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Spellbinder (Chapter 17)

They walked out to Eric's jeep. The night air was very cold and there was no moon.

Thea kept her hand on Eric's back, ready to press if he hesitated. But he never did.

At the door of the jeep, Thea looked at Blaise. She was afraid to show any expression. Could Aradia see them? She wanted desperately to give Blaise a last hug.

Aradia said, "Is there a window from the shop onto this street?"

Thea looked at Blaise. Blaise said, "No."

"Then you can say good-bye. After this you're going to have to pretend not to know each other."

Thea stared at her, then felt a wild choked giggle well up. "Now I know why you're Maiden," she said, in a bare whisper. "But-does anyone else realize?"

"l don't think so. Some may wonder, but I think they'll keep their mouths shut. Say good-bye quick."

Thea hugged Blaise, couldn't make herself let go. "Thank you. Oh, Eileithyia, Blaise, I'll miss you."

"Now I'm the last of the Harman line," Blaise said in a bad imitation of a smirking voice. "I'll have a bedroom to myself," she added in more believable tones. "And I'm going to get Sheena good."

"Who?"

"That's right, you didn't hear. She was the one who turned us in. She's one of Tobias's little girlfriends, Circle Midnight. It seems he's been spying on us. He told her enough that she understood we were doing forbidden spells, and she told Gran."

"It doesn't matter now."

"Are you kidding? I'm getting sent to the Convent. I'm going to kill her." The bells rang as Blaise tossed her head.

Then she tightened her grip on Thea. "I don't know why you want to be with a human," she whispered. "But I hope you keep on wanting it now that you have it."

"Blaise, when you get back-please don't hurt them anymore. They're people. Really."

Blaise sighed noncommittally; Thea could feel it. But all she said, almost too softly for Thea to hear, was, "I'll miss you-sister."

Then Thea could let go.

When she was in the jeep, Aradia leaned into the open door.

"Two things," she said rapidly. "And they're all the help I can give you. Mother Cybele mentioned Circle Daybreak. I've heard rumors that there axe witches somewhere who are starting it up again.

Witches who want to forget the Burning Times, and who don't hold to Night World law. I don't know if it's true. But if it is, maybe you can find it."

Thea's breath was taken away. The possibility leaped inside her like some unimagined joy.

"And the other thing," Aradia said, with a rare smile-almost a brief grin. "Word is that some of your Redfern cousins have started going peculiar. I've even heard that they're talking about finding human soulmates, just like you. You might try and contact them and see what the story is."

Thea's breath came back, and with it, tears. "Oh, Aradia. Thank you."

"Good luck, Thea. And Eric. Both of you, wherever you go."

Eric, who had been sitting quietly behind the wheel, reached out to touch her hand lightly. "And you, too." Thea could tell by his voice that he was puzzled and dazed, but he was trying not to show it.

Then they drove away. Thea turned around to watch Blaise getting smaller and smaller. A little wind blew Blaise's hair, and she looked like a dark and mysterious Aphrodite, a goddess who always did what you least expected.

Eric drove fast until they were a good distance from the shop, then pulled to the curb on a tiny residential street. He looked at Thea and said cautiously, "Am I immune to this stuff? Because I'm not forgetting anything. Or is it going to kick in any minute now?"

Thea kissed him.

Then she began to laugh hysterically.

"No. No."

"You mean we're really safe? You're going to keep your powers?"

"Yes! Yes!"

She had to keep telling him over and over to convince him. But finally he got it and his face changed. Was transformed by his lightning-bolt smile. He squeezed her and shook her and finally jumped out of the jeep and yelled "All right! Way to go, Blaise! All right! Yes!"

"Eric!"

He pounded the jeep.

"Eric, get back in, you idiot! There might be Night People around." Then, still laughing uncontrollably with love and gratitude and the relief of tension, she said, "Come in here." And she held out her arms.

He jumped back in. They fit together perfectly, his arms around her, his breath against her hair.

"I'm so happy," he said. "I love you, witch."

Thea was laughing and crying at once. "I love you, too."

He kissed her temple. She kissed his cheek. Then he kissed her mouth and stayed there for a long while. And Thea forgot about laughing, forgot that there was a world outside the two of them.

And then they sat together in the darkness, resting against each other, just breathing. Safe. Connected.

Thea was with someone who knew her, who saw what she saw. Her soulmate. And they were free to be with each other, without being hunted, without fear.

She was filled with joy and tranquility.

And with quiet sadness, too. It wasn't as if this new beginning came free. She still was an exile, cut off from her family. Gran was lost to her. If she saw Blaise, it would have to be in secret. She'd given up a lot. Almost everything.

But she didn't regret it. Not with Eric warm and solid in her arms. Not with the Night World saved from civil war, and the threat to the humans here over.

And what now? she wondered.

Strangely, even though there was no clear answer, she didn't feel afraid. She could visualize many futures, and they all seemed equally likely.

Now they would go to Eric's house, and Eric's mother would be puzzled but generous, and Roz would be ferocious but delighted. And next week Thea would go back to school and transfer into honors zoology.

She would get a scholarship to Davis and become a vet and use her powers to find out what was wrong with sick animals. Or she would find herself interested in wolves or elephants and would become a naturalist and visit faraway places to study them. Or she and Eric would adopt a puppy like Bud and write a book together to help people understand their dogs.

Or she would find Circle Daybreak and meet witches who wanted to forget the Burning Times. And they would be the first to reintroduce humans to magic, and Rosamund would grow up fierce and proud, knowing all the legends of Hellewise.

Or she would find her vampire cousins and see if the soulmate principle was really coming back. And their group would be like a magnet, attracting other young Night People with radical ideas, starting an underground revolution.

Maybe a new generation of Redferns and Harmans were forming alliances with humans. Maybe it was time for hatred to stop.

Maybe the old powers were waking and new times were coming. Maybe the world was about to change.

Only one thing was sure.

There were infinite possibilities.

She held Eric and felt his breathing and was at peace with the night.

[The End]

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