Spellbinder (Chapter 5)

What?" Thea said. This was something she could speak out about. "Blaise, are you out of your mind?"

"I hope you're not saying you don't want to do spells," Blaise said dangerously. "That's part of it, you know."

"I'm saying there's no way we can get enough blood to fill this without them noticing. What are we going to tell them? 'I just want a little to remember you by?'"

"Use your ingenuity," Vivienne said musically, twining a red-gold strand of hair around her fingers.

"In a pinch we could always use the Cup of Lethe," Blaise added calmly. "Then no matter what we do, they won't remember."

Thea nearly fell over. What Blaise was suggesting was like using a nuclear bomb to swat a fly. "You are crazy," she said quietly. "You know that maidens

aren't allowed to use that kind of spell, and we probably won't even be able to use it when we're mothers, and probably not even when we're crones. That's stuff for the elders." She stared at Blaise until the gray eyes dropped.

"I don't believe in classifying some spells as forbidden," Blaise said loftily, but she didn't look back at Thea and she didn't pursue the subject.

As she and Dani left the patio, Thea noticed that Dani had taken one of the small vials.

"Are you going to the dance?"

"I guess so." Dani shrugged lithe shoulders. "John Finkelstein from our world lit class asked me a couple weeks ago. I've never been to one of their dances before-but maybe this is the time to start."

Now what did that mean? Thea felt uneasy. "And you're planning to put a spell on him?"

"You mean this?" She twisted the vial in her fingers. "I don't know. I figured I'd take it just in case…." She looked up at Thea defensively. "You took one for Eric."

Thea hesitated. She hadn't talked to Dani about Eric yet. Part of her wanted to and part of her was scared. What did Dani really think of Outsiders, anyway?

"After all," Dani said, her sweet face tranquil, "they're only humans."

Saturday night Thea took a dress out of the closet. It was pale green-so pale that it almost looked white-and designed along Grecian lines. Witch clothes had to feel good as well as look good, and this dress was soft and lightweight, swirling beautifully when she turned.

Blaise wasn't wearing a dress. She was wearing a tuxedo. It had a red silk bow tie and cummerbund and it looked fantastic on her.

This is probably going to be the only dance in history where the most popular girl has on cufflinks, Thea thought.

Eric arrived right on time. He knocked at the front door of the shop, the door that only Outsiders used. Night People came around back, to a door that was unmarked except for what looked like a bit of graffiti-a spray-painted black dahlia.

Okay, Thea thought. She took a deep breath before she unlocked the door and let him in.

This is business, business, business….

But the first moment wasn't as awkward as she'd feared. He smiled and held out a corsage of white orchids. She smiled and took it. Then she said, "You look nice."

His suit was pale fatigue brown, loose and comfortable looking. "Me? You look nice. I mean-you look wonderful. That color makes your hair look just like gold." Then he glanced down at himself apologetically. "I don't go to many dances, I'm afraid."

"Don't you?" She'd heard girls talking about him at school. It seemed as if everyone liked him, wanted to get close to him.

"No, I'm usually pretty busy. You know, working, playing sports." He added more softly, "And I have a hard time thinking of things to say around girls."

Funny, you never seem to have a problem around me, Thea thought. She saw him looking the shop over.

"It's my grandmother's store. She sells all kinds of things here, from all around the world." She watched him closely. This was an important test. If he-a human-believed in this stuff, he was either a New Age geek or dangerously close to the truth.

"It's cool," he said, and she was happy to see that he was lying. "I mean," he said, obviously struggling to find a polite way to praise the voodoo dolls and wand crystals, "I think people can really affect their bodies by changing their state of mind."

You don't know how right you are, Thea thought.

There was a clack of high heels on wood, and Blaise came down the stairs. Her shoes appeared first, then her fitted trouser legs, then all the curves, emphasized here and there with brilliant red silk. Finally came her shoulders and head, her midnight hair half up and half down, framing her face in stormy dark curls.

Thea glanced sideways at Eric.

He was smiling at Blaise, but not in the goofy, dying-sheep way other guys smiled. His was just a genuine grin.

"Hi, Blaise," he said. "Going to the dance? We can take you if you need a lift."

Blaise stopped dead. Then she gave him a blistering glare. "Thank you, I have my own date. I'm just going to pick him up now."

On the way to the door, she looked hard at Thea. "You do have everything you need for tonight- don't you?"

The vial was in Thea's pale green clutch purse. Thea still didn't know how she could possibly get it filled, but she nodded tightly.

"Good." Blaise swept out and got into a silver-gray Porsche that was parked at the curb. Kevin's car. But, as Thea knew, she wasn't going to pick up Kevin.

"I think I made her mad," Eric said.

"Don't worry. Blaise likes being mad. Should we go now?"

Business, business, business, Thea chanted to herself as they walked into the school cafeteria. It had been completely transformed from its daytime identity. The lights and music were oddly thrilling and the whirl of color out on the dance floor was strangely inviting.

I'm not here to have fun, Thea told herself again. But her blood seemed to be sparkling. She saw Eric glance at her conspiratorially and she could almost feel what he was feeling-as if they were two kids standing hand in hand at the edge of some incredible carnival.

"Uh, I should tell you," Eric said. "I can't really dance-except for slow ones."

Oh, great. But of course this was what she was here to do. To put on a show of romancing Eric for Blaise.

A slow song was starting that minute. Thea shut her eyes briefly and resigned herself to fate-which didn't seem all that awful as she and Eric stepped out onto the floor.

Terpsichore, Muse of the Dance, help me not make a fool of myself. She'd never been so close to a human boy, and she'd never tried to dance to human music. But Eric didn't seem to notice her lack of experience.

"You know, I can't believe this," he said. His arms were around her lightly, almost reverently. As if he were afraid she'd break if he held her too hard.

"What can't you believe?"

"Well…" He shook his head. "Everything, I guess. That I'm here with you. And that it all feels so easy. And that you always smell so good."

Thea laughed in spite of herself. "I didn't use any yemonja this time-" she began, and then she almost bit her tongue. Adrenaline washed over her in a wave of painful tingles.

Was she crazy? She was blurting out spell ingredients, for Earth's sake. He was too easy to talk to, that was the problem. Every so often she'd forget he wasn't a witch.

"You okay?" he said as her silence stretched on. His voice was concerned.

No, I am not okay. I've got Blaise on one side and the laws of the Night World on the other, and they're both out to get me. And I don't even know if you're worth it….

"Can I ask you something?" she said abruptly. "Why did you knock me out of the way of that snake?"

"Huh? It was in a striking coil. You could have got bit."

"But so could you." So did you.

He frowned as if stricken by one of those unsolvable mysteries of life. "Yeah… but that didn't seem so bad somehow. I suppose that sounds stupid."

Thea didn't know how to answer. And she was suddenly in terrible conflict about what to do. Her body seemed to want her to lean her head against Eric's shoulder, but her mind was yelling in alarm at the very thought.

At that moment she heard loud voices at the edge of the dance floor.

"Get out of the way," a guy in a blue jacket was saying. "She smiled at me, and I'm going over there."

"It was me she was smiling at, you jerk," a guy in a gray jacket snapped back. "So just back off and let me go."

Expletives. "It was me, and you'd better get out of the way." More expletives. "It was me, and you'd better let go."

A fistfight started. Chaperones came running.

Guess who's here? Thea asked herself. She had no trouble at all locating Blaise. The red-trimmed tuxedo was surrounded by a ring of guys, which was surrounded by a ring of abandoned and angry girls.

"Maybe we should go over and say hi," Thea said. She wanted to warn Blaise about starting a riot.

"Okay. She sure is popular, isn't she?"

They managed to worm their way through the encircling crowd. Blaise was in her element, glorying in the adulation and confusion.

"I waited for an hour and a half, but you never showed up," a very pale Kevin was saying to her. He was wearing an immaculate white silk shirt and exquisitely tailored black pants. His eyes were hollow.

"Maybe you gave me the wrong address," Blaise said thoughtfully. "I couldn't find your house." She had her hand tucked into the arm of a very tall guy with shoulder-length blond hair, who looked as if he worked out four or five hours a day. "Anyway, you want to dance?"

Kevin looked at the blond guy, who looked back impassively, his cleft chin rock hard.

"Don't mind Sergio," Blaise said. "He was just keeping me company. Do you not want to dance?"

Kevin's eyes fell. "Well, yeah, of course I want to…."

As Blaise detached herself from Sergio, Thea leaned forward. "You'd better not do anything too public," she hissed in her cousin's ear. "There's already been one fight."

Blaise just gave her an amused glance and took Kevin's arm. Most of the boys followed her, and with the crowd gone, Thea saw Dani at a small table. She was wearing a sparkling gold dress and she was alone.

"Let's go sit," Eric said, before Thea could even get a word out. She threw him a grateful look.

"Where's John?" Thea asked as they pulled chairs to the table.

Dani nodded toward the pack following Blaise.

"I don't mind, though," she said, sipping a cup of punch philosophically. "He was kind of boring. I don't know about all this dance stuff."

Thea knew she meant it was different from Circle

dances, where everyone was in harmony and there was no pairing off. You danced with the elements and with everybody else, all one big interconnected whole.

Eric volunteered to get more punch.

"How's it going with him?" Dani asked in a low voice when he was gone. Her velvety dark eyes searched Thea's curiously.

"Everything's okay so far," Thea said evasively. Then she looked out toward the dance floor. "I see Viv and Selene are here."

"Yeah. I think Vivienne already got her blood. She stabbed Tyrone with her corsage pin."

"How clever," Thea said. Vivienne was wearing a black dress that made her hair look like flame, and Selene was in deep violet that showed off her blondness. They both seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Dani yawned. "I think I'll probably go home early-" she began, and then she broke off.

Some kind of a disturbance had begun on the other side of the room, in front of the main entrance. People were scuffling. At first, Thea thought it was just another minor fracas over Blaise-but then a figure came staggering out under the lights of the dance floor.

"I want to know," the voice said in dissonant tones that rose over the music. "I want to knoooow."

The band stopped. People turned. Something about the voice made them do that. It was so obviously abnormal, the cadence wrong even for somebody who was drunk. This was someone who was disturbed.

Thea stood up.

"I want to knoooow," the figure said again, sounding lost and petulant. Then it turned and Thea felt ice down her spine.

The person was wearing a Halloween mask.

A kid's plastic mask of a football player, the kind held on with an elastic string. Perfectly appropriate for a Halloween dance. But at Homecoming, it was grotesque.

Oh, Eileithyia, Thea thought.

"Can you tell me?" the figure asked a short girl in black ruffles. She backed away, reaching for her dance partner.

Mr. Adkins, Thea's physics teacher, came jogging up, his tie fluttering. None of the other chaperones seemed to be around-probably because they were out somewhere trying to control fights over Blaise, Thea thought.

"Okay, let's settle; settle," Mr. Adkins said, making motions as if the figure were an unruly class. "Let's just take it easy…."

The guy in the Halloween mask pulled something out of his jacket. It glinted like a rainbow under the colored dance floor lights, reflective as a mirror.

"A straight razor," Dani said in a hushed voice. "Queen Ms, where'd he get that?"

Something about the weapon-maybe the fact that it was so weird, so old-fashioned-made it scarier than a knife. Thea pictured the way even a safety razor could slice flesh.

Mr. Adkins was backing away, arms held out as if to protect the students behind him. His eyes were frightened.

I have to stop this, Thea thought. The problem was that she had no idea how. If it had been an animal, she could have stepped out and tried mind control. But she couldn't control a person.

She started walking anyway, slowly, so as not to attract attention. She skirted the edge of the crowd around the dance floor until she drew parallel with the masked guy.

Who by now had switched to a new question. "Have you seen her?" he said. He kept asking it as he walked, and people kept backing away. Vivienne and Selene drew to either side with their dates. The razor glittered.

Thea looked toward the opposite end of the dance floor, where Blaise was standing with Kevin Imamura.

With no Buck, no Duane to protect her. But Blaise didn't look frightened. That was one thing about Blaise-she had magnificent physical courage. She was standing with one hand on her hip and Thea could tell that she knew exactly who was coming her way.

In between moving couples, Thea glimpsed something else. Eric was on the other side of the dance floor, holding two cups of punch in one hand and one in the other. He was keeping pace with the masked guy, just as she was.

She tried to catch his eye, but the crowd was too thick.

"Have you seen her?" the masked guy asked a couple right in front of Blaise. "I want to knoooow…."

The couple split like bowling pins. Blaise stood exposed, tall and elegant in her black suit, lights shimmering off her midnight hair.

"Here I am, Randy," she said. "What is it you want to know?"

Randy Marik stopped, panting. His breath made a muffled noise against the plastic. The rest of the huge room was eerily silent.

Thea moved closer, walking silently. Eric was pulling in from the other side, and he saw her for the first time. He shook his head at her and mouthed, "Stay away."

Yeah. And you're going to tackle him armed with three party cups of punch. She gave him a look and mouthed, "You stay away."

Randy's hand was trembling, making the razor flash. His chest was heaving.

"What is it, Randy?" Blaise said. The toe of one high heeled shoe tapped the floor impatiently.

"I feel bad," Randy said. It was almost a moan. Suddenly his head didn't seem well connected to his neck. "I miss you."

His voice made Thea's flesh creep. He sounded like a person with the body of an eighteen-year-old and the mind of a four-year-old.

"I cry all the time," he said.

With his left hand, he pulled off the Halloween mask. Kevin recoiled. Thea herself felt a wave of horror.

He was crying blood. Bloody streams ran down from each of his eyes, mingling with regular tears.

A spell? Thea wondered. Then she thought, no; he's cut himself.

That was it. He'd made two crescent-shaped incisions under his eyes and the blood was coming from them.

The rest of his face was ghastly, too. He was white as a corpse and there was fuzzy stubble on his chin. His eyes stared wildly. And his hair, which had always been strawberry blond and silky, stood up all over his head like bleached hay.

"You came all the way from New Hampshire to tell me that?" Blaise said. She rolled her eyes.

Randy let out a sobbing breath.

This seemed to make Kevin braver. "Look, man, I don't know who you are-but you'd better keep away from her," he said. "Why don't you go home and sober up?"

It was a mistake. The wild eyes above the bloodstained cheeks focused on him.

"Who are you?" Randy said thickly, advancing a step. "Who… are… you?"

"Kevin, move!" Thea said urgently.

It was too late. The hand with the razor flashed out, lightning quick. Blood spurted from Kevin's face.