Satu's eyes narrowed to slits, and I found myself on my backside on the cold stone. "Us? You dare to think of yourself as a witch when you've come straight from the bed of a vampire?"
" I am a witch," I replied sharply, surprised at how much her dismissal stung.
"You're a disgrace, just like Stephen," Satu hissed.
"Stubborn, argumentative, independent. And so ful of secrets."
"That's right, Satu, I'm just like my father. He wouldn't have told you anything. I'm not going to either."
"Yes you wil . The only way vampires can discover a witch's secrets is drop by drop." To show what she meant, Satu flicked her fingers in the direction of my right forearm.
Another witch's hand had flicked at a long-ago cut on my knee, but that gesture had closed my wound better than any Band-Aid. This one sliced an invisible knife through my skin. Blood began to trickle from the gash. Satu watched the flow of blood, mesmerized.
My hand covered the cut, putting pressure on the wound.
It was surprisingly painful, and my anxiety began to climb.
No, said a familiar, fierce voice. You must not give in to the pain. I struggled to bring myself under control.
"As a witch, I have other ways to uncover what you're hiding. I'm going to open you up, Diana, and locate every secret you possess," Satu promised. "We'l see how stubborn you are then."
Al the blood left my head, making me dizzy. The familiar voice caught my attention, whispering my name. Who do we keep our secrets from, Diana?
Everybody, I answered, silently and automatical y, as if the question were routine. Another set of far sturdier doors banged shut behind the inadequate barriers that had been al I'd ever needed to keep a curious witch out of my head.
Satu smiled, her eyes sparkling as she detected my new defenses. "There's one secret uncovered already. Let's see what else you have, besides the ability to protect your mind."
The witch muttered, and my body spun around and then flattened against the floor, facedown. The impact knocked the wind out of me. A circle of fire licked up from the cold stones, the flames green and noxious.
Something white-hot seared my back. It curved from shoulder to shoulder like a shooting star, descended to the smal of my back, then curved again before climbing once again to where it had started. Satu's magic held me fast, making it impossible to wriggle away. The pain was unspeakable, but before the welcoming blackness could take me, she held off. When the darkness receded, the pain began again.
It was then that I realized with a sickening lurch of my stomach that she was opening me up, just as she'd promised. She was drawing a magical circle-onto me.
You must be very, very brave.
Through the haze of pain I fol owed the snaking tree roots covering the floor of the hal in the direction of the familiar voice. My mother was sitting under an apple tree just outside the line of green fire.
"Mama!" I cried weakly, reaching out for her. But Satu's magic held.
My mother's eyes-darker than I remembered, but so like my own in shape-were tenacious. She put one ghostly finger to her lips in a gesture of silence. The last of my energy was expended in a nod that acknowledged her presence. My last coherent thought was of Matthew.
After that, there was nothing but pain and fear, along with a dul desire to close my eyes and go to sleep forever.
It must have been many hours before Satu tossed me across the room in frustration. My back burned from her spel , and she'd reopened my injured forearm again and again. At some point she suspended me upside down by my ankle to weaken my resistance and taunted me about my inability to fly away and escape. Despite these efforts, Satu was no closer to understanding my magic than when she started.
She roared with anger, the low heels of her boots clicking against the stones as she paced and plotted fresh assaults.
I lifted myself onto my elbow to better anticipate her next move.
Hold on. Be brave. My mother was stil under the apple tree, her face shining with tears. It brought back echoes of Ysabeau tel ing Marthe that I had more courage than she had thought, and Matthew whispering "My brave girl" into my ear. I mustered the energy to smile, not wanting my mother to cry. My smile only made Satu more furious.
"Why won't you use your power to protect yourself? I know it's inside you!" she bel owed. Satu drew her arms together over her chest, then thrust them out with a string of words. My body rol ed into a bal around a jagged pain in my abdomen. The sensation reminded me of my father's eviscerated body, the guts pul ed out and lying next to him.
That's what's next. I was oddly relieved to know.
Satu's next words flung me across the floor of the ruined hal . My hands reached futilely past my head to try to stop the momentum as I skidded across the uneven stones and bumpy tree roots. My fingers flexed once as if they might reach across the Auvergne and connect to Matthew.
My mother's body had looked like this, resting inside a magic circle in Nigeria. I exhaled sharply and cried out.
Diana, you must listen to me. You will feel all alone. My mother was talking to me, and with the sound I became a child again, sitting on a swing hanging from the apple tree in the back yard of our house in Cambridge on a long-ago August afternoon. There was the smel of cut grass, fresh and green, and my mother's scent of lilies of the val ey. Can you be brave while you're alone? Can you do that for me?
There were no soft August breezes against my skin now.
Instead rough stone scraped my cheek when I nodded in reply.
Satu flipped me over, and the pointy stones cut into my back.
"We don't want to do this, sister," she said with regret.
"But we must. You wil understand, once Clairmont is forgotten, and forgive me for this."
Not bloody likely, I thought. If he doesn't kill you, I' ll haunt you for the rest of your life once I'm gone.
With a few whispered words Satu lifted me from the floor and propel ed me with careful y directed gusts of wind out of the hal and down a flight of curving stairs that wound into the depths of the castle. She moved me through the castle's ancient dungeons. Something rustled behind me, and I craned my neck to see what it was.
Ghosts-dozens of ghosts-were filing behind us in a spectral funeral procession, their faces sad and afraid. For al Satu's powers, she seemed unable to see the dead everywhere around us, just as she had been unable to see my mother.
The witch was attempting to raise a heavy wooden slab in the floor with her hands. I closed my eyes and braced myself for a fal . Instead Satu grabbed my hair and aimed my face into a dark hole. The smel of death rose in a noxious wave, and the ghosts shifted and moaned.
"Do you know what this is, Diana?"
I shrank back and shook my head, too frightened and exhausted to speak.
"It's an oubliette." The word rustled from ghost to ghost. A wispy woman, her face creased with age, began to weep.
"Oubliettes are places of forgetting. Humans who are dropped into oubliettes go mad and then starve to death- if they survive the impact. It's a very long way down. They can't get out without help from above, and help never comes."
The ghost of a young man with a deep gash across his chest nodded in agreement with Satu's words. Don't fall, girl, he said in a sorrowful voice.
"But we won't forget you. I'm going for reinforcements.
You might be stubborn in the face of one of the Congregation's witches, but not al three. We found that out with your father and mother, too." She tightened her grip, and we sailed more than sixty feet down to the bottom of the oubliette. The rock wal s changed color and consistency as we tunneled deeper into the mountain.
"Please," I begged when Satu dropped me on the floor.
"Don't leave me down here. I don't have any secrets. I don't know how to use my magic or how to recal the manuscript."
"You're Rebecca Bishop's daughter," Satu said. "You have power-I can feel it-and we'l make sure that it breaks free. If your mother were here, she would simply fly out." Satu looked into the blackness above us, then to my ankle. "But you're not real y your mother's daughter, are you? Not in any way that matters."
Satu bent her knees, lifted her arms, and pushed gently against the oubliette's stone floor. She soared up and became a blur of white and blue before disappearing. Far above me the wooden door closed.
Matthew would never find me down here. By now any trail would be long gone, our scents scattered to the four winds.
The only way to get out, short of being retrieved by Satu, Peter Knox, and some unknown third witch, was to get myself out.
Standing with my weight on one foot, I bent my knees, lifted my arms, and pushed against the floor as Satu had.
Nothing happened. Closing my eyes, I tried to focus on the way it had felt to dance in the salon, hoping it would make me float again. Al it did was make me think of Matthew, and the secrets he had kept from me. My breath turned into a sob, and when the oubliette's dank air passed into my lungs, the resulting cough brought me to my knees.
I slept a bit, but it was hard to ignore the ghosts once they started chattering. At least they provided some light in the gloom. Every time they moved, a tiny bit of phosphorescence smudged the air, linking where they had just been to where they were going. A young woman in filthy rags sat opposite me, humming quietly to herself and staring in my direction with vacant eyes. In the center of the room, a monk, a knight in ful armor, and a musketeer peered into an even deeper hole that emitted a feeling of such loss that I couldn't bear to go near it. The monk muttered the mass for the dead, and the musketeer kept reaching into the pit as if looking for something he had lost.
My mind slid toward oblivion, losing its struggle against the combination of fear, pain, and cold. Frowning with concentration, I remembered the last passages I'd read in the Aurora Consurgens and repeated them aloud in the hope it would help me remain sane.
"'It is I who mediates the elements, bringing each into agreement,'" I mumbled through stiff lips. "'I make what is moist dry again, and what is dry I make moist. I make what is hard soft again, and soften that which is hard. As I am the end, so my lover is the beginning. I encompass the whole work of creation, and all knowledge is hidden in me.'" Something shimmered against the wal nearby. Here was another ghost, come to say hel o, but I closed my eyes, too tired to care, and returned to my recitation.
"'Who will dare to separate me from my love? No one, for our love is as strong as death. '"
My mother interrupted me. Won't you try to sleep, little witch?
Behind my closed eyes, I saw my attic bedroom in Madison. It was only a few days before my parents' final trip to Africa, and I'd been brought to stay with Sarah while they were gone.
"I'm not sleepy," I replied. My voice was stubborn and childlike. I opened my eyes. The ghosts were drawing closer to the shimmer in the shadows to my right.
My mother was sitting there, propped against the oubliette's damp stone wal s, holding her arms open. I inched toward her, holding my breath for fear she would disappear. She smiled in welcome, her dark eyes shining with unshed tears. My mother's ghostly arms and fingers flicked this way and that as I snuggled closer to her familiar body.
Shall I tell you a story?
"It was your hands I saw when Satu worked her magic."
Her answering laugh was gentle and made the cold stones beneath me less painful. You were very brave.
"I'm so tired." I sighed.
It's time for your story, then. Once upon a time, she began, there was a little witch named Diana. When she was very small, her fairy godmother wrapped her in invisible ribbons that were every color of the rainbow.
I remembered this tale from my childhood, when my pajamas had been purple and pink with stars on them and my hair was braided into two long pigtails that snaked down my back. Waves of memories flooded into rooms of my mind that had sat empty and unused since my parents' death.
"Why did the fairy godmother wrap her up?" I asked in my child's voice.
Because Diana loved making magic, and she was very good at it, too. But her fairy godmother knew that other witches would be jealous of her power. "When you are ready," the fairy godmother told her, "you will shrug off these ribbons. Until then you won't be able to fly, or make magic."
"That's not fair," I protested, as seven-year-olds are fond of doing. "Punish the other witches, not me."
The world isn't fair, is it? my mother asked.
I shook my head glumly.
No matter how hard Diana tried, she couldn't shake her ribbons off. In time she forgot all about them. And she forgot her magic, too.
"I would never forget my magic," I insisted.
My mother frowned. But you have, she said in her soft whisper. Her story continued. One day, long after, Diana met a handsome prince who lived in the shadows between sunset and moonrise.
This had been my favorite part. Memories of other nights flooded forth. Sometimes I had asked for his name, other times I'd proclaimed my lack of interest in a stupid prince.
Mostly I wondered why anyone would want to be with a useless witch.
The prince loved Diana, despite the fact that she couldn't seem to fly. He could see the ribbons binding her, though nobody else could. He wondered what they were for and what would happen if the witch took them off. But the prince didn't think it was polite to mention them, in case she felt self-conscious. I nodded my seven-year-old head, impressed with the prince's empathy, and my much older head moved against the stone wal s, too. But he did wonder why a witch wouldn't want to fly, if she could.
Then, my mother said, smoothing my hair, three witches came to town. They could see the ribbons, too, and suspected that Diana was more powerful than they were.
So they spirited her away to a dark castle. But the ribbons wouldn't budge, even though the witches pulled and tugged. So the witches locked her in a room, hoping she'd be so afraid she' d take the ribbons off herself.
"Was Diana al alone?"
All alone, my mother said.
"I don't think I like this story." I pul ed up my childhood bedspread, a patchwork quilt in bright colors that Sarah had bought at a Syracuse department store in anticipation of my visit, and slid down to the floor of the oubliette. My mother tucked me against the stones.
"Mama?" Yes, Diana?
"I did what you told me to do. I kept my secrets-from everybody."
I know it was difficult.
"Do you have any secrets?" In my mind I was running like a deer through a field, my mother chasing me.
Of course, she said, reaching out and flicking her fingers so that I soared through the air and landed in her arms.
"Wil you tel me one of them?"
Yes. Her mouth was so close to my ear that it tickled.
You. You are my greatest secret.
"But I'm right here!" I squealed, squirming free and running in the direction of the apple tree. "How can I be a secret if I'm right here?"
My mother put her fingers to her lips and smiled.