We hurried around a pile of smoking debris. “What language do they speak here, Lance?”
“English and German.” Thankfully, he was fluent in both. Lance cleared his throat as we drew near. “Guten Morgen, Sir. Sprichst du Englisch?”
The stranger raised a soot-covered hand and straightened the hat on his gray head. “I do. From your accent, however, I gather you are not from here.”
“No, we’re not,” Lance confirmed. “We find ourselves in this strange place by accident. Can you tell us what has happened?”
The man’s rheumy blue eyes swept over the two of us before he gave us a weary nod. “We lost to the Nazis. Spelltwisters joined with the Soviet soldiers, hoping to win this war.”
A cold chill snaked down my back. “What happened to the Spelltwisters?”
“The fortunate ones are dead,” he said flatly. “The unlucky ones, those who couldn’t escape, have been rounded up and sent to the camps.” His voice broke. “My grandchildren… My daughter… My son-in-law… They’re all gone. My dear sweet Geneva was gunned down by soldiers.”
Something broke deep within me. His grief became my own. It was only by the hand of fate that Lance and I weren’t Germans. We could have easily been born in that time. He could have been killed simply for being my brother, not because he had any power.
The entire time I had been helping Aunt Esther, I was concerned about myself—and Lance, of course. Not once did I ever consider the lives of anyone else. I had been too busy collecting souls to think about the loved ones those men may have left behind.
I blinked rapidly as my vision blurred. “How are you still here, sir?”
The man frowned. “Because I, Harvey Gruber, am a coward. I hid when the soldiers stormed our house, not lifting a hand to defend my family. I even remained silent as the love of my life, Geneva, tried to stop the men. I am despicable.” His gaze flickered to the cloudy sky. “My existence is my punishment.”
His story was more than I wanted to hear. That man was scared, and his fear kept him from acting. I think I understood.
As much as I didn’t want to hear another word from the old man, I had to learn one more thing. “But why Magickals? Why would anyone send them anywhere?”
Mr. Gruber’s gaze whipped to me. His overwhelming sadness was quickly replaced with anger. He scowled as he spat out the words. “Because we are a threat to humans. Hitler is afraid of what we can do. He possesses no power of his own, so he torments those who do. It is his goal to have a world without magick. That man will do whatever it takes to get rid of us.”
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