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Witchlight (Chapter 4)

Winnie's jaw dropped.

"You-you-keep away from me!" Iliana said, and then she got another breath and started shrieking again. She had good lungs, Keller thought The shrieks were not only loud, they were piercing and pitched high enough to shatter glass. Keller's sensitive eardrums felt as if somebody were driving ice picks through them.

"All of you!" Iliana said. She was holding out both hands to fend them off. "Just let me go! I want to go home!"

Winnie's face cleared a little. "Yeah, I'll bet you do. But, you see, that place is dangerous. We're going to take you somewhere safe-"

"You kidnapped me! Oh, God, I've been kidnapped. My parents aren't rich. What do you want?"

Winnie looked at Keller for help.

Keller was watching their prize Wild Power

grimly. She was getting a bad feeling about this girl.

'It's nothing like that." She kept her voice quiet and level, trying to cut through the hysteria. "You-don't you even talk to me!" Iliana waved a hand at Keller desperately. "I saw. You changed. You were a monster! There was blood all over- you killed that man." She buried her face in her hands and began to sob.

"No, she didn't." Winnie tried to put a hand on the girl's shoulder. "And anyway, he attacked me first."

"He did not. He didn't touch you." The words were muffled and jerky.

"He didn't touch me, no, but-" Winnie broke off, looking puzzled. She tried again. "Not with his hands, but-"

In the front seat, Nissa shook her head slightly, amused. "Boss-"

Tm way ahead of you," Keller said grimly. This was going to be difficult. Iliana didn't even know that the dragon was the bad guy. All she had seen was a boy trying to talk with her, a girl inexplicably flying against a wall, and a panther that attacked unprovoked.

Keller's head hurt.

"I want to go home," Iliana repeated. All at once, with surprising speed, she lunged for the door handle. It took Keller's animal reflexes to block her, and the movement sent another pang through her injured shoulder.

Strangely, as it happened, pain seemed to flicker

across Galen's face. He reached out and gently pulled Iliana back.

"Please don't," he said. "I know this is all really strange, but you've got it backwards. That guy who was talking to you-he was going to kill you. And Keller saved you. Now they want to take you somewhere safe and explain everything."

Diana raised her head and looked at him. She looked for a long time. Finally, she said, still almost whispering, "You're all right. I can tell."

Can she? Keller wondered. Does she see something in his eyes? Or does she just see that he's a handsome blond guy with long lashes? "So you'll go with her?" Galen asked. Iliana gulped, sniffed, and finally nodded. "Only if you go, too. And only for a little while. After that, I want to go home."

Winfrith's face cleared-at least slightly. Keller stopped guarding the door, but she wasn't happy. "Straight to the safe house, Boss?" Nissa asked, swinging the car back toward the freeway.

Keller nodded grimly. She glanced at Galen. "You win." She didn't have to say the rest. The girl would only go if he went. Which made him a member of the team. For the present.

He smiled, very faintly. There was nothing smug in it, but Keller looked again.

Nothing was going the way she'd planned. And Winnie might still have faith in her Witch Child, but Keller's doubts had crystallized. We are all, she thought, in very big trouble. And there was a dragon that might start looking for them at any minute. How fast did dragons recover, anyway? Big trouble, Keller thought.

The safe house was a nondescript brick bungalow. Circle Daybreak owned it, and nobody in the Night World knew about it.

That was the theory, anyway. The truth was that no place was safe. As soon as they had hidden the limo in an ivy-covered carport in back and Keller had made a phone call to Circle Daybreak headquarters, she told Winnie to set up wards around the house.

"They won't be all that strong," Winnie said. "But they'll warn us if something tries to get in." She bustled around, doing witch things to the doors and windows.

Nissa stopped Keller on her own trip of inspection. "We'd better look at your arm."

"It's all right."

"You can barely move it."

Til manage. Go look at Winnie; she hit that wall pretty hard."

"Winnie's okay; I already checked her. And, Keller, just because you're the team leader doesn't mean you have to be invulnerable. It's all right to accept help sometimes."

"We don't have time to waste on me!" Keller went back to the living room.

She'd left Iliana in the care of Galen. She hadn't actually told him that, but she'd left them alone together, and now she found he'd gotten a root beer from the refrigerator and some tissues from the bathroom. Diana was sitting huddled on the couch, holding the drink and blotting her eyes. She jumped at every noise.

"Okay, now I'm going to try to explain," Keller said, pulling up an ottoman. Winnie and Nissa quietly took seats behind her. "I guess the first thing I should tell you about is the Night World. You don't know what that is, do you?"

Iliana shook her head.

"Most humans don't. It's an organization, the biggest underground organization in the world. It's made up of vampires and shapeshifters and witches-well, not witches now. Only a few of the darkest witches from Circle Midnight are still part of it. The rest of them have seceded."

"Vampires…" Iliana whispered.

"like Nissa," Keller said. Nissa smiled, a rare full smile that showed sharp teeth. "And Winnie is a witch. And you saw what I am. But we're all part of Circle Daybreak, which is an organization for everybody who wants to try to live together in peace."

"Most of the Night People hate humans," Winnie said. "Their only laws are that you can't tell humans about the Night World and that you can't fall in love with them."

"But even humans can join Circle Daybreak," Keller said.

"And that's why you want me?" Iliana looked bewildered.

"Well, not exactly." Keller ran a hand over her forehead. "Look, the main thing you need to know about Circle Daybreak is what it's trying to do right

now. What it's trying to keep from happening." Keller paused, but there was no easy way to say it "The end of the world."

"The end of the world?"

Keller didn't smile, didn't blink, just waited it out while Iliana sputtered, gasped, and looked at Galen for some kind of sanity. When she finally ran down, Keller went on.

"The millennium is coming. When it gets here, a time of darkness is going to begin. The vampires want it to happen; they want the darkness to wipe out the human race. They figure that then they'll be in charge."

"The end of the world," Iliana said.

"Yes. I can show you the evidence if you want There are all sorts of things happening right now that prove it The world is falling into disorder, and pretty soon it's going to fall apart. But the reason we need you is because of the prophecies."

"I want to go home."

I bet you do, Keller thought. For a moment, she felt complete sympathy for the girl. "Like this." She quoted:

"Four to stand between the light and the shadow, Four of blue fire, power in their blood. Born in the year of the bund Maiden's vision; Four less one and darkness triumphs."

"I really don't know what you're talking about-"

"Four Wild Powers," Keller went on relentlessly.

"Four people with a special gift, something nobody else has. Each one of them born seventeen years ago.If Circle Daybreak can get all four of them to work together-and only if Circle Daybreak can get them to work together-then we can hold off the darkness."

Iliana was shaking her head, edging away even from Galen. Behind Keller, Winnie and Nissa stood up, closing in. They faced her in a solid block, unified.

"I'm sorry," Keller said. "You can't escape it. You're part of it. You're a Wild Power."

"And you should be happy," Winnie burst out, unable to contain herself any longer. "You're going to help save the world. You know that thing I did back in the Hallmark shop? With the orange fire?" She cupped her hands. "Well, you're full of blue fire. And that's so much stronger-nobody even knows what it can do."

Iliana put out her hands. "I'm sorry. I really am. But you guys are nuts, and you've got the wrong person. I mean, I don't know, maybe you're not completely nuts. The things that happened back at that store…"

She stopped and gulped. "But I don't have anything to do with it." She shut her eyes, as if that would bring the real world into focus. "I'm not any Wild Power," she said more firmly. "I'm just a human kid-"

"Actually, no," Nissa said.

"You're a lost witch," Winnie cut in. "You're a Harmon. A Hearth-Woman. That's the most famous family of witches; they're like-they're royalty. And you're the most famous of all of them. You're the Witch Child. We've been waiting for you."

Keller shifted. "Winnie, maybe we don't need to tell her all of this right now."

But Winnie was racing on. "You're the one who's going to unite the shapeshifters and the witches.

You're going to marry a prince of the shapeshifters, and then we're all going to be like this." She held up two intertwined fingers.

Iliana stared at her. "I'm only seventeen. I'm not marrying anybody."

"Well, you can do a promise ceremony; that's binding. The witches would accept it, and I think the shapeshifters would." She glanced at Keller for confirmation.

Keller pinched the bridge of her nose. "I'm just a grunt; I can't speak for the 'shifters."

Winnie was already turning back to Iliana, her curls shaking with earnestness. "Really, you know," she said, "it's incredibly important. Right now, the Night World is split. Vampires on one side, witches on the other. And the shapeshifters-well, they could go either way. And that's what could determine the battle."

"Look-"

"The witches and the shapeshifters haven't been allies for thirty thousand-"

"I don't care!"

Full-blown hysteria.

It was about as scary as a six-week-old kitten hissing, but it was the best raving Iliana could manage. Both her small fists were clenched, and her face and throat were flushed.

"I don't care about the shapeshifters or the witches. I'm just a normal kid with a normal life, and I want to go home! I don't know anything about fighting. Even if I believed all this stuff, I couldn't help you. I hate PE; I'm totally uncoordinated. I get sick when I see blood. And-" She looked around and made an inarticulate sound of exasperation. "And I lost my purse."

Keller stood up. "Forget your purse."

"It had my mom's credit card in it. She's going to kill me if I come home without that. I just- where's my purse?"

"Look, you little idiot," Keller said. "Worry about your mother, not about her credit card."

Diana backed up a step. Even in the middle of a hysterical fit, she was beautiful beyond words. Strands of angel-fine hair stuck to her flushed, wet cheeks. Her eyes were dark as twilight, shadowed by heavy lashes-and they wouldn't quite meet Keller's.

"I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do. Where's your mom going to be when the end of the world comes? Is a credit card going to save her then?"

Iliana was in a corner now. Keller could hear both Nissa and Winnie making warning noises. She knew herself that this was the wrong way to get someone on their side. But patience wasn't one of Keller's great virtues. Neither was keeping her temper.

"Let's see," Galen said, and his voice was like cool water flowing through the room. "Maybe we could take a little break-"

"I don't need advice from you," Keller snapped. "And if this little idiot is too stupid to understand that she can't turn her back on this, we have to show her."

"I'm not an idiot!"

"Then you're just a big baby? Scared?"

Iliana sputtered again. But there was unexpected fire in her violet eyes as she did it. She was looking right at Keller now, and for a moment Keller thought that there might be a breakthrough.

Then she heard a noise.

Her ears picked it up before either Winnie's or Nissa's. A car on the street outside.

"Company," Keller said. She noticed that Galen had stiffened. Had he heard it?

Winnie was moving to stand behind the door; Nissa slipped as quietly as a shadow to the window. It was dark outside now, and vampire eyes were good at night.

"Blue car," Nissa said softly. "Looks like them inside."

"Who?" Diana said.

Keller gestured at her to be quiet. "Winnie?"

"I have to wait until they cross the wards." A pause, then she broke into a smile. "It's her!"

"Who?" Iliana said. "I thought nobody was supposed to know we were here."

Good thinking. Logical, Keller thought. "This is someone I called. Someone who came all the way fromNevada and has been waiting to see you." She went to the door.

It took a few minutes for the people in the car to get out-they moved slowly. Keller could hear the crunch of footsteps and the sound of a cane. She opened the door.

There was no light outside; the figures approaching were in shadow until they actually reached the threshold.

The woman who stepped in was old. So old that anyone's first thought on first seeing her was How can she still be alive? Her skin was creased into what seemed like hundreds of translucent folds. Her hair was pure white and almost as fine as Diana's, but there wasn't much of it. Her already tiny figure was stooped almost double. She walked with a cane in one hand and the other tucked into the arm of a nondescript young man.

But the eyes that met Keller's were anything but senile. They were bright and almost steely, gray with just the faintest touch of lavender.

"The Goddess's bright blessings on you all," she said, and smiled around the room.

It was Winnie who answered. "We're honored by your presence-Grandma Harman."

In the background, Diana demanded plaintively for the third time, "Who?"

"She's your great-great-aunt," Winnie said, her voice quiet with awe. "And the oldest of the Harmans. She's the Crone of all the Witches."

Diana muttered something that might have been, "She looks like it."

Keller stepped in before Winnie could attack her. She introduced everyone. Grandma Harman's keen eyes flickered when Galen's turn came, but she merely nodded.

"This is my apprentice and driver, Toby," she told them. "He goes everywhere with me, so you can speak freely in front of him."

Toby helped her to the couch, and everyone else sat, too-except Diana, who stubbornly stayed in her corner.

"How much have you told her?" Grandma Harman asked.

"Almost everything," Keller said.

"And?"

"She-isn't quite certain."

"I am certain," Diana piped up. "I want to go home."

Grandma Harman extended a knobby hand toward her. "Come here, child. I want to take a look at my great-great-niece."

Tm not your great-great-niece," Diana said. But with those steely-but-soft eyes fixed on her, she took one step forward.

"Of course you are; you just don't know it. Do you realize, you're the image of my mother when she was your age? And I'll bet your great-grandmother looked like her, too." Grandma Harman patted the couch beside her. "Come here. I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Edgith, and your great-grandmother was my little sister, Elspeth."

Diana blinked slowly. "Great-grandmother Elspeth?"

"It was almost ninety years ago that I last saw her. It was just before the First World War. She and our baby brother, Emmeth, were separated from the rest of the family. We all thought they were dead, but they were being raised inEngland . They grew up and had children there, and eventually some of those children came toAmerica . Without ever suspecting their real heritage, of course. It's taken us a long time to track down their descendants."

Iliana had taken another involuntary step. She seemed fascinated by what the old woman was saying. "Mom always talked about Great-grandmother Elspeth. She was supposed to be so beautiful that a prince fell in love with her."

"Beauty has always run in our family," Grandma Harman said carelessly. "Beauty beyond comparison, ever since the days of Hellewise Hearth-Woman, our foremother. But that isn't the important thing about being a Harman."

'It isn't?" Iliana said doubtfully.

"No." The old woman banged her cane. "The important thing, child, is the art Witchcraft. You are a itch, Iliana; it's in your blood. It always will be. And you're the gift of the Harmans in this last fight Now, listen carefully." Staring at the far wall, she recited slowly and deliberately:

"One from the land of kings long forgotten; One from the hearth which still holds the spark; One from the Day World where two eyes are watching; One from the twilight to be one with the dark."

Even when she had finished, the words seemed to hang in the air of the room. No one spoke.

Diana's eyes had changed. She seemed to be looking inside herself, at something only she could see. It was as if deeply buried memories were stirring.

"That's right," Grandma Harman said softly. "You can feel the truth of what I'm telling you. It's all there, the instinct, the art, if you just let it come out. Even the courage is there."

Suddenly, the old woman's voice was ringing. "You're the spark in the poem, Iliana. The hope of the witches. Now, what do you say? Are you going to help us beat the darkness or not?"

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