“Nope. Voodoo isn’t good for this kind of thing. I think Rhea’s talking about something Hekatian,” Zen said.
“Not precisely.” The silver-haired mage squinted at me as she chewed at her lip. “More like something Chthonic.”
I shook my head before she finished the word. “No way. Zen, you saw what happened with the zombie. Tell her she’s crazy.”
Zen rose from her chair and went to a bookshelf against the wall. “The revenant rose because I didn’t know I needed to adjust the spell. If someone had told me in advance that you were a Chthonic, the whole thing could have been avoided.” She paused to shoot a pointed look at us before she continued searching the shelves.
“What exactly do you have in mind?” Adam asked.
Rhea joined Zen at the bookshelves. Together they scanned the rows. A couple of seconds later, both made little “Aha” sounds and reached for the same book.
“Here it is,” Zen said, taking the book from Rhea’s hands. She blew across the surface of the leather binding. Dust plumed up like smoke. She coughed and waved away the cloud. “This book belonged to my grandfather. He was an energy manipulator like Adam, but he had an extensive library of magical texts.”
Rhea went to look over her shoulder while Zen flipped through the pages. Finally, she stopped and opened the book wider. She pointed to something on the page and Rhea’s eyes lit up. “Hmm.”
“Yeah?” Zen said. The two females seemed to forget Adam and I were in the room. “I’d need to get some friends here to help, but I think it’ll work.”
“She’ll need a focus,” Rhea said slowly. “Something to tether her to this plane.”
“Hello?” I said. “I’m right here?”
“How about Adam?” Zen offered. “He’s powerful enough to handle the magical output, and their connection is strong.”
Adam cleared his throat and shifted uneasily beside me. I avoided his eyes but began tapping my foot.
Still, they ignored us. “It’d be nice if we had something of Maisie’s, too,” Rhea said.
“Guys!” I raised my voice. “Not that you bothered to ask me, but I do have something of Maisie’s.”
They both looked up as if suddenly remembering they had company. “Oh?” Rhea said.
I held up my sister’s amulet by its chain. “Now will you please tell us what the hell’s going on?”
Later, there’d be plenty of time to regret this. But for the moment, I didn’t care about the inevitability of penance owed. Zen and Rhea promised this would work, and I trusted them.
Adam leaned in close, setting off a flurry of flapping wings in my stomach. A halo of candlelight glowed around his head. I swallowed and tried to focus on the soothing drums from outside the circle. The beat braided through the small room, surrounding us with its own kind of magic.
Zen’s friends had arrived half an hour earlier. Four black women varying in ages from late twenties to an octogenarian with milky eyes riddled with cataracts. They’d brought with them two young males, who drummed in the corner. Zen and Adam quickly filled them in on the plan while Rhea tried to soothe my worries by explaining exactly what was going to happen. I was surprised anyone had been able to reach the store with the sea of Halloween revelers clogging up all the French Quarter’s avenues. This ritual must be something special for all of them to miss one of the biggest holidays New Orleans had to offer.
The plan was for me to astral project, using Maisie’s necklace as a homing beacon to track down her location, or more specifically, the smear of her blood on the box in the picture. Rhea explained it wasn’t so different from interspatial travel, except my physical body would remain fixed while my soul made the trek. I didn’t exactly love the idea of my soul leaving my body, but she assured me every precaution would be taken to ensure my safe return. Which was why Adam sat inside the circle with me. He was to act as my anchor, a lifeline should I have trouble finding my body again.
“Relax,” he whispered. His breath tickled my ear, sending a shiver down my spine.
I blew out a long, slow exhale and willed my shoulders to relax. Hard to do when my heart insisted on pounding a staccato beat in my chest. He took my clammy hand in his warm palm. His eyes met mine, and a small smile flirted with his lips. “Do you trust me?”
I swallowed, my throat clicking from dryness and nerves. “Yeah.” The word was so quiet, I wondered if he heard me. When the smile widened, I knew he had. He moved closer, so close I could feel the heat of him on my face. My lips parted—
“We must hurry,” Zen said. “Once the portal is open, you will only have a few minutes. If we can’t hold it long enough for you to return, Adam will pull you back.”
Adam winked at me before pulling away. He mirrored my posture— a half-lotus position— and placed his hands over my upturned palms. Just beyond his shoulder, I saw Rhea watching silently, ready to lend aid if magical intervention was needed.
For a moment, I regretted Giguhl’s absence. But I felt better knowing we had a demon keeping watch in case Lavinia or the Brotherhood decided to make another house call. Adam squeezed my hand, refocusing my attention on the present.
“Good,” Rhea said. “The physical connection between you and Adam must not waver or the tether could be broken.”
I swallowed, my eyes not leaving Adam’s as I spoke to Zen. “Won’t my body go slack once my spirit leaves?”
“No,” she said. “Your body will enter a trancelike state. You’ll remain in that pose until your soul returns.”
I nodded slightly, careful not to let my gaze wander from Adam’s. The intimacy of staring into his eyes for such an extended period should have made me want to squirm. Instead, I felt grounded, safe.
“All right, let’s begin,” Zen said.
The women in the circle began swaying, chanting. Candlelight flickered in my peripheral vision. The drums picked up tempo, the rhythm pulsing through the floor and up through me, into my chest.
“Close your eyes and breathe deeply,” Zen said.
With one last look at Adam, I allowed my lids to drift closed. My breath came in on long, slow inhales. The scent of herb-infused smoke spiced the air. It filled my belly, rounding it, before I pushed it back up and out to the count of five.
The hair on the back of my neck tingled, signaling a rise of power. Unlike a magical circle cast to protect or bind those inside it, this one felt more like a door had opened. Air rushed through the room, bringing with it the scents of rich soil, black iron, fresh blood— the perfume of the underworld.