Spellbinder (Chapter 14)

Every week passed more or less quietly. Grandma Harman came home, her cough better. She didn't seem to notice anything different about Thea.

Night came earlier, and everyone at school talked about parties and costumes. The air got colder and there was an announcement that the old gym would be opened for Halloween.

Thea heard that Randy Marik had been moved to a psychiatric hospital and was in intensive therapy. He was making some progress.

Thea and Eric worked every day on their plan.

The only real excitement came the night when Thea walked in, sat on Blaise's bed, and said, "Bullets won't stop him."

"What?" Blaise looked up from creaming her elbows.

"I mean, spells won't stop him. Eric. They just bounce off. I'm telling you this because you're going to notice that he's not with Mar."

Blaise snapped the tube of cream shut. She stared at Thea for a full minute before she said tightly, "What are you saying?"

Thea's humor drained away. She looked at the floor. "I'm saying we're soulmates," she said quietly. "And that I can't help it. There is really, truly, nothing I can do about it." "I can't believe, after all that-" "Right. After all that work. And after me trying and trying to stop, because I'm scared to death. But there's no way to fight it, Blaise. That's what I'm trying to tell you. I've got to find some way to try to live with it." She looked at her cousin. "Okay?"

"You know it's not okay. You know it's completely not okay."

"I guess what I mean is, okay, will you please not kill him or turn us in? Because I can't stand being in another fight with you. And I can't stop breaking the law."

Blaise tossed the cream jar in the direction of the dresser. "Thea, are you all right?" she said, seriously. "Because you're acting very…"


"Fatalistic and generally scary."

"I'm okay. I just… I don't know what's going to happen, but I am sort of… calm. I'm going to do my best. Eric's going to do his best. And beyond that, nothing's guaranteed."

Blaise stared for another minute, her gray eyes searching Thea's face. Then she shook her head. "I won't turn you in. You know I would never turn you in. We're sisters. And as for trying to kill him…" She shrugged, looking grim. "It probably wouldn't work. That guy is impossible."

"Thank you, Blaise." Thea touched her cousin's arm lightly.

Blaise covered Thea's hand with her own red-nailed fingers, just for a moment. Then she sat back and straightened her pillows with a little jerk.

"Just don't tell me anything, all right? I wash my hands of you two and I don't want to know what's going on. Besides, I've got worries of my own. I have to decide between a Maserati and a Karmann Ghia."


Thea looked out the window at the darkened world. There weren't any kids in the alley, but she knew they were flitting around the city. Goblins and ghosts and witches and vampires-all fakes. Real vampires were sitting inside at fireplaces, or maybe at exclusive parties, chuckling.

And real witches were getting dressed for their Samhain Circles.

Thea put on a white shift, sleeveless, made out of one piece of material. She pulled a soft white belt around her waist and made a loop pointing up with one side of the tie, then wrapped the other end around the base of the loop three times. A thet knot. Witches had used them for four thousand years.

She took a breath and looked outside again.

Enjoy the peace while you can, she told herself. It's going to be a busy night.

Eric's jeep pulled into the alley. The horn honked once.

Thea grabbed the backpack, which had been stuffed under her bed. It was full of materials. Oak, ash, quassia chips, blessed thistle, mandrake root. The hardened residue from the bronze bowl, which she had painstakingly scraped off with one of Blaise's art knives. A wooden seal, also carved with Blaise's tools. And an ounce vial with three precious drops of summoning potion stolen from the malachite bottle. She started for the stairs.

"Hey, are you leaving already?" Blaise said, emerging from the bathroom. "You've got-what?-an hour and a half before Circle."

Blaise looked gorgeous, and more herself than at any other time of year. Her shift was black, also sleeveless, also made in one piece. Her hair hung loose to her hips, woven with little bells. Her arms were pale and beautiful against the darkness of hair and shift, and she was barefoot, wearing one ankle bracelet.

"I'm going to run out and do something before Circle," Thea said. "Don't ask me what."

Blaise of course didn't know what Thea and Eric were planning. Not even Dani knew. It was better that way.

"Thea…" Blaise stood at the top of the stairs and looked down as Thea dashed out. "You be careful!"

Thea waved at her cousin.

The back of the jeep was full of wood.

"I thought I'd better bring some more, just in case we need it," Eric said, throwing her backpack in.

Then he added in a different voice, "You look- amazing-like that."

She smiled at him. "Thanks. It's traditional. You look nice, too."

He was wearing the costume of a seventeenth-century French soldier at Ronchain-or as close as they could get from looking at woodcuts in old books.

They drove into the desert, past the huge bare cliffs, off the main road and far out among the Joshua trees, until they found the place. It was tiny, just a dip in the ground almost enclosed in red sandstone pillars. The pillars didn't look like the monoliths at Stonehenge-they were knobby and squished sideways, like towers of Play-doh that some kid had smashed-but they served the same purpose.

They'd found this place all by themselves, and Thea was very proud of it.

"The fire's still going," she said. "That's good."

It had been burning for the last three days inside the circle. Thea's hope had been that it would keep Suzanne interested-and away from the people setting up in the old gym. And it seemed to have worked.

Not just the fire, of course. The three dummies lying on the ground tied to stakes were supposed to be interesting, too.

"These guys all look okay," Eric said. He picked up the smallest dummy and dusted it off. It looked something like a scarecrow when he thrust the stick into a hole in the ground, standing it up.

A scarecrow dressed in a black shift tied with a thet knot. With a sign hanging around the neck: lucienne.

The other small dummy had a sign that said clement. The big dummy's sign said suzannb.

"Okay," Thea said when they had unloaded the wood, leaving her backpack in the jeep. "Now, remember, you don't do anything until I get back, right? Not anything. And if I'm a few minutes late, you just wait."

He stopped nodding. "The Halloween party starts at nine. If you're not here at nine exactly, I might-"

"No. Don't touch anything, don't do anything."

"Thea, we might lose her. What if she decides that nothing's happening here, so she might as well go to the party-"

"I won't be late," Thea said flatly. It seemed the only way to win the argument. "But do not burn those witches before I'm here to cast the cirde. Okay?"

"Good luck," he said.

He looked handsome and mysterious in his exotic clothes. Not like himself. They kissed under the half-full moon.

"Be safe," Thea whispered, making herself let go of him.

"Come back safe," he whispered. "I love you."

She drove the jeep back to the city, to the maidens' Circle Twilight meeting.

It was being held this year at a Night World dub on the southern edge of town. There was no sign on the door, but the doormat, between two grinning jack-o'-lanterns, had been painted with a black dahlia.

Thea knocked and the door opened.

"Dani You look great."

"So do you," Dani said. She was dressed in white, in a pleated sheer gown that hung to her ankles and looked Egyptian. Black braids clasped with silver cascaded from a sort of crown at her head, falling over her shoulders and back and arms. She made a beautiful Queen Isis. "You didn't wear a costume," she said, making it a question.

"Blaise and I are sort of going as Maya and Hell-wise," Thea said. The truth was that she was most comfortable in her ordinary Circle clothes, and that Blaise knew she looked best in hers.

"Well, come on down. You're the last one," Dani said, taking Thea's hand.

They went down a flight of stairs to an underground room. It had a makeshift, thrown-together look, with crates to sit on, and white fairy lights strung between concrete pillars. Metal chairs had been pushed to the periphery.

"Thea! Hey, there! Merry meet!" people called. Thea turned around and around, smiling and getting hugs.

"Good Samhain," she kept saying. "Unity."

For those few minutes, she forgot about what was going to happen tonight. It was so good to see them all again, all her friends from summer Circles.

Kishi Hirata, dressed as Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, hi gold and orange. Alaric Breedlove- the sophomore from Lake Mead High-as Tammuz the shepherd, son of the mother goddess Ishtar. Claire Blessingway as the Navajo goddess Changing Woman, in a dress decorated with red flower petals and turquoise. Nathaniel Long as Herne, Celtic god of the hunt, in forest green, with stag's antlers.

Humans put on costumes to disguise themselves tonight. Witches put on costumes to try to reflect their inner selves-what they were inside, what they wanted to be.

"Here, taste," Claire said, handing Thea a paper cup. It was full of a thick red herb drink spiced with cinnamon and cloves. "It's hibiscus-my dad's recipe."

Someone else was passing around shortbread cakes in the shape of crescent moons. Thea took one. Everything here was so bright, so warm-and she would have been so happy if all she had to do tonight was enjoy it. Have a normal Samhain Circle. Celebrate… But Eric was waiting out there in the dark and cold of the desert. And Thea was counting the minutes until she could leave.

"Okay, people, it's time to get started." Lawai'a Dcua, a pretty, sturdy girl with hair like black nylon, was standing in the center of the room. She was wearing a red shift and lei-Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, Thea guessed.

"Let's get our circle, here. That's good, come on. Chang Xi, you're the youngest now."

A little girl with big almond-shaped eyes came shyly into the ring of people. Thea hadn't seen her before- she must have turned seven since the last summer Circle. She was dressed in jade green as Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion.

Still shy, she took a sprig of broom-real broom, the plant-and swept the area inside the ring. "Thea, you do the salt."

Thea was surprised and pleased. She took the bowl of sea salt that Lawai'a offered, and walked slowly around the perimeter of the circle, sprinkling it

"Alaric, you take the water-"

Lawai'a broke oft looking toward the stairway, seeming startled. Thea saw other people look. She turned around.

Two adults, mothers, were coming down the stairs. As the light shone on the first woman's face, Thea felt a jolt.

It was Aunt Ursula.

In a gray suit, her expression as bleak as Thea had ever seen it.

Nobody in the room made a noise. They all stood still as Joshua trees, watching until the women reached the bottom. Interrupting a Circle in the middle of casting was unheard of.

"Good Samhain," Lawai'a said faintly.

"Good Samhain." Aunt Ursula was polite, but she didn't smile. like a displeased teacher. "I'm very sorry to bother you, but this will only take a minute."

Thea's heart had begun to pound, slow and hard.

It's just guilty conscience, she tried to tell herself. This doesn't have to be about you.

But it did. And something inside her knew even before Aunt Ursula looked the Circle over and said, "Thea Sophia Harman."

As if she doesn't know what I look like, Thea thought dazedly.

She damped down hard on a wild impulse simply to brush past Aunt Ursula and head for the street. Now she knew why rabbits were so stupid as to leave a good hiding place and run blindly when a dog came near. Just panic, that's all.

She stepped away from a staring Kishi on her left and a dismayed Nat on her right. She could feel every pair of eyes in the place on her. "What is it?" she said, trying to look surprised. Aunt Ursula's eyes met hers directly, as if to say, You know. But she didn't say anything, which was almost as bad.

"Dani Naete Mella Abforth." Oh, Eileithyia. Not Dani, too…. Dani was stepping out of the circle. Her small head was held proudly, but Thea could see the fear in her eyes. She walked, linen swaying around her ankles, to stand beside Thea. Dani, I'm sorry….

"That's all," Aunt Ursula said. "The rest of you go on with your Circle. Good Samhain, everybody." To Thea and Dani, she said, "You need to come outside."

They followed her silently. There was nothing else to do.

When they were out in the cool night air, Dani said, "Is-something wrong?" She looked from Aunt Ursula to the other woman, who was short but had considerable presence.

And seemed familiar to Thea… and then she had it.

It's Nana Buruku. From the Inner Circle.

This isn't a Harman family matter. The Inner Circle itself is calling us.

"There are some things we need to talk about. Come on and let's get it all cleared up fast," Nana Buruku said quietly, putting a cinnamon-colored hand on Thea's arm. Gran's ancient Lincoln Continental was sitting at the curb. Nana Buruku took the wheel herself.

Dani and Thea held hands in the backseat. Dani's fingers were icy cold.

The car wound up and down streets lined with human trick-or-treaters, to a big ranch-style house with high block walls screening the backyard. Selene's house, Thea realized, seeing the name Lucna on the mailbox.

It must be where they're having the maidens' Circle Midnight meeting.

Aunt Ursula got out. Thea and Dani sat in the car with Nana Buruku. In a few minutes, Aunt Ursula came back with Blaise.

Selene, dressed in silver, and Vivienne in black, followed as far as the driveway. They looked sober and scared, not like wicked witches at all.

Blaise did. Barefoot and apparently indifferent to the cold, little bells ringing, she looked flushed and angry and proud. She opened the door with a jerk and sat down hard beside Thea, who scooted over.

"What's going on?" she said, almost out loud. "I'm missing the moon cakes, I'm missing everything. What kind of Samhain is this?"

Thea had never admired her more.

"We'll get back in time," Dani said, and her voice was steady, even if her fingers were still cold.

They're both brave, Thea thought. And me? But however much she wanted to, she couldn't get a word out through the tightness in her throat.

She half expected Nana Buruku to get on the freeway and head out toward the desert, toward Thierry's land. But instead the Lincoln headed down familiar streets and pulled up in the alley behind Grandma Harman's store.

Thea could feel Dani's questioning eyes on her. But she had no idea what was going on, and she was afraid to look Dani in the face.

"Come on," Aunt Ursula said, and shepherded them through the back door, into the shop, through the bead curtain that led to the workshop.

All the chairs for Gran's students had been pushed into a rough circle. People were sitting in them, or standing and talking quietly, but when Thea stepped through the curtain behind Nana Buruku, they all stopped and looked.

Thea's eyes moved from face to face, seeing each in a sort of disconnected, dreamlike flash. Grandma Harman, looking so grim and tired. Mother Cybele, who was the Mother of the Inner Circle, just as Gran was the Crone, looking anxious. Aradia, the Maiden, her lovely face serious and sad.

Others she recognized from two years ago, people who were so famous she knew them by their first names. Rhys, Belfana, Creon, Old Bob.

Aunt Ursula and Nana Buruku made up the last two of the nine.

They looked like ordinary people, working men and women and still-sharp-as-a-tack retired seniors, the kind you'd see any day on the street. They weren't.

This was the biggest concentration of magical talent anywhere in the world. These people were the witch geniuses, the prodigies and the sages, the far-seers.

The teachers,  the  policy-makers.  They were  the Inner Circle.

And they were all looking at Thea.

"The girls are here," Mother Cybele said softly to Aradia. "They're standing in the middle."

Gran said, "All right, let's get this thing started. Will everybody find themselves a seat." It wasn't a question, it was an order. Gran was senior to all these celebrities.

But she wouldn't look at Thea. And that was the most terrible, nightmarish thing of all. She acted as if Thea and Blaise were strangers.

Everyone was sitting, nudging their chairs into a more evenly spaced circle. They were all wearing their ordinary clothes, Thea realized: business suits or uniforms or pants and tops. In Aradia's case, jeans. In Old Bob's case, dirty overalls.

Which means they never even started their own ceremony tonight. This is important enough to skip Samhain over. This is a trial.

Red-haired Belfana pushed Creon's wheelchair to an empty spot. She was the last to sit down. I'm centered, Thea thought numbly. It was her worst fear, the very thing that had driven her away from Eric in the desert, the first time she'd felt the soulmate connection with him. And now it was true. She could hear Dani breathing irregularly, and the faint tinkle of bells as Blaise shifted from foot to foot. "All right," Grandma Harman said, sounding tired but formal. "By Earth, by Air, by Water, and by Fire,

I call this Circle to unity." She went on, reciting the age-old formula for a meeting of deliberation.

For Thea, the words blended into the pounding of blood in her ears. It was strange, how terrifying it could be to be surrounded in all directions by people. Everywhere she looked, another grave, unreadable face. She felt as trapped as if they had been humans. "Thea Sophia Harman," Gran said, and suddenly Thea was listening again. "You stand accused…" There seemed to be an endless, empty pause, although Thea knew it was probably no time at all.

"… of working forbidden spells in direct disobedience to the laws of Hellewise and of this Circle…." All Thea heard for a while was "working forbidden spells." It seemed to hang in the air, echoing. Part of her kept waiting to hear the other, more terrible charges of betraying the secrets of the Night World and falling in love with a human. But they didn't come.

"… summoning a spirit from the far places beyond the veil… binding two humans with a forbidden love charm…"

And then Gran was reading Blaise's name.

Blaise was charged with fashioning a necklace out of forbidden materials and binding humans with a forbidden charm. Dani was charged with aiding and abetting Thea in the summoning of a spirit from the far places-which was wrong, of course, Thea thought dizzily.

Her whole body was tingling, from the soles of her feet, to her palms, to her scalp. With fear… and with something like relief.

They don't know. They don't know the worst part of it, or they would have said so-wouldn't they? And if I just keep quiet, why should they ever know?

Then she focused on Gran, who had finished reading the charges and was now talking in an ordinary voice again. "And I have to say that I'm disappointed in all three of you. Especially you, Thea. I'd expect this from her, of course"-she nodded at Blaise, speaking to the rest of the Circle-"that descendant of mine there who's dressed up like Hecate's bad daughter. But I honestly thought Thea had more sense."

She looked disappointed. And that-hurt. Thea had always been the good girl, the golden girl, youngest and most promising of the Hearth-Woman line. Now, as she looked from face to face, she saw disappointment everywhere.

I've failed them; I've disgraced my heritage. I'm so ashamed….

She wanted to curl up and disappear.

Just then, there was a silvery ripple of bells. Blaise was tossing her dark head. She looked defiant and scornful and very proud and a little bored.

"What I want to know is who turned us in," she said in an almost inaudible but definitely menacing whisper. "Whoever it is, they're going to be sorry."

And suddenly, somehow, Thea was less frightened. The disappointment didn't mean so much. It was possible to shock the Inner Circle and still be standing up. Blaise proved it.

It was then that irony struck Thea. She'd spent her life getting in trouble because of Blaise, and now here they were, in the worst trouble imaginable-because of her.

And Dani was in trouble, too. Her velvety eyes were filled with tears. When she saw that, Thea found the tightness in her throat easing. She could talk again.

"Look-excuse me-but there's something you need to know. Before this goes any further-"

"You'll have a chance to speak later," Mother Cybele said, her voice soft and firm, like her little dumpling-shaped body.

"No, I have to say it now." Thea turned to Gran, speaking, for just these few seconds, to her grandmother rather than to the Crone of the Inner Circle. "Grandma, Dani shouldn't be here. Really. Really. She didn't know anything about the summoning; I did it all. I promise."

Gran's expression gentled slightly, the creases on her face shifting. Then she was impassive again.

"All right, all right, we'll see about that later. The first thing is to find out just what you've been doing. Since you seem to be the instigator here."

It was when she said "later" that realization hit Thea like a tsunami. And everything changed. Later… time… what time is it? She   looked   frantically   around   for   the   clock. There-behind Old Bob's gray head… Ten minutes to ten. Eric.

Somehow, in the stress she'd felt since Aunt Ursula came to get her, she had completely forgotten that he was waiting in the desert.

But now she could see him, the vision in her mind's eye as clear as if she were standing there with him. Eric watching the clock, minutes going by, and Thea still not arriving. Eric looking at the bonfire and at the three black-clothed dummies tied to their stakes. And the party. The Halloween party at school. Blistered metal doors being opened and people flooding in. Shoes walking across the scuffed wooden floor, costumed kids standing underneath the dangling witch figures. Kids shrieking with laughter, handing over goblin money, crowding into the torture booths. While something lurked around the exposed pipes on the ceiling. Maybe invisible, maybe looking like a white figure and feeling like a blast of arctic wind. Maybe like a woman with long mahogany hair. Lurking… then suddenly sweeping down… She's  going  to   kill  them.  They're  completely defenseless….

Fear tore into Thea like jagged metal. It was all happening right now, and she wasn't doing anything to stop it. It had been happening for almost an hour, and she hadn't even given it a thought.