Terrence reached through the barrier, into the narrow passage, and returned with an arm attached to a scruffy teenager.
The teen blinked blue eyes at them, clearly wondering if he had hit his head. He looked exhausted, his dark blond hair sticking up, his face and clothing smudged with dirt. Laura ran to him and wrapped her arms tightly around him. David launched himself at him, so hard that he almost knocked the two teenagers over.
“Matthew,” Laura breathed into his hair. She had reached her growth spurt before him, and stood half a head taller, though they were only two months apart in age.
He untangled the siblings, holding her and David an arm’s length away. “Are you okay?” he asked.
They nodded in sync, their grins almost hitting their ears. Laura tried, but couldn’t speak.
“What is this place? Who are these people?” Matthew asked, looking around at the cave and its occupants. “I’ve been so worried that your abductors would hurt you. You’re sure you’re okay?”
Laura found her voice. “We’re fine. How did you find us?”
“I followed your trail.”
“What about their uncle? Did you see him?” Terrence asked, urgently.
“Not after the first day. That’s what took me so long. I thought he might, well,” he looked up at Laura, “I remember what happened after your parents -“ he stopped.
“Go on,” Samantha encouraged him.
He took Laura’s hands in his. “I thought he might have sold you or something. So I waited until he left. I followed him. But I realized after a while that his troop had gone the wrong way. They were still headed south when I doubled back and found your cold trail. I tried to make sure I didn’t leave any trace.”
“They’ll find us anyway,” Samantha said.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Laura looked over at Samantha, who nodded. “Let’s sit by the fire,” she suggested.
Matthew’s eye grew bigger and bigger as they told their tale. When they finished, he looked at Samantha and asked: “how soon can you get them to safety?”
Laura noticed this. He didn’t question their story, he didn’t beg her to go back to the village with him. He only wanted her and David to be okay.
“We’re going to try as soon as help arrives,” Samantha explained, “but we don’t know if we have enough power. Laura is starting her transformation. She may be able to help.”
“I am?” Laura asked.
David said, “you’re glowing.”
“But not very bright,” Matthew added.
“We haven’t told Matthew everything,” Laura said.
“What do you mean?”
“Why were you able to find us, when the dogs couldn’t?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I just knew you had climbed the hill.”
“You smelled them,” Terrence said. “Just like I smelled you.”
“What? No I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. You’re not fully human, just like I’m not fully human or witch. I have wolf blood. You have reptile blood.”
Matthew stood and backed away into the depths of the cave. “You’re crazy,” he said.
Just then, Bethany materialized next to Matthew. He started, then backed more until he hit the wall. “Who, what are you?”
A very short muscular man appeared, followed by a woman with dark skin and then a very pale man.
“Who are you?” the short man asked, then whirled to face Samantha. “What the hell is a reptile doing here?”
“I’m here to save the woman I love and her brother,” Matthew said, defiantly, sticking his chest out.
“Oh, dear. We have a situation,” the dark woman said.
“We’ll explain. Right now, we need Donny to put a barrier up at the mouth of the cave, out beyond ours. Thomas Stonebridge is about to arrive,” Terrence announced.
“How long?” Samantha asked.
“Umm, a couple of hours, maybe?” Terrence said.
“No,” Matthew said, stepping away from the wall and walking towards the entrance. “He’s closer than that. An hour at most. He’s moving fast.”
“Well, well,” the dark woman said. “Looks like this youngster is just what we need right now. She pointed at the pale man. Donny?”
“Right,” he said, and walked over by Terrence.
“I’m Padma,” the dark woman said. “From India. And that’s Yannis, from Lebanon.”
Laura wondered what they meant by those places. David and Matthew looked equally puzzled.
“Don’t worry about where we hail from,” Padma said. “We need to put our heads together and figure out what we are going to do if we can’t hold the barrier against Thomas.”
“What did the council advise?” Samantha asked.
“Oh, you know them,” Padma answered. “Bunch of old fuddy-duddies. Laura has to wait until the transformation, then work her way across the web.”
“We don’t have that kind of time,” Terrence said. “He’s getting closer. I can feel him, even through Donny’s field.”
“Thomas is one of the most powerful witches ever to walk this planet,” Yannis suddenly entered the discussion. “All of the London covens are afraid of him.”
“I know,” Samantha said. “But Laura and David will eventually both be more powerful than him. Laura is already buzzing, with a week to go. We have to get her out of here, before he can use the destruction spell. And her brother has to go with her.”
“And Matthew,” Laura said, her voice breaking. She couldn’t leave without him. Her uncle would kill him, now that he’d been a part of this scheme.
“No, we don’t have the power, even with all of us. And a reptile is bad news.”
“Then I’m not going,” Laura said, stamping her foot.
Padma put her hands up, feeling the field around Laura and then Matthew. “Laura’s right,” she said. She closed her eyes. “The love between these two is strong. If we can hold Thomas off for a day, Laura will grow close enough to her transformation to make it with our help. I will take David forward.”
“But you don’t love him!” Bethany protested.
“I will,” Padma said. “He’s a beautiful child. I have three of my own. Small children are easy to love.”
David smiled. “Can I sit on your lap?” he asked.
“Oh, and he’s a smart one, too,” Padma laughed. “He knows.”
“Let’s eat, and then we’ll start the lesson,” Samantha said. “I wish we had time to teach Laura about shielding and other things, but using the threads is difficult enough.”