Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
“No,” Zhan answered for me. “She’s gone into the ley.”
Mountain scratched his head. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
Everyone faced me, waiting for the answer. Looking at her empty little shoes made my legs weak and rubbery, but I was trying to reason this all through. “Bad,” I said. “I think.”
“Witches use sorcery to tap into a line. It’s dangerous and painful . . . and, truly, we have to be very careful to not get sucked in.”
“So she was sucked in,” Celia said through her tears.
There were horror stories about such things. Witches of “ye olde times” who disappeared were often thought to have been dabbling in sorcery and fallen into the ley. Especially if items left on their altars could support such
theories. But I had always regarded those tales as exaggerations meant to steer curious young witches back to their craft studies, much like tales of the bogeyman warned children not to venture from their beds at night.
“Explain how you use this board to tap the ley line,” Zhan said.
“I’m not sure. When I tap it, I do it directly, without an ancillary device.”
“Is the board significant, then?” She began pacing. “Is there a clue in it? Did that make it easier or harder to get sucked in? And does it hold an option for us—or rather,
—to bring her back out through it?”
My mouth opened but nothing came out.
All these rapid-fire questions bordered on an understandable panic, feeding my fears, but I couldn’t think clearly like this. I had to push the emotion away and concentrate.
My eyes locked on Great El’s slate. The symbols painted on it were eerily bright in the darkness as I considered it.
Tapping a ley line directly was certainly more dangerous, and potent, than using a device to filter it. Direct access left nothing to keep a witch from falling into the ley except the barriers inherent in a physical being touching a nonphysical world. I thought of it as an oil-and-water kind of thing.
. . . the inherent risk lay in the fact that the ley’s intense energy has the potential to transform tangible matter into intangible.
“The slate does not actually create the boundary between life as we know it and the other side,” I said. “But it should have acted like an additional buffer.”
“What do you mean by
the other side
?” Zhan asked.
“Think of a spirit board like those huge gates in
. It stands between you and a world of wonderful and strange things. The fencing is so high and thick that you can’t see over it or through it. There are other gateways, but this particular door has a neon sign above it that tells you this door is a unique spot, one where notes can be slipped back and forth underneath. You go there sometimes to ask those inside what it is like there.”
With tears brimming her eyes, Celia asked, “Do you mean heaven . . . an afterlife? Is she dead?”
The only answer I had was lame. “I honestly don’t know.”
Silence fell around us. Another thought occurred to me. I’d focused on the slate because it was right there in front of me and so terribly out of place, but there was something else here that was magical. The grove was all around me.
“Wait.” Mountain joined the conversation. “You said that the Ouija-board thingy should have been an extra buffer. When you say ‘should have been’ are you implying that it wasn’t an extra buffer, or that it acted as more of a secret side door?”
I fixed him with my gaze. The big, gentle man was smarter than most people gave him credit for. “Beverley couldn’t accidentally open a line and fall in, not with a spirit board, not even here in the grove.”
“Not even if she’s a witch?” Mountain asked.
“No. First of all,” I said, “lines do not randomly open when someone gets near them like the sliding doors at the supermarket. There is a process to opening them, you have to make your own keys. Witches do that, but it takes time and skill.”
Zhan crossed her arms. “You said not
I nodded. “Something took her in.” I didn’t want to think that meant she was gone. I couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t. “Whatever navigated her into the ley must have had a reason, and for that, it
be shielding her.”
I said it like a command and I saw hope flicker in Celia’s eyes.
My satellite phone rang, the number blocked. “Hello?”
A smooth female voice said, “The precious thing you are seeking will be found beside the ley line at Mill Stream Run Reservation, but only if you hurry, witch.” The caller hung up.
I held the phone before me, wide-eyed.
Zhan asked, “What is it?”
My broom would have been ideal, but I hadn’t seen it since Liyliy and I fought at Cedar Point. Zhan’s lead foot was the next best option. I grabbed her arm. “We gotta go.”
Without enlightening the others, I hurried toward the trailer where Zhan had parked her Audi. Once inside the vehicle, I told her we needed to get to the reservation and asked if she knew the way. “Absolutely,” was her reply.
She had us on I-71 in minutes, and, as expected, she cast caution to the wind and ignored the speed limit. “Why Mill Stream Run?”
I told her what the caller had said.
“This might be a setup,” she countered, slowing down.
“How? She dialed my phone and called me ‘witch.’ She knew I was looking for something
and knew it had to do with the ley line.”
“Exactly. Who was the caller? What if the kid was played by someone?”
I thought about my wards not being active. I hadn’t been able to check them directly to see if I’d let the power run down or if something else had brought them down. “Either way, I have to find out.”
“But you don’t have to run in there blind.”
“That’s why you’re with me.”
“You called Menessos, right?”
“What was he doing about it?”
“He said he’d tap into the line near the haven and see what he could find out. He’d let me know if he found something.”
“But it wasn’t him that called?”
“No, it was a woman.”
Zhan took the Royalton Road exit and turned right. “All right. Where’s this line of yours?”
I took a moment to reach out and feel for the line. It ran north-northeast to south-southwest. I pointed to the south.
Zhan turned right onto Valley Parkway. Shortly within the park, the road curved to the east and a paved trail for walking or biking ran along the left side of the road. Ahead was a bridge to our right; the sign said it was Royalview Lane. Zhan slowed down. “Stay on Valley or turn?”
“Stay on Valley.”
“How far?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. Go slow.”
The trees were all bare. That dim inkling of civil twilight had expired and the full dark of night had settled in like a thick blanket. It was hard to see, and I scanned
all around while keeping my focus on the ley line. I noticed the stream to the left beyond the trail.
It occurred to me that the headlights would give us away. I saw a spot to the right where a car could pull off the road. I said, “Stop here. Kill the lights.”
The temperature had dropped since we left my home. I shut my door softly, afraid of the echoing sound it would make. I crossed the road and jogged along the empty trail. It ran right beside the road, but not far ahead the path snaked through the woodland a few yards from the road. I heard Zhan behind me but didn’t argue about her following. Sensing the ley was well within the tree line, I had the urge to plow into the woods, but the leaves and twigs that would crunch underfoot would also give me away.
After about five hundred yards, I guess, my eyes detected the light of a bonfire ahead.
I hurried onward, ignoring Zhan’s whispered protests for me to slow down. I kept jogging along the trail as it curved back toward the road then arced deeper into the woods toward the blaze, which had been built near a large fallen tree.
A hooded figure sat before that blaze and I could hear the singsong chant of a male voice. The smell of burning sage filled the air.
Pissed off, I stepped off the trail then, glancing back and forth between the ground and the fire, trying to make my approach as unnoticeable as possible. If it was him, I was going to need the element of surprise.
Please let that fire crackle and pop and the hood dampen other sounds from his ears
Then I saw Beverley. She lay as if sleeping upon the ground before the figure.
He raised his hands high. A green glow claimed the fire, and bolts like laser beams jumped into the air and circled a few feet over the flames. A purple swirl spiraled up from underneath the fire—from the ley line—and slithered into the fire, rising through it like a serpent, snapping onto the ends of the green bolts and swallowing them down. All the colors glinting and sparkling were mesmerizingly beautiful.
He lowered his hands over Beverley.
My hesitation evaporated. I plunged forward, heedless of the noise I made.
Abruptly, the figure turned, hood falling back.
His eyes widened and his head shook back and forth. His voice filled the woodland around me, shouting, “Don’t break the circle!”
ohnny pulled into the driveway and saw Celia’s CX-7. Though several lights were on in Mountain’s trailer out by the barns, none were on at the house. Using his key, he let himself in and stood in the darkened hall with the open door at his back and sniffed.
Red wasn’t here.
He detected nothing to indicate that she had been there recently, either. She still hadn’t replied to his text.
Did she make it home?
He jerked on his loosened tie, removing it altogether.
He breathed in the smells again. The kiddo. Celia. Mountain. That was it.
Moving closer to the stairway, he draped the tie over the handrail as he stared up at the unlit second floor. Aurelia said he needed to move, to live somewhere else. After what he’d done, Red might not let the Big Bad Wolf back in her home. He couldn’t blame her if she asked him to leave, but he wasn’t about to go up and preemptively pack his stuff, either.
Returning to the door, he put his hand on the knob and scanned the darkened house once more over his shoulder. He walked out and shut and locked the door behind him, heading for the trailer. His dress shoes were slick in the dew-damp grass.
Through the window, he saw Mountain open his refrigerator and remove something. As he approached the
door, he saw the large man hand Celia a can of 7UP. He figured Celia and the kiddo must’ve been visiting the unicorns again.
At the same moment, Celia and Mountain turned. The wærewolf and the Beholder had both detected him; he hadn’t been trying for stealth. Mountain approached to open the door. He didn’t look happy.
“Where’s Red?” Johnny asked, glancing around as he entered.
Mountain said, “She and Zhan left a few minutes ago.”
She’s avoiding me. Guess I deserve it after what I did and then standing her up at the coffee shop
“He doesn’t know.” Celia sounded miserable as she dropped into one of the kitchen’s folding chairs with much less grace than was usual for her.
“I don’t know what?”
“Beverley found and used Great El’s slate,” she said, pointing toward the woods outside the trailer. “She used it in the grove. Now she’s . . . well, according to Seph, she’s
Johnny tipped his head, squinting slightly. “You mean Beverley is
of a ley line?”
When Celia’s chin dropped to her chest, Johnny’s gaze shifted to Mountain, who answered with a nod.
“The lines are just energy, right? How is that possible?”
Mountain shrugged. Celia began to cry.
Mountain headed into one of the trailer’s back rooms.
Johnny knelt. “Celia?”
“I was supposed to be watching her,” she said. “She
was supposed to have come out here to see Errol. I didn’t even know she’d gone upstairs and taken the slate.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it. Kids can be sneaky.” He had the urge to put his hand on her knee to comfort her, but she was the wife of his former best friend, Erik. He folded his fingers together over his own bent knee.
“But a kid shouldn’t be able to sneak like that around a wærewolf.” She wiped her eyes. “I guess it’s for the best that I’m not a mother.”
“Celia.” His hand slipped onto her knee then. He felt the spark of energy that flared up whenever he touched a female wærewolf. Their eyes met for an instant and her mouth opened. Before she could speak, Mountain returned with an unopened box of Kleenex and offered it to her. “Did Red say where they were going?”
“No,” Mountain answered. “Her phone rang, she answered it, and two seconds later, she told Zhan they had to go.”
Johnny took out his phone and hit the speed dial for Persephone’s satellite phone. It rang and rang, but she didn’t answer. When it clicked over to voicemail, he swore. Loudly.
She has to come back here. Unless it was Menessos that called. Then she’d end up at the haven.
He didn’t know if he should stay or go. Lifting his phone before him again, he stopped walking and texted Kirk:
Inform whoever we have watching the haven that he or she is to report to you immediately if Red is seen there. You notify me at once.
When he hit Send, the pacing resumed. Moments later, when Kirk acknowledged the text, he didn’t even break stride.
Mountain walked into the kitchen, then returned with a short glass. “Here,” Mountain said, pushing the glass at Johnny, who gave him a questioning look. “Captain and Coke. You need it.” He put it into Johnny’s hand. “I’ll go see that all the animals are inside.”
Johnny watched the vampire’s Beholder go, aware that he was making an excuse to give the wærewolves time to talk privately. His gaze fell and he stared down into the short glass, watching the ice cubes slowly spin but not drinking.
“At least you stopped pacing,” Celia said softly.