The three witches the voodoo priest kidnapped join together to mark where they’re being kept with strong magic, but the priest feels the change in energy and realizes what they’re doing. They can’t send a message in a bottle, so they imbed a tattoo that holds a dream on Lir’s arm. The priest attaches a curse to it, though, and Lir barely makes it back to Muddy River in one piece.
The trip was mostly a bust. We followed Oren to the houses crowded together on both sides of the road, parked, and walked through each of them. A wind blew, making us hunch our shoulders and pull our heavy coats tighter. Inside each house, furniture was overturned, a Christmas tree was knocked over, its ornaments rolling to every corner of a room. People had fought the undead, but they’d obviously lost. Deep grooves plowed through the clean snow, and we followed the path farther down the road until tire tracks marked where several large vehicles had parked. Then the trail disappeared.
We’d all been hoping for a shred of luck, some small clue to point us toward where the priest was, but Hecate didn’t surprise us with any small blessings. We returned to town, frustrated and tired. On the way, my cellphone buzzed. At my hello, Aengus rushed to say, “I’m coming to Muddy River. I’m bringing Lir. He came home with a tattoo and dreams. And something else.”
“What something else?” I asked.
“I’d guess a curse. He’s in bad shape.”
“We’ll be at Derek’s bar in twenty minutes.” I turned to Raven. “Hurry.”
“I’ll meet you there.” Aengus disconnected.
I didn’t think we could go faster than we were, but I was wrong. Raven’s foot pushed harder on the accelerator and my SUV’s tires flung snow and mud behind us. I thought I was the only one white knuckling my door handle, but even Cein was clinging to his. When we entered the bar, Aengus and Afric were already there, holding Lir up between them. The bar was full. Word must have spread that something had happened. Birch was sitting at a table, alone, looking worried. Afric’s purse was next to her, and she was staring at Lir, who could hardly stand.
As soon as we took our usual stools, the men started rolling up their sleeves, Cein joining them. Birch reached to roll up Lir’s while the Druids kept him as steady as possible. The second Lir’s arm was bare, the tattoos reached for each other.
The girl felt another stirring of magic. A new supernatural must be close by. She stood at the edge of her cage and looked toward the two other witches caged near her. They rose their palms in unison and chanted a spell to mark where they were being held. They were all so weak, only a powerful witch would feel their magic and be drawn to it if she got close enough.
They could feel the tattoo embedding itself into some unknown’s skin, their dream entering his mind, but then they faltered. A dark magic was joining with theirs. The priest must have sensed the stirring of their energy and was sending a curse to the person they’d chosen. They dropped their hands, fear gripping them. Would the person survive? Had they accidentally doomed him?’
A horrible laugh filled the basement and dark magic swirled around them. They cringed to press themselves into corners, but the priest’s magic found them. The girl tried to cling to consciousness, but couldn’t.
The dream ended. Lir’s entire body started shaking, his head drooped.
“Can you help him?” Aengus asked.
I laid a hand on his forehead and forced healing magic into him. The shaking stopped, but his fever still raged. I pressed my lips together. “Did he wear the pouches I gave him?”
Aengus shook his head. “He gave them to a man three towns over who constantly travels for a living. He thought he needed it more.”
A sigh of frustration left my lips. “He should have asked me for another one. The pouches would have repelled the priest’s voodoo. But I can make an antidote. It won’t be an instant fix. He’ll have to rest, and someone will need to give him the potion four times a day. He should stay in Muddy River. He’s not strong enough to travel.”
Afric looked at Aengus. “I can stay here to tend to him. You need to lead our solstice services. Only the high priest can climb our sacred oak and cut its mistletoe to make the elixir that cures infertility and poisons.”
“We always do that together,” Aengus said.
“Lir needs us now.” She propped him against her side so that she could raise her hand and feel his forehead. “He’s burning up.”
Birch pinched her lips together. “He can stay with me, and I’ll care for him. My parents left Muddy River this morning. The house feels empty. I need something to distract me.”
“Who’ll watch your shop?” I asked.
“My assistant. She needs the extra money. And the shop feels weird to me without Mom and Dad. I’ll adjust, but it’s put a damper on Yule. Doing something else right now would be good for me.”
I turned to Aengus and Afric. “Lir won’t get better care than Birch will give him. She’ll make sure he has whatever he needs. And he deserves our help. He went out of his way to ask about the voodoo priest as a favor to us.”
“Will you call us and let us know how he’s doing?” Aengus asked. “I’m the one who sent him to ask about the witch. It’s my fault he’s sick.”
I shook my head. “It’s the priest’s fault, Aengus. We’ll heal him, and when we find the witches, we’re driving to free them and finish the priest.”
“When you fight him, I’m going with you,” Boaz said.
I glanced at Melodia and she nodded. “My husband’s powerful. He can help. Besides, I’m guessing Cein will go, too, and if anything happens to him, Lust will never forgive us.”
Cein blinked. “Will people quit saying that? She’s a kid.”
Boaz’s lips twitched, his opinion obviously similar to mine. “Keep telling yourself that, but my daughter has a mind of her own. She’s chosen you. Someday, we’ll be happy to welcome you to our family.”
Cein grimaced, dismissing his words. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, since the witches marked where they’re being kept, can we find them? Will we smell their magic if we get close enough?”
Raven nodded. “Our odds are better. Tomorrow, I’m taking Hester’s SUV, and I’m driving to the Ohio River. I’ll drive up and down it and as many backroads as I can, looking for them.”
“I’m going, too,” Cein said.
I started to say I would, too, but Raven shook his head. “I’m staying down there as long as it takes to find them. You have another week of school to teach. I won’t go after them without you or Boaz. When we find the priest’s settlement, I’ll call you, and we’ll wait for both of you to join us. We’ll need your magic.”
Brown glanced at Meda, and at her nod, said, “Count me in now. My sense of scent is better than most.”
“Where he goes, I go,” Meda told him. “Witches can’t scent like shifters, but I can defend your backs while you’re looking.”
“I want to go, too.” We all turned to see Flint standing near the back door. “Raven called me about the Druid’s new tattoo. Thank you. If we can find Laurel, I’m in.”
I frowned at Raven. “I’m glad you called him, but Flint’s too young. He hasn’t battled. . . “
“He has to learn some time,” my demon said, interrupting me. “And if you were out there, nothing would keep me from looking for you.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. He was right. I’d tear the state apart if I had to, to find Raven. Flint had a right to join them.
With a nod, Raven stood. “Birch, you can follow us home, and Hester will get the antidote for Lir. Then I’ll follow you back here and help you get Lir to your house. Anyone coming with me tomorrow can meet me at my office at nine. We’ll leave then.”
I wasn’t happy on the drive home. I didn’t like sending Raven off without me. Even Claws was grouchy. But Raven had made up his mind how he wanted this done, and for once, I decided not to argue with him.