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Spellbinder (Chapter 13)

You know, he probably only loved you because of the yemonja," Blaise said.

Thea looked up from her seat in the empty chemistry lab. It was morning break, and this was the most private place they could find at school. "Thanks, Blaise. I needed that."

But maybe it was true. She'd almost forgotten that she'd used a spell to get him in the first place.

That should make a difference, she told herself. If it was all artificial, I shouldn't even miss it.

She still felt as if she were encased in ice.

"Did you get it?"

"Sure." Blaise tossed a ring on the high table. "I asked her if I could look at it, then pretended I dropped it in the bushes. She's still out there searching."

Thea pulled the binding spell out of her backpack.

Two anatomically correct dolls, both made with the blue wax Blaise used for her jewelry. Beautiful little creatures-Blaise was an artist. The male one contained the Kleenex with Eric's blood and a single sandy hair Thea had found clinging to her shoulder.

Thea put Pilar's turquoise ring around the feet of the female doll and tied it with a red thread to keep it on. She held out a hand.

From her backpack, Blaise produced a corked hexagonal bottle. The liquid inside was made up of all sorts of disgusting things, including ground bezoar stone. Thea held her breath as she poured it over the two figures, which immediately began to smoke.

"Now bind them together," Blaise said, coughing and waving a hand to clear a space to breathe.

"I know." Thea took a thin scarlet ribbon seven feet long and patiently began winding it around the two figures. It wrapped them like mummies. She tucked the loose end into a loop.

"And there they are," Blaise said. "Bound till death. Congratulations. Let's see, it's ten fifteen now, so he should have forgotten your existence by about… say, ten sixteen." She reached up and her hair ran like black water through her hands as she stretched.

Thea tried to smile.

The pain was bad. It was as if some part of Thea's physical body had been cut off. She felt raw and bleeding and not at all able to deal with things like French or trigonometry.

There must be more to life. I'll go somewhere and do something for other people; I'll work in third world countries or try to save an endangered species.

But thinking about future good works didn't help the raw ache. Or the feeling that if the ache stopped she would just be numb and never be happy again.

And all this for a human…

It didn't work anymore. She couldn't go back to her old way of thinking. Humans might be alien, but they were still people. They were as good as witches. Just different.

She managed to get through the schoolday without running into Eric-which mainly meant scuttling around corridors after bells rang and being tardy for classes. She was scuttling after the last bell toward Dani's U.S. government class when she almost collided with Pilar.

"Thea!"

The voice was surprised. Thea looked up.

Deep amber-brown eyes, framed by spiky black lashes. Pilar was looking at her very strangely.

Wondering at your good luck? Thea thought. Has Eric proposed to you yet? "What?" she said.

Pilar hesitated, then just shook her head and walked off.

Thea ducked into the history classroom.

Dani said, "Thea!"

Everybody sounds the same.

"Where've you been? Eric's looking all over for you."

Of course, I should have realized. Blaise was wrong-he's not just going to forget about me and

walk away. He's a gentleman; he's going to tell me he's walking away.

"Can I go home with you?" she asked Dani wretchedly. "I need some space."

"Thea…" Dani dragged her to a corner and looked her over with anxious eyes. "Eric really wants to find you… but what's wrong?" she whispered. "Is it something about Suzanne? The old gym's still closed, isn't it?"

"It's nothing to do with that." She was about to suggest they get moving when a tall figure walked in the door. Eric.

He walked straight to Thea. The kids hanging around the teacher's desk were looking. The teacher was looking. Thea felt like a freak show.

"We have to talk," Eric said flatly. She'd never seen him look quite like this before. He was pale, glassy-eyed, hollow-cheeked. He somehow managed to look as if he'd missed a week's worth of sleep since that morning.

And he was right. They had to talk to end it. She had to explain that it was okay, or he'd never be able to go. I can do that.

"Somewhere private," Thea said.

They left Dani and walked through the campus, past the old gym with its yellow ribbon of police tape hanging limp and still. Through the football field.

Thea didn't know where they were going, and suspected Eric didn't either-they just kept moving until they were out of sight of people.

The green of the tended grass gave way to yellow-green, and then brown, and then desert. Thea wrapped her arms around herself, thinking about how cold it had gotten in just a week and a half. The last trace of summer was gone.

And now we're going to talk about it, she thought as Eric stopped. Okay. I don't have to think, just say the right words. She forced herself to look at him.

He turned the haggard, haunted face on her and said, "I want you to stop it."

Funny choice of words. You mean end it, break it off, put it quietly out of its misery.

She couldn't get all that out, so she just said, "What?"

"I don't know what you're doing," he said, "but I want it stopped. Now."

His green eyes were level. Not apologetic, more like demanding. His voice was flat.

Thea had a sudden sense of shifting realities. All the hairs on her arms were standing up.

Caught without a working brain, she said, "I- what are you talking about?"

"You know what I'm talking about." He was still looking at her steadily.

Thea shook her head no.

He shrugged. It was a you-asked-for-it shrug. "Whatever you're doing," he said with terrible distinctness, "to try and make me like Pilar, it has got to stop. Because it's not fair to her. She's upset right now because I'm acting crazy. But I don't want to be

with her. It's you I love. And if you want to get rid of me, then tell me, but don't try and foist me off on somebody else."

Thea listened to the whole speech feeling as if she were floating several feet above the ground. The sky and desert seemed too bright, not warm, just very shiny. While her brain ran around frantically like Madame Curie in a new cage, she managed to get out, "What could I possibly have to do-with you liking Pilar?"

Eric looked around, found a rock, and sat on it. He stared down at his hands for a minute or so. Finally he looked up, his expression helpless.

"Give me a break, Thea," he said. "How stupid do you think I am?" Oh.

"Oh." Then she thought, don't just stand there. You bluffed him before. You talked him out of knowing he'd been bitten by a snake. For Earth's sake, you can talk him out of whatever he's thinking now.

"Eric-I guess we've all been under a lot of stress…."

"Oh, please don't give me that." He seemed to be talking to a clump of silver cholla, eyeing the halos of awful spines as if he might jump into them. "Please don't give me that."

He took a deep breath and spoke deliberately. "You charm snakes and read guinea pigs' minds. You cure rattler bites with a touch. You tap into people's brains. You make up magical potpourri bags and your insane cousin is the goddess Aphrodite." He looked at her. "Did I miss anything?"

Thea found another rock and backed up to it blindly. She sat. Of everything in the universe, right then what she was most aware of was her own breathing.

"I have this feeling," Eric said, watching her with his green eyes, "that you guys are in fact the descendants of good old Hecate Witch-Queen. Am I dose?"

"You think you win a prize?" Thea still couldn't think, couldn't put a meaningful remark together. Could only gabble.

He paused and grinned, a wry and painful grin, but the first one she'd seen today. Then the smile faded. "It's true, isn't it?" he said simply.

Thea looked out over the desert, toward the huge, bare cliffs of rock in the distance. She let her eyes unfocus, soaking in the expanse of brown-green. Then she put her ringers to the bridge of her nose.

She was going to do something that all her ancestors would condemn her for, something that nobody she'd grown up with would understand.

"It's true," she whispered.

He breathed out, a lonely human figure in that vastness of the desert.

"How long have you known?" she asked.

"I… don't know. I mean, I think I always sort of knew. But it wasn't possible-and you didn't want me to know. So I didn't know." A kind of excitement was creeping into his haggardness. "It's really true, then. You can do magic."

Say it, Thea told herself. You've done everything else. Say the words to a human. "I'm a witch."

"A Hearth-Woman, I thought you called it. That's what Roz was telling me."

At that, Thea was horrified out of her daze of horror. Stricken. "Eric-you can't talk about this with Roz. You don't understand. They'll kill her."

He didn't look as shocked as she might have expected. "I knew you were scared of something. I thought it was just that people might hurt you-and your grandma."

"They will; they'll kill me. But they'll kill you and Roz, too-and your mom and any other human they think may have learned about them-"

"Who will?"

She looked at him, floundered a moment, and then made the ultimate betrayal of her upbringing.

"It's called the Night World."

"Okay," he said slowly, half an hour later. They were sitting side by side on his rock. Thea wasn't touching him, although her whole side was aware of his presence.

"Okay, so basically, the descendants of Maya are lamia and the descendants of Hellewise are witches. And together they're all this big secret organization, the Night World."

"Yes." Thea had to fight the instinct to whisper. "It's not just lamia and witches, though. It's shape-shifters and made vampires and werewolves and other things. All the races that the human race couldn't deal with."

"Vampires," Eric muttered to the cholla, his eyes going glassy again. "That's what really gets me, real

vampires. I don't know why, it follows logically…." He looked at Thea, his gaze sharpening. "Look, if all you people have supernatural powers, why don't you just take over?"

"Not enough of us," Thea said. "And too many of you. It doesn't matter how supernatural we are."

"But, look-"

"You breed much faster, have more children-and you kill us whenever you find us. The witches were on the verge of extinction before they got together with the other races and formed the Night World. And that's why Night World law is so strict about keeping our secrets from humans."

"And that's why you tried to hand me over to Pilar," Eric said.

Thea could feel his eyes on her like a physical sensation. She stared at a patch of rock nettle between her feet. "I didn't want you dead. I didn't want me dead, either."

"And they'd really kill us for being in love."

"In a minute."

He touched her shoulder. Thea could feel warmth spread from his hand and she had to work to make sure she didn't tremble. "Then we'll keep it a secret," he said.

"Eric, it's not like that. You don't understand. There's nowhere we could go, no place we could hide. The Night People are everywhere."

"And they all follow these same rules." "Yes. It's what allows them to survive."

He breathed for a moment, then said in a voice that had gone husky, "There's got to be a way."

"That's what I let myself think-for a while." Her own voice sounded shaky. "But we have to face reality. The only chance we have of even living through this is for us to just go our separate ways. And for you to try as hard as you can to forget me and everything I've told you."

She was trembling now, and her eyes had filled. But her hands were balled into fists and she wouldn't look at him.

"Thea-"

The tears spilled. "I won't be your death!"

"And I can't forget you! I can't stop loving you."

"Well, and maybe that was just a spell, too," she said, sniffling. Tears were falling straight off her face and onto the rock. Eric looked around for something to give her, then tried to wipe her wet cheeks with his thumb.

She whacked his hand away. "Listen to me. You did miss something when you were adding up what I did. I also make love spells for me. I put one on you, and that's why you fell in love in the first place."

Eric didn't look impressed. "When?"

"When did I put the spell on you? The day I asked you to the dance."

Eric laughed.

"You-"

"Thea." He shook his head. "Look," he said gently, "I fell in love with you before that. It was when we were out here with that snake. When we just looked at each other and… and… I saw you surrounded by mist and you were the most beautiful thing in the world." He shook his head again. "And maybe that

was magic, but I don't think it was any spell you were putting on me."

Thea wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Okay, so the yemonja had nothing to do with it. Anyway, love spells just seemed to bounce off Eric-even the dolls hadn't worked….

She bent suddenly and picked up her backpack. "And I don't know why this didn't work," she muttered. She took out a quilted makeup bag, unzipped it, and reached inside.

The dolls came out as a bundle. At first glance they looked all right. Then Thea saw it.

The male doll had turned around. Instead of being face-to-face with the female doll, it had its back to her.

The scarlet ribbon was still wound tightly around them. There was no way that it could have slipped, that this could have happened by accident. But the dolls had been inside the case, and the case had been inside her backpack all day.

Eric was watching. "That's Pilar's ring. Hey, is that the spell on me and Pilar? Can I see it?"

"Oh, why not?" Thea whispered. She felt dazed again.

So it couldn't have been an accident, and no human could have done it. And no witch could have done it either.

Maybe…

Maybe there was a magic stronger than spells. Maybe the soulmate principle was responsible, and if two people were meant to be together, nothing could keep them apart.

Eric was gingerly unwinding the scarlet ribbon. "I'll give the ring back to Pilar," he said. He reduced the binding spell to its constituent parts, put them gently back in the makeup bag.

Then he looked at her.

"I've always loved you," he said. "The only question is…" He broke off and looked like the shy Eric she knew again. "Is, do you love me?" he finished at last. His voice was soft, but he was looking at her steadily.

Maybe there are some things you just can't fight….

She made herself look at him. The image wobbled and split.

"I love you," she whispered. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I do."

They fell-slow as a dream, but still falling-into each other's arms.

"There's a problem," Thea said some time later. "Besides all the other problems. I'm going to be doing something next week, and I just need you to give me some time."

"What kind of something?"

"I can't tell you."

"You have to tell me," he said calmly, his breath against her hair. "You have to tell me everything now."

"It's magic stuff and it's dangerous-" A second too late she realized her mistake.

"What do you mean, dangerous?" He straightened up. His voice told her the peaceful interlude was over. "If you think I'm going to let you do something dangerous by yourself…"

He wore her down. He was good at that-even better than his sister-and Thea was no good at refusing him. In the end she told him about Suzanne Blanchet.

"A dead witch," he said.

"A spirit. And a very angry one."

"And you think she's coming back," he said.

"I think she's been here all along. Maybe hanging around the old gym, which hasn't done her any good since nobody's been there assaulting dummies. But if they open it to have the Halloween party…"

"It'll be full of humans, all visiting those booths, all reminding her of what she hates. She can pick them off like ticks off a dog."

"Something like that. I think it could be bad. So what I've got to do is quietly lure her somewhere else and then send her back where she came from."

"And how are you going to do that?"

"I don't know." Thea rubbed her forehead. The sun was dipping toward the cliffs and long afternoon shadows had fallen across the desert.

"You've got a plan," Eric said matter-of-factly.

Not you, Thea thought. I promised myself I wouldn't use you. Not even to save lives.

"You've got a plan you think is dangerous for humans. For me, since I'm going to be helping you."

I will not use you….

"Let's make this easy on everybody. You know I'm not going to let you do it alone. We might as well take that as given and go on from there."

This is the crazy guy who ignores snakebites and attacks people with punch, she reminded herself. Do you really expect to talk him out of helping you?

But if something were to happen to him…

The voice came back again, and Thea didn't understand it and she didn't like it at all.

Would you give up everything?

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