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Spellbinder (Chapter 15)

Thea." Dani was shaking her arm. 'They're talking to you."

The visions were gone. Thea was standing in Gran's workshop, seeing everything as if through a distorting lens. People's faces seemed to stretch; their voices seemed to drag.

"I asked, how did you learn the invocation for summoning spirits?" Gran said slowly.

Eric. He won't wait; he'll start without me. Or will he? I told him not to. But he'll be worrying about the party….

The party. All those kids… even little kids. Humans, but people. like baby chicks with a hawk up above. How many of them will end up like Kevin?

"The invocation for summoning spirits!" Gran was shouting, as if Thea were hard of hearing.

"I… we… I heard you at Samhain two years ago. In Vermont. I saw the summoning the Inner Circle did." Even her own voice sounded weird and distorted.

"We saw you. Both of us. We were hiding behind the trees and you never even noticed," Blaise said clearly, and the bells rang again.

Dimly, Thea felt appreciation. But most of her mind was reeling from horrible thought to thought. Eric… but if I try to get to him, if the Inner Circle finds out he's involved… that will get him killed. A human who knows about the Night World. Immediate death sentence.

But Suzanne. If he burns those dummies, Suzanne will kill him the way she killed Kevin.

No matter what happened, Eric was going to end up dead. Unless…

"Which… of the spirits… did you call?" Gran was shouting, as if Thea was now not only hard of hearing but slow of understanding. Unless…

"That's what I want to tell you," Thea said. She could see the way. It would mean the end for her, but she might possibly save Eric. If there was enough time, if they would let her alone, if Eric wasn't right now trying to be a hero….

"I want to tell you about it," Thea said again. And then the words were tumbling out in a rush, faster and faster, as if some dam had broken inside her. "And I'll tell you everything-but please, Grandma, please, you have to let me go out now. Just for a little while. There's something I have to do. You have to let me go, and then I'll come back here and you can do whatever you want to me."

"Hold on a minute," Mother Cybele said, but Thea couldn't stop.

"Please-please. Grandma. I've done a terrible thing-and I'm the only one who can take care of it. I'll come back-"

"Wait, wait, wait. Calm down," Gran said. She looked agitated herself. "What's this rush all of sudden? Try it slowly. What do you think you have to do?"

"I have to put her back." Thea saw that she was going to have to give some explanation. She tried to speak dearly and slowly, to make them understand. "The spirit I let out, Grandma. Her name is Suzanne Blanchet and she was burned in the sixteen hundreds. And she's out, out there, and she's already killed a human."

Everyone was listening now, some leaning forward, some frowning. Thea looked around at the circle of faces, talking to all of them. She was still terrified, but what did that matter? Eric mattered.

"Last week she killed a boy at my high school. And tonight she's going to kill more people, at the high school Halloween party. I can't explain how I know-there isn't time. But I do know. And I'm the only one who can stop her. I called her; I'm the only one who can put her back."

"Yes, but unfortunately it's not that easy," a low voice said. Thea turned and identified Rhys, a wiry man in a white lab coat. "If the spirit's at large-" "I  know about that, but I have a way to trap her.

It's all set up, and I…" Thea hesitated. "I've tricked somebody into helping me," she said slowly. "And he's in danger right now. Which is why you have to let me go, let me take care of this. Please."

"You want to go to the high school, where the party is," Aunt Ursula said. Although her lips were as thin as ever, she didn't sound angry. More-astute.

Thea opened her mouth to say no, and then stopped, confused again.

The party-or the desert? If Suzanne was really killing people at the party, she should go there. But only if Eric wasn't doing something to attract Suzanne to the desert. He was still more important to her than anyone else. But if he wasn't doing something-and if Suzanne was at the party-she might kill before Thea and Eric could lure her…. I'm going crazy.

She felt, literally, as if she might faint. Her head was swimming. There were too many possibilities. It all depended on where Suzanne was right now, and there was no way to know that.

Thea began to shake violently, black dots dancing in front of her eyes. I don't know what to do.

"I'm sorry… could everybody listen for a moment? I'm seeing something."

It was Aradia's voice, quiet and gently self-possessed. Mature, even though she was only a little older than Thea. Thea tried to see her through the black dots.

"I think it's something important, something about what we're talking about," Aradia said. Her beautiful

face, with its smooth skin the color of coffee with cream, was turned toward Thea. Her wide brown eyes looked straight ahead without focus, the way they always did.

Aradia couldn't see with those eyes-but then she didn't need to. She saw with her mind-and saw things that were hidden to most people.

"I'm seeing a boy-he's dressed in some old-fashioned costume. He's beside a fire, inside a circle of stones."

Eric….

"He's got a stick-an ember. He's looking around. Now he's going to… it looks like a scarecrow. I can't see it well. There's a pile of sticks underneath it. He's bending. He's lighting the sticks."

No.

"I have to go," Thea said. She wasn't asking permission anymore.

Aradia was still speaking. "Okay, the sticks are catching fire. Now I can see better… and it's not a scarecrow; it looks sort of like a witch. A doll." She stopped, her lovely blind eyes widening. "It's-and it's moving-no, there's something moving it. I can see it now-a spirit. A spirit is moving the doll. It's coming out now-toward the boy-"

"I have to go," Thea said. And then she was moving, pushing her way between Rhys and Old Bob, breaking out of the circle. The beads of the curtain struck her face, clattering as they fell back behind her.

"Thea, wait a minute!"

"Thea, come back here!"

"Ursula, you go get her-"

The jeep. My backpack's in the jeep. I have to get it first.

The keys to the Lincoln were hanging on a nail by the back door. Thea grabbed them.

She pushed the back door open just as three or four people came hurrying through the bead curtain. She slammed the door in their faces.

Get to the car. Fast. Now drive.

She backed out of the alley, tires squealing. She could see light spill as the door to the shop opened, but by then she was turning onto Barren Street.

She found herself driving at some new level, squeezing through the tail end of yellow lights, recognizing shortcuts in the dark. In just a few minutes she was at the Night World club with the jack-o'-lanterns on the porch.

There was no place to park the Lincoln. She left it in the middle of the street, with the keys still in the ignition. She pulled the key to the jeep out of her belt and jumped in.

Hurry. Hurry. She burned rubber again getting the jeep moving.

Hurry. The freeway.

Just let me get to him. And let it not be too late. That's all I ask, after that I don't care.

Would you give up everything?

The voice didn't seem like a stranger this time, didn't seem menacing. Just curious. And Thea had an answer.

Yes.

If I can just get there, in time, I can send him away. I can tell him some story, make him go somehow. Make him hide. I'll tell the Circle I tricked him or enchanted him into helping; I won't even tell them his name. They can't make me.

Whatever they do to me, he'll be safe. That's all I care about. That's all I'm asking.

But even that was a lot, and she knew it, so she kept her foot mashed down on the gas pedal. Freeway off ramp. Side road. She drove crazily fast. The pounding inside her head kept saying hurry, hurry, even as she was careening off curbs. Desert.

Now the road was bad. It was hard to see; the moon was almost down. The jeep lunged over bumps and lurched into potholes.

Eric, be doing something. Be talking to her, be running. You're so smart, please, please, be smart now. Keep her distracted, keep her hair away from your neck.

How strong was a spirit? Thea didn't know. Please, I see everything so clearly now. I've been selfish, only thinking of me, what would make me happy. All that "encased in ice" garbage. I should have been dancing in the street. As long as Eric is all right, I don't care if he lives on Mars, I don't care if I never see him again. As long as he's well I'm happier than anybody has a right to be.

A jolt rattled her teeth. She was off the road now, driving by landmarks. Through forests of dead yuccas that looked like skinny gray Cousin Its.

It's taking so long, it's too long. Hurry. Hurry.

She could see red sandstone in front of her. Pillars in the headlights.

That's it! Go, go!

The jeep rocketed over clumps of blackbrush. She could see fire in the depression between the pillars. She drove straight toward it.

Fire-movement-the top of a silhouette…

"Eric!"

She was yelling even as she slammed on the brakes. The jeep ground to a shuddering stop a few inches from a misshapen sandstone tower.

"Eric!" She had the backpack in her hand. She tore the door open and jumped out, running.

"Thea! Stay out of here!"

She saw him.

The light of the fire cast an eerie glow onto the already lurid sandstone. Everything seemed red, as if this place were bathed in blood. The roar of the jeep's engine and the roar of the fire merged to sound like the flames of hell.

But Brie was alive and fighting. Fighting it.

Thea threw herself at it, even as her brain was registering impressions.

A wraith shape that looked at one second like a woman, and the next second like tattered clouds. Part of it seemed to be coiled around Eric, and he had both hands at his throat. Bits of the pine-needle amulet Thea had made for him were scattered around his feet. Useless.

"Get away from him! I'm the one who set this up!" Thea screamed. She reached Eric and grabbed wildly at the wraith, at the part of it around his throat. Her hands felt Eric's hands, felt cold air.

"No-Thea, watch out-"

She saw the thing come free of Eric, who staggered. She saw it re-form, gather, then dive straight for her.

"Thea!" Eric knocked her sideways. Cold air rushed by.

She and Eric fell in a heap. She gasped "Eric, go," even before she got up. She tried to shove at him, looking around for the wraith. "Go-get out of here! The jeep's running-get in and just drive. I'll call you later."

"Stay back to back," Eric said breathlessly. "She's incredibly fast." He added through his teeth, "You know I'm not leaving."

"This is witch stuff, you jerk!" she snarled, standing back to back. "I don't want you. You'll just get in my way!"

It was a valiant effort. She even managed to inject something like hatred into her voice. And Eric wasn't perfect. He turned around, grabbed her by the shoulder, and yelled, "You know I'm not going, so don't waste any more time!"

Then he shoved her sideways again and freezing wind streaked by her cheek, leaving her ear numb.

"Sorry," he said in his normal voice. "You okay?"

Thea spun and looked behind her. The wraith was bobbing there. It was shaped like a woman made of vapor, with arms and legs only suggested, but with a long tail of hair that whipped around.

"I've got the stuff," Thea muttered to Eric. Admit-

ting she knew he'd never leave. "But it'll take a few minutes to do the spell. We'll have to keep out of-" She was watching the lashing tail, but she wasn't fast enough. There was a sound-something between the snap of a whip and the crackle of electricity- and the tail flashed out. It was around her neck.

At first it just felt cold. Insubstantial but icy, like a scarf of subzero wind. But then the wraith gave a jerk and it tightened and it did have substance. It felt like metal, like a pipe full of supercooled liquid, like the tentacle of some alien creature with ice for blood. It was choking her.

She couldn't breathe and she couldn't get her fingers under it. It squeezed tighter, hurting her. She could feel her eyes start to bulge.

"Look at me!" Eric yelled. He had a stick that was blazing at one end and he was dancing up and down like a crazy person on the other side of the fire. "Look! Suzanne! I'm going to get your little sister!" He poked the burning stick at the dummy Lucienne, not at the wood piled around her, but at the actual doll.

"There! There! How do you like that?" He jabbed at the doll. A ring of fire blossomed in the black clothes. "Confess you're a witch!"

Thea felt something slide away and her neck was free.

She tried to shout a warning to Eric, but all that came out was a croak. He was already diving to one side anyway. That must be what he's been doing all this time.

Dodging.

"Eric, keep it up!"

"Okay, but work fast!" He threw himself the other way.

She forced herself to turn her attention from him. Her backpack was at the edge of the circle where she'd dropped it. She grabbed it and dumped the contents out on the ground.

She had to do this right and she had to do it faster than she'd ever worked a spell before.

Oak and ash. She threw them on the central fire, then scooted toward it, dragging the other materials close with a sweep of her arm.

She ripped open a plastic bag and grabbed the quassia chips. They were light, and she had to thrust her hand into the flames to make sure they actually went in the fire. Blessed thistle was powder; she threw it. Mandrake root was solid, she threw it, too.

She had just grabbed the ounce vial when Eric shouted, "Thea, duck."

She didn't look up to see what she was ducking. She fell flat instantly. It saved her. Icy wind blew her hair almost into the fire.

"Suzanne!" Eric was yelling. "I've got your brother! Look!"

There were fires at all three stakes now, and Eric was dashing between them, poking at one figure after another.

Thea pulled the plastic cap off the vial with her teeth. She shook it into the fire, her hand in the flames again. One, two, three.

The fire roared up, louder than ever, and pure blue. Thea fell back from it.

"Suzanne! Over here!" Eric's voice was faint beyond the roar.

Tears were running down Thea's face, her nose and eyes stinging from the acrid smell. She fumbled for the last object necessary for the sending-back… the bag of residue from the bronze bowl. She took a handful in her left hand and dropped it between two charcoaled logs at the edge of the fire.

Then she stood up-and saw that Eric was in trouble.

He'd lost his burning stick. The wraith had him by the throat and it was whirling him around, changing shape every second. His mouth was open, but Thea couldn't hear any sound.

"May I be given the Power of the Words of Hecate"

She screamed it, into the roaring fire, toward the wheeling, changing spirit shape.

And the words came, rolling off her tongue with a power of their own:

"From the heart of the flame… I send you back! Through the narrow path… I send you back!"

She put all her own power into the words, too, screaming them with an authority that she'd never felt in herself before. Because the wraith was fighting. It didn't want to go anywhere.

"To the airy void… I send you back! Through the mist of years… I send you back!"

Eric staggered, was jerked sideways. He seemed to be lifted off his feet by the wraith.

"To beyond the veil… I send you back! Go speedily, conveniently, and without delay!"

Eric's feet were kicking in the air. This is how Kevin died, Thea realized suddenly and with absolute certainty.

She found herself yelling words she'd never heard before. "By the power of Earth and Air and Water! By the power of Fire on this night of Hecate! By my own power as a daughter of Hellewise! Go speedily, conveniently and without delay, you bitch!"

She had no idea where that came from. But the next instant Eric fell. The wraith had dropped him.

It shot toward Thea-but then it stopped as if it had slammed into an invisible brick wall. It was directly over the fire.

Caught.

The blue flames were belching smoke-but sideways. Thea could see the wraith dearly above them. And for the first time, it didn't look like a cloud shape. It looked like a woman.

A girl. Older than Thea, but still in her teens. With long dark hair that floated around her and a pale face and huge sad eyes. Her lips were parted as if she were trying to speak.

Thea stared. She heard herself whisper, "Suzanne…"

The girl held out a pale hand toward her. But at the same moment the fire flared up again. It seemed to turn the girl's hair to fire, too. Dark fire was burning all around her and there was an expression of infinite sadness on her face. Thea reached out a hand instinctively-

The fire roared-

And there was a flash like lightning.

Suzanne had been drawn to the heart of the flame. And now the lightning formed a cone: the narrow path.

Plastic bags and other debris whipped around the circle as if caught in a whirlwind.

Suzanne and the cone of white lightning disappeared into each other.

To the airy void. Through the mist of years.

The fire flared up above Thea's head, and then sank down. The blue seemed to fall to the bottom. The flames turned yellow, like ordinary fire.

It was as if a curtain had been drawn.

To beyond the veil.

That was where Suzanne was now.

At the edge of the bonfire, where the residue had been, there was a lump of soft clay. Thea knelt and picked it up. She looked into the center of the flames-and saw a coil of long hair, the color of mahogany. The ends were starting to blacken and shrink

in the fire.

Thea reached in to grab it. She folded the hair over and quickly pressed the clay around it. It was a clumsy job, Blaise would have done much better, but the hair was enclosed. She groped on the ground for the wooden seal, found it, punched it into the clay. Suzanne's symbol, the cabalistic sign for her name, was printed.

It was done.

The amulet was restored, Suzanne was trapped again. She'd stay where she belonged unless somebody else was stupid enough to summon her.

Thea dropped the amulet without looking at it, got up, and staggered around the fire to where Eric was lying. Her vision was strangely gray.

After all this… he has to be all right… oh, please, let him be…

He moved when she reached him.

"Eric, we did it. She's gone. We did it."

He grinned faintly. Said in a scratchy voice, "You don't have to cry."

She hadn't realized she was.

Eric sat up. He was terminally mussed, his hair wild, his face dirty. He looked wonderful to her.

"We did it," she whispered again. She reached out to smooth his hair, and her hand stayed there.

He glanced at the fire, then back at her. "I kind of hated to say those things to her. I mean, no matter how bad she was…" He touched Thea's neck, stroking gently. "Are you okay? I think you've got a bruise."

"Me? You're the one who really got it." She put her free hand to his throat, fingers just barely touching. "But I know what you mean," she whispered. "I felt-sorry-for her at the end."

"Don't cry again. Please. I really hate that," he whispered, and he put his free arm around her.

And then they were just kissing madly. Deliriously. Laughing and kissing and holding each other. She could taste her own tears on his lips, warming with his warmth, and she was trembling like a bird in a thicket.

A few moments later a noise broke in. Thea didn't want to move, but Eric looked, and then he stiffened.

"Uh, we've got company."

Thea looked up.

There were cars just outside the sandstone pillars. Parked cars. They must have driven up sometime during the fight with Suzanne, while the roar of the fire blocked out the sound of their engines, while Thea's attention was focused on the wraith trying to Ml her.

Because the people were already out of the cars. Grandma Harman, supported by Aunt Ursula. Rhys in his lab coat. Dumpling-shaped Mother Cybele, with her hand on Aradia's arm. Old Bob, Nans Buruku.

Most of the Inner Circle was here.

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