“How long before Maisie has all the supplies she needs?” I asked as I went through Aunt Helen’s kitchen cabinets, packing whatever food I could find into our duffel bags.
“Not for another day. The safest place for all of you to be is still within these walls,” Helen assured.
“How did they know we were here?” Josh asked as he peered through the curtains of the window in the kitchen.
“It’s me…” Penelope whispered.
We all turned to face her.
“That’s ridiculous, Penelope,” Gabriel insisted. “Your bond with Blaise isn’t that strong…is it?”
Penelope hung her head as Ebony approached her, placing her arm around her. “It’s okay, Babe. Just tell us. I won’t be upset.”
She sighed heavily. “When Blaise and I were betrothed at initiation, we thought it would be a good idea to link ourselves together so that we could find each other when we were nearby. We were young and naïve. It was a time when we believed we actually fancied each other when really we were trying to please our parents. I didn’t know the link was still active, and honestly, I had forgotten all about it until I saw his familiar.”
“How do we get rid of the link?” Ashlin asked. “Is there a way to like turn it off or something?”
“It’s a psychic bond,” Penelope explained. “The only way to destroy the link is through a cord-cutting ceremony.”
“Great, then we’ll cut a few cords and get the hell out of here,” Josh remarked.
“It’s not that simple,” Gabriel sighed. “Blaise has to be involved with the ceremony.”
“Is that all really necessary if he can only feel you when you’re nearby?” I inquired. “Do we have time for all of this?”
“It needs to be broken. If you don’t, the Bishop Coven could follow you,” Callan said. “We can’t take that chance, especially since it also puts my brothers at risk for exposure.”
“Callan’s right,” Ebony agreed. “It’s not only about Penelope and Blaise but all of us and who else it could harm.”
Crossing my arms over my chest, I exhaled sharply. While I understood Penelope had simply forgotten a five year old promise she had made to a person she barely knew, it still frustrated me that it threw a wrench in our plans. I wanted to get on the damn boat and leave everything behind, but I knew it was a selfish feeling. Penelope was a dear friend, and she needed my help. It was wrong of me to expect her aid when I was acting like her needs didn’t matter.
“I’m in,” I announced. “Where do we need to go?”
“Kas, you don’t have to do this for me. It was my mistake. I won’t let you get hurt because of me,” Penelope replied.
“All for one and one for all. I’m not letting you do this alone,” I said.
“Neither will I.”
Aunt Helen glanced about our circle as everyone chimed in, taking up the mantle to help our friend rid herself of the Bishop Coven once and for all.
“I’m pretty sure if Blaise does this, our betrothal is officially off,” Penelope joked.
“I’m completely okay with that,” Ebony replied as she leaned in to kiss Penelope’s lips. It was a sweet gesture that warmed my heart. Gabriel pulled me close to his side to plant a kiss of his own on my cheek.
“So, you’re the witch,” I announced. “What’s our next move?”
“We’re going to have to go to his home in town. He’ll be expecting me since I’m sure his familiar has already informed him that I’m here. I would rather take the news to him than him coming to your Aunt’s home,” she said.
“What are you going to do when you get there?” Ashlin asked.
“I’m thinking an ambush,” Callan interrupted. “He won’t be expecting me at all. We’ll need to stake his place to get him alone.”
“That’ll be impossible,” Penelope said. “His parents may be out, but his sister will be there. She’s always there.”
“I might be able to help with that,” Gabriel answered. “I can distract her in the town square. She’ll come if it’s me.”
I looked at him. “You can get in touch with her?”
“We’re not bound if that’s what you’re wondering, but for now, they only know that Penelope and I are in town. I can lure her away,” he stated.
“Why can’t you lure Blaise out too, Penelope?” Ashlin wondered.
“Because I can’t do a cord-cutting ceremony in front of the town. It has to be done a certain way, and let’s just say, the people around here would definitely know something weird is going on,” she explained.
“What way?” Ebony asked.
“Yeah, what way?” Ashlin wanted to know.
“It’s…a witch thing,” Gabriel jumped in. “Besides, it doesn’t really matter how. Kas and Callan will be with Penelope.”
“What about the rest of us?” Ashlin inquired, wanting a piece of the action.
“I think you all should sit this one out. We don’t need to raise too many suspicions around. Besides, we shouldn’t play all of our cards at once,” Penelope revealed.
“I’ll get the car ready,” Callan announced as he headed out the front door. Penelope and Ebony walked into the parlor to speak privately while I hung around Gabriel in the den.
“So…” I began.
“Don’t be jealous,” Gabriel said with a smile.
“I’m not jealous,” I gawked. “I was just wondering how you were going to get in touch with Jade considering we don’t have cell phones anymore.”
Gabriel nodded in the direction of the landline.
“Oh…so, you memorized her phone number,” I commented, shaking my head. “That makes sense.”
Gabriel chuckled under his breath. “It was for emergencies. My parents had me memorize it a long time ago.”
“Right,” I replied. “Well, have fun on your date.”
I turned to walk away as Gabriel grabbed my arm. “Come on, Kas. Don’t be like—”
He stopped talking as he saw the massive grin on my face. “Oh, so you’ve got jokes now? Very funny.”
“I’m teasing you. Besides, I’m the Queen of Hell. I don’t think you’d want to mess up that sweet gig of yours you’ve got going on,” I said playfully.
“You, come here,” he said as he pulled me in close, locking my lips with his. “Be careful when you’re at the Bishop Covenstead. We don’t know their true intentions.”
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled against his lips as I broke away to head out after Callan. He was standing beside the Suburban on the side of the street, leaning against the passenger door.
“About time,” he said as he opened the car door for me. He had already started the car as I hopped in. Callan made his way around the vehicle to the driver’s seat while Penelope bounded down the pathway after us. She slid into the back seat as we buckled in, and Callan maneuvered the car out onto the road.
“You’ll need to take a left up here,” she said, directing us towards the Bishop Covenstead.
“Do you know if his parents are home?” I asked.
“Gabriel told me they were out of town on business. At least, that’s what Jade told him over the phone before we left,” she confirmed. “He also said she sounded surprised that we were here, so he told her we were looking for our parents after your ceremony since we were separated. I guess Blaise hasn’t told the rest of his family about us yet.”
“He’s withholding the information because he knows you’ll be stopping by. It’s leverage,” Callan declared.
“How do you know?” Penelope asked from behind us.
He sighed. “This boy was your betrothed, correct? Telling everyone about your whereabouts would scare you off, and it won’t place himself in your good graces. You may have never loved him, but that doesn’t mean he never loved you.”
“And you’re an expert on love?” I mocked.
Callan gripped the wheel a little tighter and shifted in his seat. “No, but that doesn’t mean I’m a stranger to wanting something or someone I can’t have. We all have our vices, and while it may seem immature of him to hold it over your head, Penelope, I’m pretty sure he’s doing it out of some sort of pain.”
“I don’t pity him if that’s what he wants,” she said as she sat back in her seat. “Turn right at the next red light.”
“No one says you have to. I don’t know anything about your past with him. I can only tell you from my previous experience with rejection. It hurts like hell,” he remarked.
I sat silently, not sure if I had anything valuable to add to the conversation. I had never loved anyone before like I do now, so that rejection aspect was foreign to me. I knew it happened to most everyone, but as someone so new to the game of love, I couldn’t even describe what I thought the emotion would feel like.
“Are you going to be okay in there alone with him until we find a way to enter the Covenstead?” I asked Penelope. If my Aunt Helen had wards around her place, I didn’t doubt they did as well.
“Blaise will have the wards down when I enter. That’ll be your only chance to make it inside,” she answered. “He’ll have his guard down at that point. I’ve only been to his home once, but I know there’s a back entrance into the servant’s quarters to the kitchen. Everyone around here has an old Victorian or Colonial style home similar to Helen’s layout, so you should be able to hear where we are. The walls are paper thin.”
“And then we’ll jump him,” Callan muttered.
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Penelope pleaded. “Just scare him into doing what we need to do. Blaise wasn’t a bad person when I met him, and I don’t think it’s fair to treat him like he is now.”
“But we don’t know that,” I uttered. “They may be hunting me like everyone else.”
“That’s true, but until we know that for sure, I think we should go easy on him. Remember, his own sister didn’t even know about us in town. That had to take a lot of effort for him not to tell his sister,” she pointed out.
I sighed as Callan pulled the car into a parallel space across the street from a Colonial style home with one chimney stack in the center of the roof. It was quaint for a home but stood two stories tall with the potential for sufficient attic space. The front of the home had a brick pathway leading from the sidewalk to the red front door. The house itself was painted white with windows that sported wavy glass, most likely original to the home.
“I see they don’t care to make any updates around here,” I muttered to myself.
“It’s been in their family for generations dating past the Witch Trials. It’s considered a historical home within Salem,” Penelope divulged as she got out of the car.
Callan and I exited and walked down the street towards the house next door as Penelope watched from the brick pathway. Acknowledging her, we made our way around the back of their next-door neighbor’s house, jumping the fence into their yard before hopping over the next wall into the Covenstead.
I heard Penelope knocking on the front door as we hid behind some bushes in the back yard, steering clear of the Circle they had constructed from limestone, a great conductive stone for energy. Listening, the front door opened, and Callan and I dashed towards the back door where he picked the lock, gaining access into the home. I was impressed with the quick work he made of the old lock and squeezed his arm to indicate it. He glanced over his shoulder at me with a smirk.
Shaking my head, we stood in the servant’s quarters that were now being used for a mudroom before peering around the kitchen doorway. We could hear talking coming from a living room nearby.
“You’re helping her, aren’t you?” I could hear Blaise say in a negative tone. Taking a step forward, Callan placed his hand on my forearm to stop me as he held the index finger of his other hand up to his lips.
“Not yet,” Callan whispered. “He may reveal information we need.”
“And you aren’t? She’s your Queen now. You should be helping her as well, not using your familiar to track us down for what? A bounty that your family doesn’t even need? You really want to go to war for Leviathan?” Penelope asked, her voice cracking.
“I don’t care about Leviathan or any war. You’re my fiancé, and you’ve come here to tell me you want to do a cord-cutting. Do you know how much shame that’ll bring upon my family? Did you know they’ve practically ostracized Jade when your brother rejected her?” Blaise’s voice was rising along with my anger. “Your brother didn’t even care!”
“I have no control over your family’s problems, and blaming us for wanting to be with the people we love is not going to solve them. Maybe you should try to reason with your parents instead of hating us for their decisions!” Penelope yelled.
“Look, I didn’t want to confront you to argue,” Blaise sighed. “I don’t hate you…or your brother. I can’t speak for Jade, but I needed to know if you ever felt anything for me at all.”
“I…” Penelope stammered, “I don’t know…I’m sorry, but I did care for you. I mean, I do care for you, but—”
“I get it,” Blaise cut her short. “You love that girl you were with at the ball. I could see it in your eyes…You’ve never looked at me the way you looked at her.”
“I’m sorry, Blaise…” I heard Penelope say, a catch in her throat. If I didn’t know what rejection felt like before, I was hearing how it sounded firsthand, and it was awful.
“Tell your friends I won’t fight them,” Blaise said loudly, ensuring we could hear. Callan and I shared a look of surprise as we left our hiding spot and rounded the corner through the kitchen out into the living room.
“I thought you said the wards would be down,” I whispered beside Penelope.
“They were, but I’ve grown accustomed to the energy within my home, and I could feel the both of you as soon as you jumped the fence to our backyard,” he revealed. “I’ll do as you ask, Penelope. It’ll be the last thing I ever do for you.”
Penelope nodded slightly, understanding the heartbreak he was going through. The cord-cutting would be as much for him as it was for her. The feeling of being bonded to someone who never loved you must have been pure agony over the years.
“Jade is undoubtedly having the same conversation with your brother,” he commented. “It was cruel to trick her that way; she was so excited to meet him this evening.”
“All I can do is apologize, Blaise. We had no way of knowing your intentions, and when I saw Munin, your familiar, I panicked,” Penelope explained.
Blaise trailed his eyes over me as I stood beside Callan. The awkwardness of such an intimate situation disturbed me. I felt like I was a witness to something that should’ve remained behind closed doors.
“I’ll gather what’s needed. Meet me out back in the Circle when you’re ready,” Blaise said as he left us all standing around.
“We need to make sure he doesn’t tip anyone off about Kas’s location. How can we trust him?” Callan asked Penelope.
“I’ll talk to him after this is all over. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want this visit getting out. It could be bad for his family if Leviathan found out we were here, and he didn’t notify anyone,” Penelope answered.
We left through the back door into the yard with the stone Circle. Blaise was waiting for us, his shirt resting on the ground outside of the Circle. Penelope turned to me.
“I’m going to need you in the Circle with me, but Callan should probably wait in the car,” she whispered into my ear.
“Okay,” I said.
I turned to Callan, but before I could speak, he said, “Yeah, I figured this was about to get weird. I’ll be in the car. Just come out when you’re done.”
I shrugged as he left us standing by the Circle. Penelope guided me within the Circle over the embedded limestone in the ground in front of their stone altar.
“I know witchcraft isn’t exactly your forte, but the ceremony requires a witness to be present,” Penelope explained. “I feel more comfortable with you as the witness instead of Callan.”
“Of course,” I said. “Um, should I be doing something or…?”
“You’ll be the one cutting the cords,” Blaise said, handing me an athame as he started unzipping his pants.
“Woah,” I said, swatting his hands away. I wasn’t sure why I was feeling so nervous. I knew that witches sometimes performed ceremonies in the nude, but I wasn’t expecting to actually be present for one.
“It’s okay, Kas,” Penelope tried to explain. “It’s nothing sexual. It’s so our energy is unaffected by any mundane items on us. It’s completely normal. You can turn away from us if you like; you don’t have to exactly watch, just be present.”
I shook my head. “You’re right. I’m fine. I guess, warn me next time?”
She smiled at me as they both started to undress, throwing their clothes outside the Circle’s confines. They stood facing each other standing about three feet apart as they both began to hum a short song with their eyes closed. I watched and listened as their bodies began to sway to the humming song.
As I stood there, I noticed the stillness of the world around us. The breeze had ceased, and the birds had silenced their calls. It was utterly quiet as I watched the dust from the Earth lift slowly from the ground underneath our feet. As the humming grew louder, I realized their bodies were glowing, a pale shimmer around them. The light around them grew brighter as the humming energy grew more robust.
Tendrils of energy bounced off of them until they connected between their bodies. I watched in amazement until I snapped myself out of the trance their power had trapped me in. Taking the athame, I stepped forward and held it high over my head, praying that I wasn’t going to screw this up. Bringing the athame down in one swing, I swiftly cut through the tendrils of energy between Blaise and Penelope.
A downburst of energy pushed me backward, falling into the altar with such force that it split in two. Pulling myself to my feet, I saw Blaise and Penelope lying on the ground in front of me. Picking up Penelope’s clothes, I raced over to her, throwing them over her body.
“Penelope!” I shouted as I pulled her limp body onto my lap. “Penelope? Wake up, please!”
Penelope’s eye’s fluttered open as a gentle smile spread across her face. She uttered two words.