Witchlight (Chapter 11)
"She's sick," Winnie said. "Runny nose, little temperature. Looks like a cold. Her mom says she has to stay home from school."
Well, it looks like we're having a run of good luck, Keller thought. It would be much easier to protect her inside the house.
Winnie and Nissa had spent the night in Diana's room, while Keller, who was supposed to be asleep on the sofa bed in the family room, wandered the house in between catnaps. She'd asked Galen to stay in the guest room, and he had done just that.
"We can have a quiet day," she said now to Winnie. "This is great-as long as she gets well for Saturday."
"Um-you'd better go in and talk to her yourself."
"You'd just better go. She wants to talk to you."
Keller started toward Diana's room. She said over her shoulder, "Check the wards."
"I know, Boss."
Iliana was sitting up in bed, wearing a frilly nightgown that actually seemed to have a ribbon woven into the lace at the neck. She looked fragile and beautiful, and there was a delicate flush on her cheeks from the fever.
"How're you feeling?" Keller said, making her voice gentle.
"Okay." Iliana modified it with a shrug that meant fairly rotten. "I just wanted to see you, you know, and say good-bye."
Keller blinked, still rubbing her hair with the towel. She wasn't crazy about water, especially not in her ears. "Say good-bye?"
"Before you go."
"What, you think I'm going to school for you?"
"No. Before you go."
Keller stopped toweling and focused. "Iliana, what are you talking about?"
Tm talking about you guys leaving. Because I'm not the Wild Power."
Keller sat down on the bed and said flatly, "What?"
Diana's eyes were that hazy iris color again. She looked, in her own way, as annoyed as Keller felt. "Well, I thought that was obvious. I can't be the Wild Power. I don't have the blue fire-or whatever." She tacked the last words on.
"Diana, don't play the dumb blond with me right now, or I'll have to kill you."
Diana just stared at her, picking at the coverlet with her fingers. "You guys made a mistake. I don't have any power, and I'm not the person you're looking for. Don't you think you ought to go out and look for the real Wild Power before the bad guys find her?"
"Diana, just because you couldn't stop that car doesn't mean that you don't have power. It could just be that you don't know how to tap into it yet."
"It could be. You're admitting that you're not sure."
"Nobody can be absolutely sure. Not until you demonstrate it."
"And that's what I can't do. You probably think I didn't really try, Keller. But I did. I tried so hard."
Diana's eyes went distant with agonized memory. "I was standing there, looking down, and I suddenly thought, I can do it! I actually thought I felt the power, and that I knew how to use it. But then when I reached for it, there was nothing there. I tried so hard, and I wanted it to work so much…" Diana's eyes filled, and there was a look on her face that struck Keller to the heart. Then she shook her head and looked back at Keller. "It wasn't there. I know that. I'm certain."
'It has to be there," Keller said. "Circle Daybreak has been investigating this ever since they found that prophecy. 'One from the hearth that still holds the spark.' They've tracked down all the other Harmans and checked them. It has to be you."
"Then maybe it's somebody you haven't found yet. Some other lost witch. But it's not me."
She was completely adamant and genuinely convinced. Keller could see it in her eyes. She had managed to vault back into denial in a whole new way.
"So I know you'll be leaving," Iliana went on. "And, actually, I'll really miss you." She blinked away tears again. "I suppose you don't believe that."
"Oh, I believe it," Keller said tiredly, staring at an exquisite gold-and-white dresser across the room.
"I really like you guys. But I know what you're doing is important."
"Well, is it okay with you if we just hang around for a little while longer?" Keller asked heavily. "Just until we see the light and realize you're not the Wild Power?"
Iliana frowned. "Don't you think it's a waste of time?"
"Maybe. But I don't make those decisions. I'm just a grunt."
"Don't you treat me like a dumb blond."
Keller opened her mouth, lifted her hands, then dropped them. What she wanted to say was, How can I help it when you're determined to be such a nincompoop? But that wasn't going to get them anywhere. "Look, Iliana. I really do have to stay until I get orders to go, all right?" Keller said, looking at her. "So you're just going to have to bear with us for a little while longer."
She stood up, feeling as if a weight had fallen on her. They were back to square one.
Or maybe not quite.
"Besides, what about Galen?" she said, turning back at the door. "Do you want him to go?"
Diana looked confused. Her cheeks got even pinker. "I don't… I mean…"
"If you're not the Wild Power, you're not the Witch Child," Keller went on ruthlessly. "And you know that Galen has to promise himself to the Witch Child."
Iliana was breathing quickly now. She gulped and stared at the window. She bit her lip. She really is in love with him, Keller thought. And she knows it.
"Just something to keep in mind," she said, and went out the door.
"Did you get any info on the license plate?"
Nissa shook her head. "Not yet. They'll call us when they have anything. And a courier brought this." She handed Keller a box. It was the size of a shirt box but very sturdy.
"I think so. There are wards on it, so we have to get Winnie to open it."
They had a chance after breakfast. Mrs. Dominick took the baby and went out shopping. Keller didn't worry too much about her. Just as Jaime was now being watched by Circle Daybreak agents, any members of Iliana's family who left the safety of the wards would be followed for their own protection.
They sat around the kitchen table-except for Iliana, who refused to join them and sat in the family room in front of the TV. She had a box of tissues, and every few minutes she would apply one to her nose. "Before you open that," Keller said to Winnie, "how are the wards around the house?"
"They're fine. Intact and strong. I don't think anybody's even tried to mess with them." Galen said, "I wonder why."
Keller looked at him quickly. It was just what she had been wondering herself. "Maybe it has something to do with what happened yesterday. And that's the other thing I want to talk about. I want to hear everybody's opinions. Who was in that car-Night Person or human? Why did they try to run over Jaime? And what are we going to do about it?"
"You go first," Winnie said. "I think you had the best view of it."
"Well, I wasn't the only one," Keller said. "There was someone else beside me." She looked toward the living room. Iliana made a show of ignoring her completely.
Keller turned back. "But anyway, simplest first Let's say the car was from the Night World. They cruised down the street in front of the school once before coming back. It's perfectly possible that they saw Iliana standing at the window. Maybe they were trying to determine for sure that she was the Wild Power. If she'd stopped the car, they'd have had solid proof." "On the other hand," Nissa said, "they must be pretty sure she's the Wild Power. After all, it's really beyond question." She was looking earnestly at Keller, but she spoke loudly enough for Iliana to hear everything distinctly. Keller smiled with her eyes. "True. Okay, more ideas. Winnie."
"Uh-night." Winnie sat up straighter. "The car was from the Night World, and they weren't actually trying to run over Jaime. They were going to snatch her because they somehow knew she'd been with us, and they figured she might have some information they could use."
"Nice try," Keller said. "But you were over by the door. You didn't see the way that car was driving. No way they were planning to grab her."
"I agree," Galen said. "They were going too fast, and they were heading right for her. They meant to kill."
Winnie dropped her chin into her hands. "Oh, well, fine. It was just an idea."
'It brings up something interesting, though," Nissa said thoughtfully. "What if the car was from the Night World, and they knew Iliana was watching, but they weren't trying to get her to demonstrate her power?
What if they were just trying to intimidate her? Show what they were capable of, by lolling her friend right in front of her eyes? If they knew how close she and Jaime were-"
"How?" Keller interrupted.
"Lots of ways," Nissa said promptly. "If they haven't snooped around that high school and talked to other kids, their intelligence system is worse than I think. Ill go farther. If they don't know that Jaime was in that music room with us yesterday at lunch, they ought to turn in their spy badges."
'If that's true, then maybe it's even simpler than we think," Galen said. "The law says that any human who finds out about us has to die. Maybe the car was from the Night World, and they didn't know that Iliana was watching-or they didn't care. They thought Jaime knew the secret, and they just wanted to carry out a good, old-fashioned Night World execution."
"And maybe the car wasn't from the Night World!" Iliana yelled suddenly, jumping off the family room couch. She wasn't even pretending not to listen anymore, Keller noted. "Did any of you ever think of that? Maybe the car just belonged to some crazed juvenile delinquents and it's all a massive coincidence! Well? Did you think of that?" She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at all of them. The effect was somewhat diluted because she was wearing a frilly nightgown with a flannel robe over it and slippers with teddy bear heads on them.
Keller stood up, too. She wanted to be patient and make the most of this opportunity. But she never seemed to have much control where Iliana was concerned.
"We've thought of it. Circle Daybreak is trying to check on it-whether the car's registered to a human or a Night Person. But you're asking for a lot of coincidence, aren't you? How often do people deliberately run each other over in this town? What are the chances that you just happened to be watching when one of them did it?"
She felt Galen nudge her ankle with his foot. With an effort, she shut up.
"Why don't you come over here and talk with us about it?" he said to Iliana in his gentle way. "Even if you're not the Wild Power, you're still involved. You know a lot about what's been going on, and you've got a good mind. We need all the help we can get."
Keller saw Winnie glance at him sharply when he said the bit about Iliana having a good mind. But she didn't say anything.
Iliana looked a little startled herself. But then she picked up the box of tissues and slowly came to the kitchen table.
"I don't think well when I'm sick," she said.
Keller sat down. She didn't want to undo what Galen had accomplished. "So where does that leave us?"
she asked, and then answered her own question. "Nowhere, really. It could be any of those scenarios or none of them. We may need to wait for whatever Circle Daybreak comes up with."
Keller looked around the table grimly. "And that's dangerous," she said. "Assuming it was the Night World that sent that car, they're up to something that we don't understand. They could attack us at any moment, from any direction, and we can't anticipate them. I need for all of you to be on your guard. If anything suspicious happens, even the fittest thing, I want you to tell me."
"It still bothers me that they haven't even tried to get in here," Galen said. "No matter how strong the wards are, they should at least be trying."
Keller nodded. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach about that. "They may be laying some kind of a trap somewhere else, and they may be so confident that well fall into it that they can afford to wait."
"Or it could be that they know I'm not the one," Hiana chimed in sweetly. "And they're off kidnapping the real Wild Power while you guys are wasting your time here." She blew her nose.
Keller gritted her teeth and felt a pain in her jaw that was getting familiar. "Or it could be that we just don't understand dragons," she said, possibly with more force than was necessary. She and Diana locked stares. "You guys, you guys," Winnie said nervously. "Um, maybe it's time we opened this." She touched the box Circle Daybreak had sent.
Diana's eyes shifted to it with something like involuntary interest. Keller could see why. The box had the mysterious allure of a Christmas present. "Go ahead," she told Winnie. It took a while. Winnie did witchy things with a bag of herbs and some talismans, while everyone watched intently and Diana mopped her nose and sniffled.
At last, very carefully, Winnie lifted the top of the box off.
Everyone leaned forward. Piled inside were dozens and dozens of pieces of parchment. Not entire scrolls but scraps of them, each encased in its own plastic sleeve. Keller recognized the writing"-it was the old language of the shapeshifters. She'd learned it as a child, because Circle Daybreak wanted her to keep in touch with her heritage. But it had been a long time since she'd had to translate it.
Diana sneezed and said almost reluctantly, "Cool pictures."
There were cool pictures. Most of the scraps had three or four tiny illustrations, and some of them had only pictures and no writing. The inks were red and purple and deep royal blue, with details in gold leaf. Keller spread some of the plastic sleeves across the table.
"Okay, people. The idea is to find something that will show us how to fight the dragon, or at least something to tell us how he might attack. The truth is that we don't even know what he can do, except for the black energy he used on me."
"Um, I can't read this, you know," Diana pointed out with excessive politeness.
"So look at the pictures," Keller said sweetly. "Try to find something where a dragon is fighting a person-or, even better, getting killed by one."
"How do I know which one's the dragon?" It was an amazingly good question. Keller blinked and looked at Galen.
"Well, actually, I don't know. I don't know if anybody knows how to tell a dragon from another Night Person."
"The one in the mall-Azhdeha-had opaque black eyes," Keller said. "You could tell when you looked into them. But I don't suppose that's going to show up on a parchment like this. Why don't you just look for something with dark energy around it?"
Iliana made a tiny noise that in someone less delicate would have been called a snort. But she took a pile of the scraps and began poring over them.
"Okay," Keller said. "Now, the rest of us-"
But she never got to finish. The phone on the kitchen wall shrilled. Everyone glanced up toward it, and Iliana started to stand, but there was no second ring. After a long moment of silence, it rang again-once. "Circle Daybreak," Keller said. "Nissa, call them back."
Keller tried not to fidget as Nissa obeyed. It wasn't just that she was hoping against hope that there was useful information about the car. For some reason she couldn't define, that very first ring of the phone had made her feel unsettled.
The early warning system of the shapeshifters. It had saved her life before, by giving her a hint of danger. But for what was about to happen now, it was entirely useless.
"Nissa Johnson here. Code word: Angel Rescue," Nissa said, and Keller saw Diana's eyebrows go up.
"Yes, I'm listening. What?" Suddenly, her face changed. "What do you mean, am I sitting down?" Pause. "Look, Paulie, just tell me whatever-"
And then her face changed again, and she did something Keller had never seen Nissa do. She gasped and brought a quick hand up to her mouth.
"Oh, Goddess, no!"
Keller's heart was pounding, and there was a boulder of ice in her stomach. She found herself on her feet without any memory of standing.
Nissa's light brown eyes were distant, almost blank. Her other hand clutched the receiver. "How?" Then she shut her eyes. "Oh, no." And finally, very softly, "Goddess help us."