The house was unnatural y quiet.
For Sarah it wasn't just the absence of chatter or the removal of seven active minds that made it seem so empty.
It was not knowing.
They'd come home earlier than usual from the coven's gathering, claiming they needed to pack for Faye and Janet's road trip. Em had found the empty briefcase sitting by the family-room couch, and Sarah had discovered the clothes bundled up on top of the washing machine.
"They're gone," Em had said.
Sarah went straight into her arms, her shoulders shaking.
"Are they al right?" she'd whispered.
"They're together," Em had replied. It wasn't the answer Sarah wanted, but it was honest, just like Em.
They'd thrown their own clothes into duffel bags, paying little attention to what they were doing. Now Tabitha and Em were already in the RV, and Faye and Janet were waiting patiently for Sarah to close up the house.
Sarah and the vampire had talked for hours in the stil room on their last night in the house, sharing a bottle of red wine. Matthew had told her something of his past and shared his fears for the future. Sarah had listened, making an effort not to show her own shock and surprise at some of the tales he told. Though she was pagan, Sarah understood he wanted to make confession and had cast her in the role of priest. She had given him the absolution she could, knowing al the while that some deeds could never be forgiven or forgotten.
But there was one secret he'd refused to share, and Sarah stil knew nothing of where and when her niece had gone.
The floorboards of the Bishop house creaked a chorus of groans and wheezes as Sarah walked through the familiar, darkened rooms. She closed the keeping-room doors and turned to bid farewel to the only home she'd ever known.
The keeping-room doors opened with a sharp bang. One of the floorboards near the fireplace sprang up, revealing a smal , black-bound book and a creamy envelope. It was the brightest thing in the room, and it gleamed in the moonlight.
Sarah muffled a cry and held out her hand. The cream square flew easily into it, landed with a slight smack, and flipped over. A single word was written on it.
She touched the letters lightly and saw Matthew's long white fingers. She tore at the paper, her heart beating fast.
"Sarah," it said. "Don't worry. We made it."
Her heart rate calmed.
Sarah put the single sheet of paper on her mother's rocking chair and gestured for the book. Once the house delivered it, the floorboard returned to its normal resting place with a groan of old wood and the shriek of old nails.
She flipped to the first page. The Shadow of Night, Containing Two Poeticall Hymnes devised by G. C. gent.
1594. The book smel ed old but not unpleasant, like incense in a dusty cathedral.
Just like Matthew, Sarah thought with a smile.
A slip of paper stuck out of the top. It led her to the dedication page. "To my deare and most worthy friend Matthew Roydon." Sarah peered more closely and saw a tiny, faded drawing of a hand with a ruffled cuff pointing imperiously to the name, with the number "29" written underneath in ancient brown ink.
She turned obediently to page twenty-nine, struggling through tears as she read the underlined passage: She hunters makes: and of that substance hounds Whose mouths deafe heaven, and furrow earth with wounds, And marvaile not a Nimphe so rich in grace To hounds rude pursuits should be given in chase.
For she could turne her selfe to everie shape Of swiftest beasts, and at her pleasure scape.
The words conjured up the image of Diana-clear, bright, unbidden-her face framed with gauzy wings and her throat thickly encircled with silver and diamonds. A single tear-shaped ruby quivered on her skin like a drop of blood, nestled into the notch between her col arbones.
In the stil room, as the sun was rising, he had promised to find some way to let her know Diana was safe.
"Thank you, Matthew." Sarah kissed the book and the note and threw them into the cavernous fireplace. She said the words to conjure a white-hot fire. The paper caught quickly, and the book's edges began to curl.
Sarah watched the fire burn for a few moments. Then she walked out the front door, leaving it unlocked, and didn't look back.
Once the door closed, a worn silver coffin shot down the chimney and landed on the burning paper. Two gobbets of blood and mercury, released from the hol ow chambers inside the ampul a by the heat of the fire, chased each other around the surface of the book before fal ing into the grate.
There they seeped into the soft old mortar of the fireplace and traveled into the heart of the house. When they reached it, the house sighed with relief and released a forgotten, forbidden scent.
Sarah drank in the cool night air as she climbed into the RV. Her senses were not sharp enough to catch the cinnamon and blackthorn, honeysuckle and chamomile dancing in the air.
"Okay?" Em asked, her voice serene.
Sarah leaned across the cat carrier that held Tabitha and squeezed Em's knee. "Just fine."
Faye turned the key in the ignition and pul ed down the driveway and onto the county road that would take them to the interstate, chattering about where they could stop for breakfast.
The four witches were too far away to perceive the shift in atmosphere around the house as hundreds of night creatures detected the unusual aroma of commingled vampire and witch, or to see the pale green smudges of the two ghosts in the keeping-room window.
Bridget Bishop and Diana's grandmother watched the vehicle's departure.
What will we do now? Diana's grandmother asked.
What we've always done, Joanna, Bridget replied.
Remember the past-and await the future.