“She might be a tad overzealous, and she needs a little reining in sometimes,” Penn said.
“I do not!” Liv shouted indignantly, which Gemma thought to be a completely out-of-place response.
Almost anytime Penn had ever spoken to Gemma, she’d done so either with a condescending sweetness or a bitchy bossiness, but here with Liv, she was speaking reasonably, even kindly. It didn’t seem to warrant Liv’s petulance.
“Well, that all sounds great, but I’m going to pass on the midnight swim,” Gemma said.
“Really?” Penn asked. “Since when have you ever passed that up?”
“Since I’m trying this new honesty thing with my dad,” Gemma said. “I told him I wouldn’t sneak out or run off anymore, so I’m not going to.”
“That sounds lame.” Penn wrinkled her nose in disgust. “You’re lame.”
The outside light flicked on above her, meaning that her dad was awake, and Gemma swore under her breath. A few seconds later, he opened the front door with his new shotgun in hand. He didn’t point it at them, but he wanted to make sure they knew he had it.
No matter how many times Gemma had told him that his gun wouldn’t hurt the sirens, Brian insisted on getting it every chance he got.
He didn’t know how else to protect his daughter from them. He couldn’t have them arrested or tell their parents, he couldn’t fight them because they would tear him apart, he shouldn’t even talk to them because their song would hypnotize him.
So he got a shotgun and glared at them from the doorway.
“All right, well, it was nice chatting with you,” Gemma said as she edged back toward the door. “But that’s my cue to head back in.”
“Lucky,” Thea muttered.
“It was nice to meet you again, Gemma,” Liv said, and leaned forward, like she meant to shake Gemma’s hand.
“Yeah, have fun,” Gemma said, and hastily slid back in the house without touching Liv.
“What’s going on? Why were they here?” Brian demanded, and he stood so close to the front door, Gemma almost ran into him as she came back in. Then he gave her a strange look.
“What, Dad?” Gemma asked, staring nervously at his confused expression.
“Your eyes … are different,” he told her, sounding a little pained.
That explained why the dim living room appeared so bright. Her eyes hadn’t changed back yet from their bird form. She blinked several times and willed them to shift back, and finally, the living room looked dark again, with only a small lamp providing light.
“Is that better?” Gemma asked.
“Yeah,” Brian said, though she could already tell by his expression that she looked normal again. “What did those girls want?”
“I don’t actually know,” Gemma said, and realized that wasn’t the whole truth, so she added, “They wanted to introduce me to the new Lexi.”
“They found a replacement for her?” Her dad raised his eyebrows in surprise. “That was fast.”
“Yeah, it was,” Gemma said.
She neglected to tell her dad that part of the reason it was so quick was that they already had the girl lined up. Liv had probably been meant to be Gemma’s replacement, but when Penn decided to kill Lexi instead, they had to change their plans.
The fight last week, where Lexi tried to kill Gemma and Daniel actually turned out to be a good thing. It bought her a few more weeks. Based on how quickly they turned Liv after Lexi’s death, it would’ve only been a day or two longer before Penn had killed Gemma. Liv was all primed to go.
“How long were they here for?” Brian asked.
“Only a few minutes.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up when they got here?”
Gemma walked past her dad and sat down on the couch in the living room. “I didn’t want to disturb you. I know you have to get up in a few hours, and I wasn’t going anywhere.”
“You know the deal, though,” Brian said firmly. “You tell me what’s going on. You keep me in the loop.”
“I know, and I am.”
Her dad seemed to relax a little and sat down in his recliner next to her. “How are things going with the scroll?”
“They’re … going,” Gemma said, and she was tempted to lie.
Things were not going well. After Thea had given her the scroll, Gemma, Harper, and their dad had stayed up all night looking at it. It was written in an ancient language. They’d originally thought it was Greek, but upon attempting translations from the Internet, they’d found it impossible to decipher.
Last Saturday, Harper and Gemma had gone up to see Lydia and show her the scroll. She made copies of it since Gemma didn’t want to leave it with anybody else, and Lydia said she would work on translating it and finding out any information she could from it.
While Lydia was busy with that, Gemma had decided to work on trying the next best thing—destroying the scroll. Harper was against it, arguing that they didn’t know for sure how the scroll worked. If they destroyed it, it might kill all the sirens—including Gemma. Gemma was willing to risk it, but Harper kept insisting that they should translate it first.
But it didn’t matter anyway. Gemma hadn’t been able to do anything to even slightly damage it.
The scroll was made out of a thick papyrus. It almost reminded Gemma of cardboard, but it was thin enough to roll up. The paper itself was beige, and Gemma wasn’t sure if it had always been so or if the color came with age. The ends were uneven and slightly yellowed, but, otherwise, it didn’t look the worse for wear.
The ink was a very dark brown and iridescent. When she tilted the paper in different light, the ink would shimmer and glisten. She wondered if it was the ink itself that gave the paper its powerful properties, or if it was under some kind of spell.
It definitely had some kind of magic protecting it. Despite its thickness, the papyrus felt fragile under Gemma’s fingertips, reminding her of a dried-up corn husk. It felt like she should easily be able to snap or tear it in half.
But she couldn’t. Scissors wouldn’t cut it. They just bent the paper without damaging it at all. She tried garden shears, and even got her father to help her with his table saw. The paper would just bend and fold. Nothing could break through. It even jammed up the shredder at the library.
Fire wouldn’t burn it. Water wouldn’t warp it. Gemma was running out of ways to try to destroy it. When she dipped it in water, the ink seemed to glow, but when she took it out, nothing had changed. The ink held strong, and the scroll remained intact.