9. února 2014 v 14:23 | Lola Kiss
I DIDN'T REALLY EXPECT A SECRET INITIATION into a witches' coven to start off with a tea party.
"Would you pass the ladyfingers, dear?"
I quickly grabbed the china plate from the coffee table and handed it over to Maude, one of the senior witches in the group and our hostess for the night. We sat in a circle of folding chairs in her immaculate living room, and my history teacher, Ms. Terwilliger, was beside me munching on a cucumber sandwich. I was too nervous to say anything and simply drank my tea as the others chatted about light topics. Maude was serving herbal tea, so I didn't have to worry about breaking my caffeine deal with Adrian. Not that I would've minded having an excuse if she had been serving black.
There were seven of us gathered, and although they would allow any number of worthy candidates into their group, they all seemed especially pleased to have a prime number. It was lucky, Maude insisted. Occasionally, Hopper would stick his head up and then go scurrying under furniture. Since witches didn't blink an eye at callistanas, I'd let him come out tonight.
Someone brought up the pros and cons of winter versus summer initiations, and I found my mind wandering. I wondered how things were going over at Clarence's. I'd been responsible for transporting Jill to her feedings since September, and it made me feel strange (and a little wistful) to be here while all of them were gathered and having a good time. With a pang, I suddenly realized I hadn't made any arrangements for dinner. Adrian had simply been the driver, so I hadn't thought to say anything. Would Zoe have taken charge? Probably not. I pushed down the motherly instincts within me that worried they'd all starve to death. Surely someone was capable of getting food.
Thinking of Adrian brought back the golden memories of our time together this afternoon. Even hours later, I could still feel where he'd kissed me. I took a deep breath to help me get a grip, fearful that my soon-to-be sisters would realize magic was the last thing on my mind right now. Actually, these days, it seemed like everything except getting half-naked with Adrian was the last thing on my mind. After a lifetime of praising myself for stoically adhering to mind over matter, I was kind of astonished that someone as cerebral as me would take to physical activity as quickly as I had. Sometimes I tried to rationalize it as a natural animal response. But really, I just had to face the truth: My boyfriend was insanely sexy, vampire or not, and I couldn't keep my hands off him.
I realized then that someone had asked me a question. Reluctantly, I blinked away thoughts of Adrian unbuttoning my shirt and tuned in to the speaker. It took me a moment to recall her name. Trina, that was it. She was in her mid-twenties, the youngest person here, aside from me.
"I'm sorry?" I asked.
She smiled. "I said, you do something with vampires, right?"
Oh, I did a lot of things with one vampire in particular, but obviously, that wasn't what she meant.
"More or less," I said evasively.
Ms. Terwilliger chuckled. "The Alchemists are very protective of their secrets."
A couple other witches nodded. Others simply looked on curiously. The magical world of witches didn't cross with the vampiric one. Most of them, on both sides, didn't even know about each other. Learning about Moroi and Strigoi had been a surprise to some here-meaning the Alchemists were doing their job. From what I'd gathered, these witches had encountered enough mystical and supernatural things to accept that blood-drinking magical creatures walked the earth and that there were groups like the Alchemists keeping that knowledge under wraps.
Witches freely accepted the paranormal. The Alchemists were less open. The group that had raised me thought humans needed to stay free of magic for the sanctity of their souls. I had once believed that too, and that creatures like vampires had no business being friendly with us. That was back when I'd also believed the Alchemists were telling me the truth. Now I knew that there were people in the organization who lied to both humans and Moroi and who would go to great extremes to protect their own selfish interests, no matter who it hurt. With my eyes open to the truth, I could no longer answer blindly to the Alchemists, even though I still technically worked for them. That wasn't to say I was in open rebellion against them either (like my friend Marcus), since some of their original tenets still held merit.
Really, what it all came down to was that I was working for myself now.
"You know who you should talk to-if she'd talk to you? Inez. She's had all sorts of encounters with those beasts-not the living ones. The undead ones." That was Maude again. She'd recognized the golden lily on my cheek right away that identified me (to those who knew what to look for) as an Alchemist. It was made of vampire blood and other components that gave us some of their healing abilities and hardiness, while also being charmed to stop us from discussing supernatural affairs with those not privy to the magical world. Or, well, my tattoo used to do that.
"Who's Inez?" I asked.
That brought some chuckles from the others. "Probably the greatest of our order-at least on this side of the country," said Maude.
"This side of the world," insisted Ms. Terwilliger. "She's almost ninety and has seen and done things most of us can't imagine."
"Why isn't she here?" I asked.
"She's not part of any formal coven," explained another witch, named Alison. "I'm sure she used to be, but she's practiced on her own for . . . well, as long as I've known about her. It's hard for her to get around now, and she mostly just keeps to herself. Lives in this ancient house outside of Escondido and hardly ever leaves."
Clarence popped into my head. "I think I know a guy she'd get along great with."
"She fought a number of Strigoi back in the day," mused Maude. "She's probably got some spells that you'd find useful. And, oh, the stories she can tell about them. She was quite the warrior. I remember her talking about how one tried to drink her blood." She shivered. "But apparently, he couldn't do it, and she was able to take him out."
My hand froze as I lifted my teacup. "What do you mean he couldn't do it?"
Maude shrugged. "I don't remember the details. Maybe she had some sort of protective spell."
I felt my heart speed up as an old, dark memory sucked me in. Last year, I'd been trapped by a Strigoi who'd wanted to drink my blood too. She hadn't been able to do it, allegedly because I "tasted bad." The reason for that was still kind of a mystery, one the Alchemists and Moroi had let fade away when other pressing matters came up. But it hadn't faded for me. It was something that constantly nagged at the back of my mind, the never-ending question of what it was about me that had repelled her.
Ms. Terwilliger, accustomed to my expressions, studied me and guessed some of what I was thinking. "If you'd like to talk to her, I could arrange for you to meet her." Her lips quirked into a smile. "Although, I can't guarantee you'll get anything useful out of her. She's very . . . particular about what she reveals."
Maude scoffed. "That's not the word I'm thinking of, but yours is more polite." She glanced at an ornate grandfather clock and set down her cup. "Well, then. Shall we get started?"
I forgot about Inez and even Adrian as fear settled over me. In less than a year, I'd traveled leagues away from the Alchemist doctrine that had governed my life. I didn't give being close to vampires a second thought anymore, but every once in a while, warnings of the arcane would flit back to me. I had to steel myself and remember that magic was a path I'd firmly committed myself to and that it was only evil if you used it for evil. Members of the Stelle, as this group called itself, were sworn to do no harm with their powers-unless it was in defense of themselves or others.
We held the ritual in Maude's backyard, a sprawling piece of property filled with palm trees and winter flowers. It was about fifty degrees out, balmy compared with late January in other parts of the country, but jacket weather in Palm Springs-or, rather, cloak weather. Ms. Terwilliger had told me it didn't matter what I wore tonight, that I'd be supplied with what I needed. And what I needed turned out to be a cloak composed of six pieces of velvet in different colors. I felt like a peddler in a fairy tale as I flung it over my shoulders.
"This is our gift to you," Ms. Terwilliger explained. "Each of us has sewn and contributed a piece. You'll wear it whenever we have a formal ceremony." The others donned similar cloaks composed of varying numbers of patches, depending on whatever the coven's number had been during their respective initiations.
The sky was stark and clear with stars, the full moon shining like a brilliant pearl against the blackness. It was the best time to work good magic.