As soon as Terrance reached the entrance, he sensed him. “Shit. Where is he?” he asked Yannis.
“He must have realized we’d break the trip into neat sections. Damn,” Yannis said. He felt the air. “Not close. I think he’s in the manor house.”
“Arg,” Terrance said, and backed deep into the cave. “I wonder how he tracks us.”
Yannis followed suit. “We have to use less even-numbered stops. Let’s go 73, then 79 years. That’ll give us two extra years at the second break point.”
Terrance bit his lip. Clearly Thomas had powers none of them possessed. He conferred with the others. “I don’t know if Laura can make it through this time,” he said. “Instead of a rear guard, let’s go four strong with her.”
“Has anyone ever done that?”
“I’ve heard about it. One of us goes on either side to hold a hand, one of us faces her in front, touching her chest, the fourth touches her behind her heart. We pull the web with one hand each.”
Laura looked at them, puzzled.
“You don’t do anything. We glide you along.”
“Let’s go. No doubt Thomas has already started our way.”
Robert and Terrance disappeared. Padma and David waited what seemed like forever, but was really just barely enough time for the first pair to deal with any bandits. Just as the rest of the witches formed their phalanx around Laura, Thomas stepped into the cave. He stopped, startled. They stepped onto the web.
“Man, I’ve never seen so many spells shoot past in such a short time,” Bethany said.
“Me neither. Thomas must have run his dark magic dry sending all that,” Yannis said, wiping his brow. They had dodged back and forth together through space, counting each knot very carefully so they could return to their original spot. At one point, Laura thought she would explode, she grew so hot and buzzy. The net began shimmering in front of her eyes, gold and silver. She remembered Yannis’ technique and breathed carefully, willing herself into quietude and coolness. All of a sudden, her feet touched earth. She heard voices.
“I liked traveling like that,” Samantha said. “I had no idea we would be able to see each other and talk so long as we touched Laura.”
“I wonder what happened to Donny?” Bethany asked.
“He could be anywhere,” Yannis said. “He’s a wily guy. I’ll bet he’s okay, he just couldn’t keep up with Thomas.”
“How are you, Laura?” Padma asked.
Laura shrugged. She felt odd: not just buzzy, but hot and lightheaded. “I started to see the web,” she said.
The witches looked startled.
“That’s impossible,” Padma said, but she put her palms to Laura’s forehead. “She went through the passage. She’s already witch,” she said.
“Amazing,” Samantha said, looking at her. “No wonder I felt so much heat coming from her.”
“I could barely keep from exploding,” Laura admitted.
“I wonder if you turned early because we were holding you?”
“Or because you saw your uncle. Necessity can speed transformations.”
The witches turned their attention from her to the cave.
“Bandits live here,” Robert said, pointing at a pile of blankets. “They may have gone out, but they will return. Coals are still warm.”
David tucked his head into his sister’s skirts. She wrapped an arm around him, holding him close, and used her other hand to untangle his dark hair. Her fingers crackled as they moved through the mess.
Matthew dusted himself off and wrapped an arm around Laura. “I thought for sure that Thomas would pull me off of Laura’s foot.”
“Do you have the strength to go a little further?” Samantha asked. “We need to get out of here before the bandits return or Thomas finds us.”
Laura sighed. “David?” she said, squatting down so that her eyes were level with his. “Can you hold on for another hour?”
He looked at her, his brown eyes barely staying open. “I can try,” he said.
“No, you can’t,” she looked up at the rest of them. “He needs rest.”
“Matthew, Terrance,” Samantha ordered. “Keep guard at the entrance. Give us plenty of warning.”
David lay down along the wall. Laura took a blanket off the bandit’s pile and covered him. He fell asleep almost immediately. Padma came over by the siblings. “Go ahead,” she said to Laura. “Lie down with him. I’ll join you while the others keep watch.”
Laura slipped between her brother and the wall. Padma placed herself on the outside. With David sandwiched between them, Laura tried to fall asleep, but she couldn’t. She gave up after what seemed forever. Her eyes met Padma’s. “Sleep,” her new friend said. “Use the breathing technique.”
Samantha’s touch woke Laura. She started up to sitting and began buzzing, sparks flying off her into the blanket, setting it on fire. “Breathe,” Samantha urged. “Relax. Call back the magic. The bandits are on the way, but we have plenty of time.“
“Where’s David?” Laura looked around, panicked. More sparks flew.
“Don’t worry,” Samantha said. “He’s outside with the men, going to the bathroom and getting some nourishment. You need to do the same. Hurry up.”
Laura took a deep breath and visualized the magic. She breathed in and out, using the new technique, each breath curling into her and out like smoke from a pipe. The sparks stopped; her hands no longer glowed. “Good magic,” she said, under her breath, and headed for the cave’s opening.
She saw her breath in the cold afternoon air. Winter was earlier this year than in the one they had parted from. She counted. They had gone three fifties and a seventy-three: two hundred twenty-three years in all. One of the men handed her a hunk of stale bread and a mug of water. She gulped the water, then gnawed at the hard bread, looking for her brother. She heard his high-pitched laughter off in the distance and located him climbing a tree. After relieving herself, she started towards him, to join the fun.
“Five minutes,” Terrence announced. “Everybody drop what you’re doing and get inside.”
Matthew squeezed Laura’s hand one last time and pushed her towards the entrance. “I’ll get David,” he promised. “At least he’s rested.” Her brother had started stalking around, pretending to be a bear.
“I’ll wait for him,” Laura said. No way was she leaving until she knew he was safe. “David!” she shouted. A faint glow of the magic’s buzz filled her. She felt too anxious to control it. Her brother ignored her pleas.
“You’re dangerous out here,” Yannis said, growling. “Go. We will get him.”
She stumbled towards the cave’s entrance.
“Damn it,” Yannis said. “Every time she starts shooting magic, it makes it all that much easier for Thomas to find us. We have to get her onto the web. Go with her, Matthew. Make her start. I’ll get David.”
Padma came out of the cave’s mouth. “I’ll help. I won’t leave without him, Laura, but you and Matthew must get out of here.”
Laura hated to step onto the web without ensuring that her brother was safe, but the witches hardly gave her a choice. Samantha grabbed her hand as soon as she entered the cave’s mouth. Samantha explained that it was safe for them go first, because good witches had settled the cave in the year 1803.
“Lay down and grab her ankle,” Samantha said to Matthew.
“I’m afraid you waited too long,” Thomas Stonebridge said, stepping out of the shadows. “Give her to me,” he pointed at Laura.
The buzzing started. She couldn’t stop it. Sparks flew. A huge ball of fire came off her hands and headed towards her uncle.
“What the blazes,” Thomas exclaimed, dodging the ball.
Her brother walked through the opening, followed by Yannis and Padma. Their uncle shot his hand out and a rope wrapped around David’s waist. Thomas pulled David to him, before any of them could react. “Come with me, Laura, and I won’t hurt him,” he said, a knife appearing in his hand. He held it against David’s throat.
The witches formed a shield in front of Laura. They demanded to know what he wanted with her.
“She’s will marry me,” Thomas said. “Together, we will form the strongest team in all of history. We will rule the world, and our children after us.”
Laura breathed carefully, using Yannis’ technique. A column of steel and determination filled her. She wished her uncle dead. Nothing happened. She visualized the rope falling off of her brother. It loosened. She thought harder. Suddenly, it fell. He ran across the cave at her.
Thomas glared at the cadre of witches. “So that’s the way it is? Well, you can’t have him that easily.” He threw his arm out and a net settled over David.
Laura thought for only an instant before she saw the net releasing her brother and flying onto her uncle. The net obeyed her. Before she knew it, her uncle lay on the ground, entangled in its mesh. Padma and David stepped into the web while he extracted himself. Laura envisioned her uncle in an iron cage, like the one that had held her parents for two days before their trial. The cage began materializing. Her uncle frowned. He looked at the group of witches and held up his hands. The cage stopped forming. Laura knew from their discussions that only she had more power than him. Power she didn’t know how to use, but she had no choice. She saw him spinning along a silver space line, back to his manor house. Her manor house, she reminded herself. It might no longer exist in 1731, but she had to send him somewhere. She would have preferred to kill him, but nothing happened when she tried. Instead, the idea of sending him along a space thread popped into her mind. He didn’t budge at first, but then he began disappearing, his mouth wide open as he attempted to say something. She relaxed a little and he came into view again.
“Concentrate,” Samantha said.
She tried again, and he popped out of sight.
They all sighed. Matthew lay down at her foot, and the witches stepped simultaneously onto the web, just as the first bandit walked into the cave. “Holy mother of Jesus,” he said, but they were gone.