“Where’s that?” I ask. I’ve never heard of it. I glance at the map. There is a drop of Jude’s blood in the middle of a large cluster of trees. It looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. No wonder I’ve never heard of it.
Amy is looking at Jude when she answers. “It’s well known by witches, especially the bad ones. It’s a common place for sacrifice…”
I look over at Jude, who is staring at the map. He looks both horrified and confused. “Sacrifice?” I ask, my voice shaking just slightly. I’m hoping she doesn’t mean human sacrifice, but based on Jude’s face, I’m guessing she does.
“We have to go,” Jude says so faintly that I almost don’t hear him.
“I’m coming with you,” Amy says firmly. Jude doesn’t even argue, just nods absently and starts back toward the van. When he’s out of earshot, Amy turns to Hazel. “You know?” Hazel swallows and nods. Then she turns to me. “You come with me. I need a driver while I prepare things.”
I look at her incredulously. “What? And why would I agree to do that? I barely even know you!” What if she turns me into a newt?
Hazel slaps my arm and gives me a dirty look. “Just get in the car and stop wasting time. We need her help.” I give her a hurt look, and rub my arm, even though it didn’t really hurt. I just want to make her feel bad. The look on her face tells me that I just annoyed her more.
“Fine,” I pout. Amy hands me the keys and I give Hazel the keys to the van. “Drive safe,” I say gently. Her face softens and she nods.
Amy gets a few things out of her trunk while I start the car. We choose to follow Hazel, since Jude apparently knows where this Whit-what-a-what Forest is. The first half hour or so, Amy is busy chanting creepily over various odd items, and mixing together foul-smelling liquids. I’m pretty sure at one point she drinks blood, but maybe it was just water and my imagination is getting the better of me.
Finally, she stops being weird. Mostly. “So Jude never told you anything about Whittona Forest?” I shake my head. “But you know about his mom?”
I glance over at her suspiciously. “How do you know about her?”
She shrugs. “I knew her, for one. Before she joined that cult and tried to sacrifice her own child,” she says sourly. “Also, I saw bits and pieces when I was digging around in Jude’s mind. Enough to realize who he was.”
“Hold on,” I say, holding up a hand. “You knew his mom? Like, personally?” She nods. “And she joined a cult and that’s why she tried to kill Jude?” She nods again. “Explain. In depth.”
She smiles, as though she knew I would say that. She probably did. If you can hear me, stay out of my head. Please.
“We were in the same coven for a while. Tara was a sweet young woman. She was pregnant with Jude when I first met her, and I was even there for his birth. It’s a big deal when there’s a birth in the coven.” She gets a wistful look on her face. “We all knew how powerful he would be. So did other covens, though. It was just something we could all feel, you know?”
I don’t, but okay, whatever.
“Tara brought him with her to meetings at first, but after a while, she stopped bringing him. Then she stopped coming. I think he was about three when she joined another coven. I call it a cult, though. A coven doesn’t follow and worship a leader. We are all equal. But this coven followed a man named Todd. He claimed to have traveled to purgatory and met the god, Inus. He was searching for a body for Inus, but needed sacrifices, souls to trade for Inus’ soul. Since his soul was so powerful, it could only be traded for a soul of equal power, or several souls bound together that were equal to his.”
“Wait,” I say angrily. “You knew all of this, and said nothing?”
“I didn’t want to get involved. Also, I wasn’t completely positive that what you were investigating had anything to do with Inus.” She looks down as though she’s ashamed. “I’ve laid low since that day. Tara and her coven hunted me for years.”
“Another witch from my coven also joined this cult at the same time that Tara did. However, a couple years later, she came to me saying that they were going to do something horrible. She wanted my help in stopping them. So I followed her to Whitonna Forest that night, where they were supposed to be performing some ritual.” She stops and breaths deeply. “What I saw is something I will never forget. Tara had Jude, who was only five years old at the time, tied to a wooden table. He was crying, but not loudly. Like he was scared, but trusted his mom not to hurt him…” She trails off.
“But she did hurt him,” I say matter-of-factly. Amy nods.
“She took a sacrificial knife and ran it across his wrists without hesitation. She was so deep in this cult, that her own son’s life meant nothing to her. Jude started screaming at this point, but he lost a lot of blood quickly, and his screaming turned to whimpering. That’s when my coven attacked. I grabbed Jude and took him back to my car to heal his wrists as good as I could. I wasn’t as strong back then as I am now, so they were still pretty raw, but I stopped the bleeding. I took him to a… colleague of mine who I knew would hide him. I didn’t know that she would stick him in a mental hospital for the rest of his life, but at least his mom couldn’t find him.”
I took a few moments to process everything. “So, they hunted you because you took their sacrifice?” She nods. “And it wasn’t Jude’s parent’s that put him in the mental hospital?”
She snorts. “Of course not. Why would his mom try to sacrifice him, and then shove him into a mental hospital?”
“Then Jude doesn’t even know the real reason his mom tried to kill him,” I say quietly. “He thinks his mom tried to kill him because of his abilities, and then convinced his dad that he tried to kill himself.”
Amy nods thoughtfully. “Jude wasn’t conscious after losing so much blood, and he was pretty young. He probably just made up a story based on what bits and pieces he remembered. At that point, his dad wasn’t even a part of his life anymore. He didn’t approve of Tara being a part of the cult, so Tara left him. She spent a lot of time with Todd, so Jude probably thought that Todd was his dad.”
Everything I knew about Jude’s life is a lie! Well, okay, not everything. In fact, most of it is true, just with a few extra twists.
I stew over these new revelations silently for the rest of the drive, and Amy digs through her witchy crafts, mumbling to herself. I’m so consumed in my thoughts that I nearly rear end the van as it slows suddenly. I slam on the brakes, earning a glare from Amy. The van continues at a much slower rate for a few minutes, then they pull off onto the side of the road. I follow suit, then jump out of the car when I see Hazel and Jude getting out of the van.
“She’s close. I can feel her,” Hazel says. “She’s terrified.” She has tears in her eyes when she says this.
Amy gets out of the car behind me. “Take these,” she says, handing us crude wooden amulets. “They will make you quieter as you walk and help conceal you better in the shadows. It won’t make you invisible, but it will make you harder to find.” Jude is already walking toward the edge of the forest. “Jude!” He turns quickly, startled. “You know who you might find in there. Just don’t let your emotions get the best of you.” He nods firmly and takes one of the amulets.
I think I hear a faraway scream, but it could have been my imagination. It’s a dark, creepy forest. My mind is going to make shit up. Yeah. I’ll keep telling myself that.
“Let’s go crash a witch party,” Jude says. I’m sure he is trying to seem light-hearted, but I’ve always seen through his façade. His aura is as black as it can get.
Hazel takes the lead, since she can feel which direction Maria is in. Jude follows close behind her, then me, then Amy. I honestly didn’t think that Amy would venture into the forest with us, but I guess we all misjudged her. Except Hazel. She trusted her from the beginning. She’s much too trusting, in my opinion.
As we trek through the forest, I start to get glimpses of auras through the trees. They are still far away, but I can see the excitement. I also see one lone aura this is a mixture of sadness and fear. Maria… I hear a scream again, and this time I’m sure that it isn’t my imagination.
When he hears her scream, Jude loses all caution and sprints through the trees ahead of us.
“Jude!” Hazel and I shout at the same time. He doesn’t stop.
“Dammit!” I curse and chase after him. I hope that I can catch him before he bursts into a clearing full of murderous witches. My hopes are dashed when I trip over a root and faceplant into the dirt.
Hazel catches up to me and helps me up. “You okay?” I nod. I’m too concerned to even be embarrassed. I don’t bother running after him again. He’s already almost to the clearing.
I guess now we have to save two people…