My captor's eyes were bright blue, angled over high, strong cheekbones and topped by a shock of platinum hair. She was wearing a thick, hand-knit turtleneck and a pair of tight- fitting jeans. No black robes or brooms, but she was- unmistakably-a witch.
With a contemptuous flick of her fingers, she stopped the sound of my scream before it broke free. Her arm swept to the left, carrying us more horizontal y than vertical y for the first time since she'd plucked me from the garden at Sept- Tours.
Matthew would wake up and find me gone. He would never forgive himself for fal ing asleep, or me for going outside. Idiot, I told myself.
"Yes you are, Diana Bishop," the witch said in a strangely accented voice.
I slammed shut the imaginary doors behind my eyes that had always kept out the casual, invasive efforts of witches and daemons.
She laughed, a silvery sound that chil ed me to the bone.
Frightened, and hundreds of feet above the Auvergne, I emptied my mind in hopes of leaving nothing for her to find once she breached my inadequate defenses. Then she dropped me.
As the ground flew up, my thoughts organized themselves around a single word-Matthew.
The witch caught me up in her grip at my first whiff of earth. "You're too light to carry for one who can't fly. Why won't you, I wonder?"
Silently I recited the kings and queens of England to keep my mind blank.
She sighed. "I'm not your enemy, Diana. We are both She sighed. "I'm not your enemy, Diana. We are both witches."
The winds changed as the witch flew south and west, away from Sept-Tours. I quickly grew disoriented. The blaze of light in the distance might be Lyon, but we weren't headed toward it. Instead we were moving deeper into the mountains-and they didn't look like the peaks Matthew had pointed out to me earlier.
We descended toward something that looked like a crater set apart from the surrounding countryside by yawning ravines and overgrown forests. It proved to be the ruin of a medieval castle, with high wal s and thick foundations that extended deep into the earth. Trees grew inside the husks of long-abandoned buildings huddled in the fortress's shadow. The castle didn't have a single graceful line or pleasing feature. There was only one reason for its existence-to keep out anyone who wished to enter. The poor dirt roads leading over the mountains were the castle's only link to the rest of the world. My heart sank.
The witch swung her feet down and pointed her toes, and when I didn't do the same, she forced mine down with another flick of her fingers. The tiny bones complained at the invisible stress. We slid along what remained of the gray tiled roofs without touching them, headed toward a smal central courtyard. My feet flattened out suddenly and slammed into the stone paving, the shock reverberating through my legs.
"In time you'l learn to land more softly," the witch said matter-of-factly.
It was impossible to process my change in circumstances. Just moments ago, it seemed, I had been lying, drowsy and content, in bed with Matthew. Now I was standing in a dank castle with a strange witch.
When two pale figures detached themselves from the shadows, my confusion turned to terror. One was Domenico Michele. The other was unknown to me, but the freezing touch of his eyes told me he was a vampire, too. A wave of incense and brimstone identified him: this was Gerbert of Auril ac, the vampire-pope.
Gerbert wasn't physical y intimidating, but there was evil at the core of him that made me shrink instinctively. Traces of that darkness were in brown eyes that looked out from deep sockets set over cheekbones so prominent that the skin appeared to be stretched thin over them. His nose hooked slightly, pointing down to thin lips that were curled into a cruel smile. With this vampire's dark eyes pinned on me, the threat posed by Peter Knox paled in comparison.
"Thank you for this place, Gerbert," the witch said smoothly, keeping me close by her side. "You're right-I won't be disturbed here."
"It was my pleasure, Satu. May I examine your witch?"
Gerbert asked softly, walking slowly to the left and right as if searching for the best vantage point from which to view a prize. "It is difficult, when she has been with de Clermont, to tel where her scents begin and his end."
My captor glowered at the reference to Matthew. "Diana Bishop is in my care now. There is no need for your presence here any longer."
Gerbert's attention remained fixed on me as he took smal , measured steps toward me. His exaggerated slowness only heightened his menace. "It is a strange book, is it not, Diana? A thousand years ago, I took it from a great wizard in Toledo. When I brought it to France, it was already bound by layers of enchantment."
"Despite your knowledge of magic, you could not discover its secrets." The scorn in the witch's voice was unmistakable. "The manuscript is no less bewitched now than it was then. Leave this to us."
He continued to advance. "I knew a witch then whose name was similar to yours-Meridiana. She didn't want to help me unlock the manuscript's secrets, of course. But my blood kept her in thral ." He was close enough now that the cold emanating from his body chil ed me. "Each time I drank from her, smal insights into her magic and fragments of her knowledge passed to me. They were frustratingly fleeting, though. I had to keep going back for more. She became weak, and easy to control." Gerbert's finger touched my face. "Meridiana's eyes were rather like yours, too. What did you see, Diana? Wil you share it with me?"
"Enough, Gerbert." Satu's voice crackled with warning, and Domenico snarled.
"Do not think this is the last time you wil see me, Diana.
First the witches wil bring you to heel. Then the Congregation wil decide what to do with you." Gerbert's eyes bored into mine, and his finger moved down my cheek in a caress. "After that, you wil be mine. For now," he said with a smal bow in Satu's direction, "she is yours."
The vampires withdrew. Domenico looked back, reluctant to leave. Satu waited, her gaze vacant, until the sound of metal meeting up with wood and stone signaled that they were gone from the castle. Her blue eyes snapped to attention, and she fixed them on me. With a smal gesture, she released her spel that had kept me silent.
"Who are you?" I croaked when it was possible to form words again.
"My name is Satu Jarvinen," she said, walking around me in a slow circle, trailing a hand behind her. It triggered a deep memory of another hand that had moved like hers.
Once Sarah had walked a similar path in the backyard in Madison when she'd tried to bind a lost dog, but the hands in my mind did not belong to her.
Sarah's talents were nothing compared to those possessed by this witch. It had been evident she was powerful from the way she flew. But she was adept at spel s, too. Even now she was restraining me inside gossamer filaments of magic that stretched across the courtyard without her uttering a single word. Any hope of easy escape vanished.
"Why did you kidnap me?" I asked, trying to distract her from her work.
"We tried to make you see how dangerous Clairmont was. As witches, we didn't want to go to these lengths, but you refused to listen." Satu's words were cordial, her voice warm. "You wouldn't join us for Mabon, you ignored Peter Knox. Every day that vampire drew closer. But you're safely beyond his reach now."
Every instinct screamed danger.
"It's not your fault," Satu continued, touching me lightly on the shoulder. My skin tingled, and the witch smiled.
"Vampires are so seductive, so charming. You've been caught in his thral , just as Meridiana was caught by Gerbert. We don't blame you for this, Diana. You led such a sheltered childhood. It wasn't possible for you to see him for what he is."
"I'm not in Matthew's thral ," I insisted. Beyond the dictionary definition, I had no idea what it might involve, but Satu made it sound coercive.
"Are you quite sure?" she asked gently. "You've never tasted a drop of his blood?"
"Of course not!" My childhood might have been devoid of extensive magical training, but I wasn't a complete idiot.
Vampire blood was a powerful, life-altering substance.
"No memories of a taste of concentrated salt? No unusual fatigue? You've never fal en deeply asleep when he was in your presence, even though you didn't want to close your eyes?"
On the plane to France, Matthew had touched his fingers to his own lips, then to mine. I'd tasted salt then. The next thing I knew, I was in France. My certainty wavered.
"I see. So he has given you his blood." Satu shook her head. "That's not good, Diana. We thought it might be the case, after he fol owed you back to col ege on Mabon and climbed through your window."
"What are you talking about?" My blood froze in my veins.
Matthew would never give me his blood. Nor would he violate my territory. If he had done these things, there would have been a reason, and he would have shared it with me.
"The night you met, Clairmont hunted you down to your rooms. He crept through an open window and was there for hours. Didn't you wake up? If not, he must have used his blood to keep you asleep. How else can we explain it?"
My mouth had been ful of the taste of cloves. I closed my eyes against the recol ection, and the pain that accompanied it.
"This relationship has been nothing more than an elaborate deception, Diana. Matthew Clairmont has wanted only one thing: the lost manuscript. Everything the vampire has done and every lie he's told along the way have been a means to that end."
"No." It was impossible. He couldn't have been lying to me last night. Not when we lay in each other's arms.
"Yes. I'm sorry to have to tel you these things, but you left us no other choice. We tried to keep you apart, but you are so stubborn."
Just like my father, I thought. My eyes narrowed. "How do I know that you're not lying?"
"One witch can't lie to another witch. We're sisters, after al ."
"Sisters?" I demanded, my suspicions sharpening.
"You're just like Gil ian-pretending sisterhood while gathering information and trying to poison my mind against Matthew."
"So you know about Gil ian," Satu said regretful y.
"I know she's been watching me."
"Do you know she's dead?" Satu's voice was suddenly vicious.
"What?" The floor seemed to tilt, and I felt myself sliding down the sudden incline.
"Clairmont kil ed her. It's why he took you away from Oxford so quickly. It's yet another innocent death we haven't been able to keep out of the press. What did the headlines say . . . ? Oh, yes: 'Young American Scholar Dies Abroad While Doing Research.'" Satu's mouth curved into a malicious smile.
"No." I shook my head. "Matthew wouldn't kil her."
"I assure you he did. No doubt he questioned her first.
Apparently vampires have never learned that kil ing the messenger is pointless."
"The picture of my parents." Matthew might have kil ed whoever sent me that photo.
"It was heavy-handed for Peter to send it to you and careless of him to let Gil ian deliver it," Satu continued.
"Clairmont's too smart to leave evidence, though. He made it look like a suicide and left her body propped up like a cal ing card against Peter's door at the Randolph Hotel."
Gil ian Chamberlain hadn't been a friend, but the knowledge that she would never again crouch over her glass-encased papyrus fragments was more distressing than I would have expected.
And it was Matthew who had kil ed her. My mind whirled.
How could Matthew say he loved me and yet keep such things from me? Secrets were one thing, but murder-even under the guise of revenge and retaliation- was something else. He kept warning me he couldn't be trusted.
I'd paid no attention to him, brushing his words aside. Had that been part of his plan, too, another strategy to lure me into trusting him?
"You must let me help you." Satu's voice was gentle once more. "This has gone too far, and you are in terrible danger.
I can teach you to use your power. Then you'l be able to protect yourself from Clairmont and other vampires, like Gerbert and Domenico. You wil be a great witch one day, just like your mother. You can trust me, Diana. We're family."
"Family," I repeated numbly.
"Your mother and father wouldn't have wanted you to fal into a vampire's snares," Satu explained, as if I were a child. "They knew how important it was to preserve the bonds between witches."
"What did you say?" There was no whirling now. Instead my mind seemed unusual y sharp and my skin was tingling al over, as if a thousand witches were staring at me. There was something I was forgetting, something about my parents that made everything Satu said a lie.
A strange sound slithered into my ears. It was a hissing and creaking, like ropes being pul ed over stone. Looking down, I saw thick brown roots stretching and twisting across the floor. They crawled in my direction.
Satu seemed unaware of their approach. "Your parents would have wanted you to live up to your responsibilities as a Bishop and as a witch."
"My parents?" I drew my attention from the floor, trying to focus on Satu's words.
"You owe your loyalty and al egiance to me and your fel ow witches, not to Matthew Clairmont. Think of your mother and father. Think of what this relationship would do to them, if only they knew."
A cold finger of foreboding traced my spine, and al my instincts told me that this witch was dangerous. The roots had reached my feet by then. As if they could sense my distress the roots abruptly changed direction, digging into the paving stones on either side of where I stood, before weaving themselves into a sturdy, invisible web beneath the castle floors.
"Gil ian told me that witches kil ed my parents," I said.
"Can you deny it? Tel me the truth about what happened in Nigeria."
Satu remained silent. It was as good as a confession.
"Just as I thought," I said bitterly.
A tiny motion of her wrist threw me onto my back, feet in the air, before invisible hands dragged me across the slick surface of the freezing courtyard and into a cavernous space with tal windows and only a portion of roof remaining.
My back was battered from its trip across the stones of the castle's old hal . Worse yet, my struggles against Satu's magic were inexperienced and futile. Ysabeau was right.
My weakness-my ignorance of who I was and how to defend myself-had landed me in serious trouble.
"Once again you refuse to listen to reason. I don't want to hurt you, Diana, but I wil if it's the only way to make you see the seriousness of this situation. You must give up Matthew Clairmont and show us what you did to cal the manuscript."
"I wil never give up my husband, nor wil I help any of you claim Ashmole 782. It doesn't belong to us."
This remark earned me the sensation of my head splitting in two as a bloodcurdling shriek tore through the air. A cacophony of horrifying sounds fol owed. They were so painful I sank to my knees, and covered my head with my arms.