Adrian Ryder tore his gaze away from the book and contemplated the middle distance. He was reading about Perseus and Medusa, but found it hard to focus. The recent dream had sparked a tiny ember of peril that flared and dulled over the following days, but never died out. In the dream, Adrian, riding Ethur, came upon the Ugly Man in the Mist and an evil crone plotting to take Cassie. He had awakened, sensing its reality and the certainty that Cassie’s life was in grave danger.
The school year was ending, and he kept telling himself this was the last stretch, but the sense of impending menace nagged at him. Yet, the branches of the ever-blossoming trees of the Grove by the Old Cemetery doused this dread almost to extinction. He sought the silence of the biggest ever-blossoming tree and hoped that by climbing it and being in it, not just in the grove, he might move forward with his final school assignment. But the dream…
It showed him the people who wanted Cassie for mysterious and nefarious reasons, but not how to stop them. Later, it had disturbed him even more when Cassie told about the new girl turning into a hag in front of the bathroom mirror.
He laid his head back on the tree trunk and wished for Athena’s shield, which struck the enemy down in terror, as the soft rustle of the breeze through the blossoms lulled him and their sweet fragrance numbed his worried brain.
“Adrian,” a soft voice said beside him, “Climb down.”
Adrian gazed into a woman’s face. She had Cassie’s striking emerald green eyes, and knew it was Cassandra, her ancestor, buried in this grove.
Adrian clambered down from the tree. He found himself in a moonlit cemetery with old and crooked grave stones spiking out of the gnarled bramble. This place was ancient, much older than any cemetery in New England. He felt it in the moonlight and the soft breeze that swirled around him whispering in a thousand dead tongues. There was an eerie, yet comforting, peace about it. Cassandra stood beside one gravestone shimmering in the moon’s glow, but time had effaced its name.
“Dig,” she whispered.
He kneeled; one moonbeam pointed its long tendril to a glimmering spot on the ground, and Adrian scraped the damp earth with his hands. Dirt caught between his nails and soft brown mud caked his fingers. Digging deeper, the earth’s thick texture changed and covered his hands in fine soot and ash. He suppressed a shudder; they burned witches in this part of the world. Soon his fingers closed over a cloth pouch. He pulled it out of the ground, and turning it in his dirty hands, untied the string and opened it.
A shining gold coin fell on his blackened palm. It had a long, gold chain wound and threaded around it, binding it in a tether like Ethur’s silver bridle. Adrian turned to Cassandra, but she had vanished. A moonbeam caught the coin, and it sparkled in the starry darkness; it had a woman with serpentine hair engraved on one face, the other was a smooth and golden mirror. His heart skipped a beat, but his lips broke into a smirk. He draped the chain around his neck; a hawk screeched and the sound cut right through him.
Adrian’s eyelids flew open. Sunlight hurt his eyes, and the wind gusted through the blossoms. He jerked in surprise and almost fell off the tree. He gazed at his dirty fingers with black soot under their nails. Around his neck he felt the weight of the gold coin: Athena’s shield.