turned that hulking madman into a smarmy snake."
"If you're speaking of Lord Thantos—" the ancient warlock began.
"Why not a turtle? A snail? A slug? Something easy to catch!" the young witch continued, gray-eyed and glorious in her zeal. "For goodness' sake, Karsh, you could have turned yourself—or that evil black-bearded beast, Thantos—into anyone!"
Shivering in his black velvet suit and slippers, the old man sighed. "It was the quickest, easiest spell I could think of," he explained again in his odd, raspy voice. "Lord Thantos had just—"
A fat orange cat curled round his legs, making it even harder for him to walk. "Shoo, Boris," he ordered.
"Come to me, my pet," the beautiful young witch called to the tabby. Boris leaped obediently into her arms. But not without snagging her flowing silk cape.
"Don't!" the weary old man warned. It was too late. Ileana's quick temper had already flared. She was midway through the spell. If he stopped her now, poor Boris would have become half cat, half wriggling worm—and who knew which half would be which?
So their march was further delayed as Karsh's headstrong pupil turned her cat into a caterpillar and then, at the old man's command, undid the spell.
"You see? I could as easily have turned Boris into a snake," she grumbled. "It was the first spell you taught me—when I was
ten years old
! A child's spell, Karsh, not one to stop Lord Thantos!
"Thantos is a murderer. He killed his own brother. We were supposed to bring him back to the island to stand before the Council." Ileana pulled her dark silk cape more tightly around her. "And we could have, if you'd changed him into something easy to catch. But noooo. You chose to turn your fellow tracker, the treacherous Lord Thantos, into a swift, slithering ribbon of vile reptile, who skittered through the underbrush to freedom. And that he is now, Karsh. Free, thanks to you. Free to work his evil magick on Apolla and Artemis. Free to capture and enslave them—mere children. Innocent. Defenseless."
Rubbish, Karsh thought. Apolla and Artemis—or Camryn and Alexandra, as they were now known—were neither innocent nor defenseless. They were fourteen years old, no longer children. And they had never been
Extraordinary young witches they were. Adolescent adepts swiftly awakening to their gifts. From the beginning much had been expected of them—twin daughters of Aron and Miranda, two of the most powerful and beloved practitioners of the craft.
Apolla—the strong, serene beauty now called Camryn—had been named for the mythical ruler of the sun, and Artemis—or Alexandra, the restless, rebellious one—for the ancient moon goddess.
Both were skilled, sometimes fierce, hunters. But like their namesakes, the girls shared a protective love of animals and children... of innocents in danger.
It was as if they still remembered, Karsh thought, the terrible time of their father's death, their mother's ruin, and their uncle's wild pursuit of them through the icy forests of Coventry Island. Their uncle, the powerful Lord Thantos.
Ah, but they were infants then, so tiny that Karsh had been able to hold them, one in each hand. Swiftly separated to save their lives, sent away from their birthplace, they'd been reared by protectors whom Karsh had chosen.
One child he had delivered to rural Crow Creek, Montana. The other to suburban Marble Bay, Massachusetts. Two thousand miles apart for fourteen years, neither had been aware of the other's existence. Yet three months ago, they'd found each other.
And within weeks of their meeting, it had become necessary for them to live together.
"Which is precisely what put them in harm's way... in Thantos's way!" Ileana, who had read Karsh's mind, blurted. "Their foul uncle was never interested in stealing just one of them. He's always wanted them both. They were of no use to him separately. Only together could they reach the great power and fierce magick that is their heritage. If you hadn't decided to unite them—without consulting me, of course—Thantos might never have found them. But thanks to you, the greedy assassin came close to capturing them—"
"He didn't succeed, Ileana. That's what matters."
"But he will! Oh, please, Karsh, please," she begged in a very un-Ileana-like way. "Teach me the secret of transmutation. I'd be so much more helpful to you and to them if I could turn myself into another person."
The exhausted tracker stared into the startling gray eyes of his charge. He studied her intently for a moment. "You disappoint me," he said after sifting through her thoughts. "It's not for Camryn and Alexandra that you ask this precious gift, it's to impress Brice Stanley!"
He took up their luggage and their journey again.
"That is so unfair!" Ileana, who'd discovered on her last trip to Los Angeles that Brice, her favorite movie star, was an accomplished warlock, now hurried to catch up with Karsh. "You only heard my very last idea," she accused. "A silly afterthought, that's all. It is for them. Thantos will surely try to lure them again—"
"I've heard enough," Karsh tried to silence her.
"If you had kept them apart, as I commanded, their bloodthirsty uncle would never have found them," she insisted. "Yet you won't give me what I need to save them."
"As you commanded?" The old tracker was rarely angry with the vain young witch. But he was cold and tired and his back ached from carrying her absurdly heavy luggage. "Of what use can the secrets of transmutation be to you?" he sneered at her. "Lord Thantos will
try again soon. Though he is their uncle and a warlock of immense wealth and power, he knows that we'll be near. Watching. Waiting. He knows he's wanted back here at the island and that, sooner or later, he must return to face the Unity Council. As for you, Ileana, you may suggest, propound, request, propose... but command me? Never!"
"But I am responsible for their safety. I am their guardian," she protested.
"As I am yours, though you seem to forget it often enough," the aged tracker grumbled.
With a sullen pout, Ileana turned her back on him. "If Thantos has gone into hiding, then he'll send someone else to snare the twins," she argued.
"Very good," Karsh said. "And who do you think he'll send?"
"That's easy. Someone Apolla and Arte—"
"Camryn and Alexandra," he reminded her.
"All right. Someone
Camryn and Alexandra
will mistake for a friend," Ileana went on. "Thantos will send someone the guileless, giving girls are drawn to. Some desperate creature, a maimed animal or lost child, a troubled being who seems to need their protection or help. Someone who'll act caring and devoted, until the time comes for him—"
"Or her," Karsh suggested.
"Or her," Ileana agreed, "until the time comes for Thantos's messenger to deliver them up to the murderous fiend himself."
"Then someone must warn them," Karsh said.
"Of course," Ileana agreed too quickly. Then, "No!" she protested. "Not me! You can't be serious. I'm on my way to California. I'm meeting Brice Stanley."
"You were. And now you're not." Grinning, Karsh waved his bony fingers like a carnival magician. "Presto, change-o! You're on your way to Marble Bay!"
This was the moment Alexandra Fielding had been dreading.
But no way was she going to let anyone know. Especially not the two boneheads who had dragged her here.
Outside the pizza parlor, Alex stood defiantly between them—Camryn Barnes, the twin sister she barely knew, and Cam's tall, gangly best friend, Beth.
Cam's brother, Dylan, was also along. With two earrings in his right earlobe and his long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, Dylan had a streak of mischief in him that tickled Alex. Less than a year younger than them and a head taller, Dylan had come home from an X-treme sports camp just days ago—and seemed to have already adjusted to the weird state of affairs he'd walked into.
Weird? Definition: Finding out that your beloved older sister was not your biological sister but had been adopted. Way weird? Learning that they'd all—the parents plus Cam and her best bud, Beth—run into your adopted sibling's spitting image, Alexandra Fielding, two thousand miles from home. And as if that weren't enough, discovering that your comfortable, cluttered, dirty-socks-smelling room had been disinfected and remodeled while you were gone.
From Alex's point of view, Dylan's easy acceptance of all that made him the coolest member of the Barnes tribe. She liked the delight in his blue eyes now, as he watched his usually successful sister sweating to get her way.
"Oh, come on, Alex." Cam tossed back her gleaming reddish-brown hair, picked a speck off the cuff of her creamy cashmere sweater, and began to toy with the dainty, smiling-sun charm dangling from her necklace. "We'll grab a coke and a slice and you'll finally get to meet the rest of my friends."
"You totally betrayed me. You lured me here under false pretenses." Alex's arms were stubbornly crossed. "You never mentioned meeting anyone—"
"Trust me, you're going to like them," her look-alike insisted.
"Right. If you like sugar substitutes." Dylan grinned. "You know, sickeningly sweet but capable of wiping out lab rats."
Cam shot her brother an evil look. "Ignore him, like everyone else does," she suggested.
"Anyway," her shadow, Beth, chimed in, "everyone's psyched about meeting you."
Alex caught sight of herself in the restaurant window. Choppy auburn hair splashed with blue streaks. Ratty cutoffs. Oversize sweatshirt. Skull necklace. And enough jangly bracelets on her wrist to make it look like she'd jammed her fist through a Slinky.
She was not as wild about her outfit as she had been this morning when she was trying to annoy Cam and Beth. No way was she marching into a place where their Galleria-garbed gang was panting to meet her.
Well, whose fault was it that she looked like a trailer-trash nightmare? Hadn't Cam's mom, Emily, offered her a new wardrobe for school—which started on Monday? But no, Alex had insisted on her own cruddy clothes, worn in the mix-'n'-match style she'd mastered since arriving in Massachusetts.
didn't begin to explain how she'd gotten here, Alex thought. She hadn't so much arrived as appeared. Shown up. Materialized.
One minute she had been sitting on the sunbaked steps of her tacky trailer in Crow Creek, Montana; the next she was knocking on the door of Camryn Barnes's classy casa in Marble Bay, Massachusetts. Camryn Barnes, a girl she'd randomly run into this summer, a stranger who just happened to have the same birthday as Alex and the same metallic-gray eyes and nowhere nose and sulky lips... and the same fear that something was wrong with her, that she was different, radically different, from other kids.
It turned out that they were twins.
Until the lab report came back, Alex hadn't wanted to believe it. Now there was no doubt.
She and Cam—a popular, peppy, preppy, soccer-playing rich kid—were identical. Two peas in a pod. Bookend babes. Mirror-image, matching sisters who'd never seen each other until Cam's vacationing family decided to do a fun afternoon at Big Sky, the bogus theme park in Montana where Alex just happened to work.
Then things moved awful fast. Awful
fast was more like it.
Alex's mom had died. This scrawny, old, white-haired guy—Doc, Alex called him—showed up at the funeral. While Alex was panicked about what she'd do next, he gave her some sweet-smelling herb—skullcap, it was called—to calm her. It made her sleepy. The last thing she remembered was Doc saying he knew just the place for her.
And this was the place. Marble Bay, Massachusetts, home of Camryn Barnes—the stranger who'd turned out to be Alexandra Fielding's lost-lost twin.
Tell that true tale to anyone and win a one-way ticket to the nuthouse.
Running a hand through her spiky, streaked hair, Alex turned away from the shop window. "Read my glossy purple lips," she said. "Pizza pig-out, yes. Meet my evil twin's friends, no."
That cracked Dylan up. "Hang tough, Als," he encouraged.
Cam frowned at Dylan. "What time's that haircut appointment?"
Dylan checked his phone and returned Cam's frown. "Leave it to you to remind me that I'm already late."
Long, tall Beth, with her wiry hair and freckled face, rolled her eyes.
They've known each other so long that Beth acts like Dyl's
, Alex heard Cam thinking. She was getting used to picking up other people's thoughts, especially Cam's. They could do other things, too. Alex could make things move just by thinking about them. Cam could stun people into tripping, or tripping up, just by staring at them. And sometimes, if Cam worked it just right, her piercing eyes could actually set things on fire. They weren't just twins, she reminded herself. They were twin witches. How else could they explain all the bizarre and amazing stuff they could do and see and hear that other kids could not?
"T'Witches," Alex said aloud, and Cam chuckled.
Beth glanced at them accusingly. Something private had passed between them that she'd been left out of. Again.
"It's a good idea to meet them now," Beth said. "What are you going to do when school starts, Alex—just only hang out with Cam?"
Alex shrugged off the girl's chilly tone. It took work, she knew, for Beth Fish to frost anybody. Basically cheerful and easygoing, Beth was still hurting over Cam's instant bonding with Alex. Now she had to deal with Alex and Dylan's mutual admiration society.
Camryn Barnes, premonition princess, sensed it, too. "This place is the pits, right, Beth?" Sharing an inside joke, Cam tried to reassure her best friend.
It worked. Beth giggled. "Pits. P-I-T-S," she spelled it out for Alex. "That's short for Pie In The Sky, remember?"
"How could I forget? Everything in this cutesy town has a cutesy name." Alex rolled her eyes—black-rimmed, silver gray, identical to Cam's.
"Come on, Alex," Cam urged again. "I promised the Pack I'd introduce you—"
"The Pack, ugh." Alex wrinkled her nose at the lame name. "Talk about cutesy." The Six Pack was what Cam and her pals called themselves because there were Cam and Beth and four other girls—
"Only three are going to be here for sure," Cam said—just to show off, Alex figured, just to prove she could hear her twin's private thoughts.
Cam hadn't even known she could read minds until Alex showed up.
"Sukari, Amanda, and Kristen. Brianna may not make it," Cam continued. "She's expecting a call from her dad."
"Bree's dad lives on the West Coast." Beth twirled a finger around one of the thousand corkscrew curls that framed her freckled face. "He's this big Hollywood producer or something—"
Bree. Brianna. The name was familiar to Alex. Then she remembered. Bree was bulletin girl, the gushing gossip whose phone conversation Alex—with her extraordinary hearing, which had become even keener since meeting Cam—had overhead her first morning in Marble Bay. "Not Bree, the human Hoover. She who sucks up dirt—"
Beth giggled again. "You have to get to know her," she said, quickly switching gears. "I mean, Bree can sound all cutting and judgmental, but she's actually supersensitive, even if she acts harsh—"
"She probably won't even be here," Cam tried to reassure Alex, "but you'll really like Amanda, Sukari and Kristen. Come on, Alex, you're going to meet them sooner or later. School starts day after tomorrow. Don't you want to know a few kids before you get there?"
"Excuse me?" Alex said. "What part of 'No Way' don't you understand? Want me to spell it out for you?"
A chill breeze swept by unexpectedly. The wave of frigid air raised goose bumps on Alex's arms and prickled up the back of her neck
"Cam?" she asked softly, rubbing her arms, feeling her jaw tighten against the cold. "Do you feel that?"
"Feel what?" Beth asked, looking around.
"Cold," Cam replied, "like a sudden drop in temperature. And—help!" Cam's shoulders hunched. She spun around fast. "Cut it out," she warned. "Who pulled my hair?"
Alex's eyes widened. "Did you say something?"
Annoyed, Beth folded her arms. "She said she's cold. And then someone pulled her hair, obviously some joke."
"Wait," Alex continued to Cam. "Didn't you also just say you had something important to tell me?"
"Oh, man. Not again. Not now," Cam groaned. But oops, there it was—she felt that icy chill. Alex obviously heard a voice, a voice that wasn't Cam's. Cam tried to keep it together. "I just wanted—"
"Ow!" It was Beth this time. She jumped about a foot off the ground, clutching her bottom. "Did you do that?" she demanded of Alex. "Because if you did, that was gross and totally rude."
"—I just wanted you to meet my friends," Cam finished her sentence on automatic.
Her twin's slightly shaky voice brought Alex back to the reality zone. Shivering, trying to figure out what was happening, she'd spaced. But she had definitely heard a sharp, oddly familiar voice say,
Ditch the frizzy-haired friend; I've got something important to say.
So what was it going to be—dump Beth on command and wait out here in the arctic chill for something weird to happen or go inside where a bunch of spoiled but safe fourteen-year-olds were waiting to check her out?
"Meet your pals?" Alex exclaimed. "Can't wait!" She hurried into Pie In The Sky.