Invoke, Chapter One: Free Serial Novel

Invoke, an NA paranormal, is being posted in installments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After it has been posted in its entirety, it will be taken down.

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Chapter One

Wyn squished her forehead against the window pane in her bedroom. It was raining outside, and the droplets of water were running in rivulets down the glass. Outside, it was gray and wet. She was watching Madame Braith lead a guy up the driveway and into the old mansion Wyn called home. Madame Braith and the guy splashed across the muddy pathway to the porch. Madame Braith held a magazine over her head. The guy just trudged forward with his head down.

Wyn couldn’t really see what he looked like, but he had dark hair. It was long, at least to his shoulders. In the rain, it was pasted against his forehead. He looked pissed off, but that might have been because he was walking in a downpour.

The door to Wyn’s bedroom flew open. Her best friend Meaghan burst inside. “He’s here,”Meaghan said.

Meaghan was excited. That was because Meaghan was beyond sexually frustrated, or so she said. She had been waiting for some new blood to come into the academy, and here it was. Reese Laird. Meaghan had been pretty obsessed with the idea of him ever since she heard his name.

“Did you get a good look at him?”Meaghan asked, wedging herself next to Wyn so that she could also look out the window.

“No,”said Wyn. Reese and Madame Braith were already inside the house, so there was nothing else to see. Wyn moved away from the window and settled on her bed.

“How old do you think he is?”Meaghan asked, still peering through the glass as if she hoped he’d walk back outside.

Wyn shrugged. “No idea.”Madame Braith never recruited kids to the academy that were younger than eighteen, and she rarely recruited someone older than twenty. Madame Braith said that once people were too old, they were set in their ways. What psychic gifts they had were next to useless at that point. They couldn’t be taught to use them, to hone and strengthen them. She would have taken younger people if she could, but seeing as the academy wasn’t equipped to teach students regular academic subjects, it wouldn’t work. Furthermore, Madame Braith didn’t have to go through the hassle of dealing with minors and their guardians. The academy wasn’t a normal kind of school. It was a school for gifted youth. All of its seven students had psychic abilities. They were all in tune with the spirit realm.

“I barely got a look at him,”said Meaghan. She sighed as she moved away from the window and joined Wyn on the bed. “He was cute, though, don’t you think?”

Wyn had thought no such thing. She’d thought he’d looked like an angry, drowned rat. But it could have been from the rain, she supposed. “I didn’t get much of a look at him either.”

“God,”said Meaghan, “I hope he’s hot, and I hope he’s my soul mate.”

Wyn had to laugh. She and Meaghan were both nineteen, but since they were Sensitives, as Madame Braith called them, entering into a relationship was far more intense. Two Sensitives, bonded together with love, were a strong psychic force. To bond with another Sensitive was Meaghan’s ultimate goal, even more so since Wyn had already bonded with another Sensitive–her boyfriend Gavin. “Look, you’ll find someone,”said Wyn. “You will. You’re beautiful and funny and sweet–“

“Shut up,”Meaghan cut her off. “There’s nothing I hate worse than hearing some self-righteous person whose part of a couple tell me I just need to be patient. You seriously have no idea what it’s like.”

Wyn laughed again. “Sorry.”

“You and Gavin are perfect for each other.”

Wyn stopped laughing and let her face settle into a small, satisfied smile. Gavin was pretty amazing, all right. When she’d first arrived at the academy, she’d been a real mess. Her life had been horrible. She was homeless and broke. If Madame Braith hadn’t found her and brought her here, Wyn knew she’d be dead or strung out on drugs by now. In the beginning, it had all been so scary. Wyn hadn’t wanted to trust Madame Braith or the other students who’d been at the academy. Gavin had been different. From the moment she’d seen him, he’d made her feel safe and calm and happy. Being close to him was like standing alone by the ocean on a breezy, spring day. He was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her, and she couldn’t imagine her life without him.

Before coming here, Wyn hadn’t had anything. Now, she had a home–the academy. She had a purpose–learning to hone her psychic skills. And on top of all that, she had the love of her life–Gavin. Maybe she really didn’t understand what Meaghan was going through.

Of course, it wasn’t as if Meaghan didn’t have a great life before showing up to the academy. She had loving, considerate parents, who believed in her abilities and sent her to the academy to help her become her best. Meaghan had no idea what it was like to be completely and utterly alone. “If he’s the right guy, you’ll know it,”said Wyn. “You’ll be able to tell, as soon as your eyes meet. You’ll feel it.”

Meaghan sighed. “And what if he’s the wrong guy?”

Wyn grinned. “I guess you can still get your freak on with him then, can’t you? Since you’re so sexually frustrated?”

“Hmm… I guess you’re right. This is really a win-win situation for me, isn’t it?”

Wyn didn’t disagree.

“You want to go downstairs and see if we can get a better look at him?”Meaghan bounded off the bed.

Wyn was a little curious about this new guy. She wondered if he was as angry as he looked. She nodded and pushed herself to her feet.

* * *

Reese shoved his sopping hair away from his forehead and took a look around the foyer of the mansion. The outside of the place had been intimidating enough with its towering spire and pointed roof. It was Victorian, but with its peeling gray siding and its narrow windows, it almost resembled a medieval castle. Inside wasn’t much better. The foyer was paneled in mahogany. So were the floors. What little light filtered in from the gray outdoors gave the place a gloomy look. Just ahead of him loomed a narrow wooden staircase which disappeared into the upper levels of the house. Reese felt cold, and it wasn’t just because he was wearing soaking wet clothes. Something about the house whispered to him, warning him–

“What do you think?”asked Madame Braith, smiling as she stripped off her overcoat. She was a tall woman with bright red hair and piercing green eyes. She kind of gave him the shivers too.

Reese glanced at her and then back up at the staircase. “If I didn’t know better,”he said, “I’d say this place was haunted.”

Madame Braith chuckled. “Well, that isn’t the word we’d use. It’s so negative. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this house was lit up like a Christmas tree with spiritual energy. All of us gathered here like we are, well, we’re kind of a beacon. You see, we Sensitives provide power for the spirits. You could say we’re kind of like battery packs. So in many ways this place is a great light in the spirit realm, calling out to power of all kind. One thing is for certain, Reese. Living here is never boring.”

Reese raised his eyebrows. Not for the first time that week, he wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

Madame Braith had explained to him (last week, when he’d met her for coffee on his college campus) that he wasn’t what she called a genetic Sensitive. According to Madame Braith, who Reese wished he could dismiss as a crazy lady, some people were born with the ability to see beyond the surface of the natural world to the spirit realm that ran within reality, like an electric current (she said). Other people, like him, were sort of jolted into seeing.

A few months ago, Reese had been home from college for the holidays. He and his father had been travelling back from one of his younger brother’s high school basketball games on an icy road. Reese had been driving. He’d lost control going around a bend. There had been a car in the opposite lane. Reese could still remember the way it looked, its bright lights slicing through the foggy night. He’d tried to brake. He’d twisted the steering wheel every which way. But none of it had helped.

Three people had died. His father, the passenger in the other car, and Reese himself. He’d been told that he’d been cold to the touch when the paramedics finally got to him. They’d jolted his heart more from procedure than from any hope it would ever beat again. But it had. No one knew quite how long Reese had been clinically dead, but it was too long.

He didn’t have any memory of it at all. No white light or tunnels or floating over his body. One minute, he was struggling to keep his car from plowing into oncoming traffic. The next he was in an ambulance, speeding towards the hospital.

A miracle, they said.

The doctors said that the fact he kept seeing his father was a normal psychological reaction. They said he could go back to school, but that he should see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist put him on pills. He tried to get Reese to talk about his guilt.

Reese didn’t have guilt. What he had was terror. And he didn’t want to tell anyone that it wasn’t just his father he was seeing. There were other things. Dreams. About the future. Or the past. Sometimes, in the middle of one of his lectures, his vision would go blurry, and he’d see the classroom the way it had been fifty years ago. Sometimes, he would go to a lecture, do the homework, show up the next day, and relive the exact same lecture. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. But Reese was pretty sure he was going insane.

Terrified of what would happen if he talked to his shrink about it, he began to find message boards and chat rooms online where he could talk to other people who had similar experiences. That was where he found Madame Braith. Or rather, he guessed, she found him. According to Madame Braith, his experience on the “other side”had made him extraordinarily powerful and the spirits were taking advantage of his new abilities. She told him about the academy, which was a place, she said, where he could learn to control and harness his abilities. He could use them. Reese didn’t really want to use them. He just wanted them to go away. And at this point, he was willing to try anything. Even quartering himself off in a creepy mansion in the middle of the sticks for a few years. Anything was better than living the way he had been.

“Well,”said Reese, “nothing’s been exactly boring for me for quite some time now.”

Madame Braith smiled. “I’m sure that’s true. And we’ll do what we can to help you get a handle on your visions, Reese.”She hung her overcoat up on a hall tree next to the door and held out her arm for his coat. Reese wriggled out of his hooded sweatshirt and handed it to her. “I’d love to show you around and get some paperwork taken care of in the office, but I bet you’d like to change out of your wet clothes. Maybe take a shower?”

That did sound good. Reese nodded. “That would be great.”

“I’ll show you to your room, then,”she said, starting for the staircase.

But at that moment, two girls came down the steps. They were both about Reese’s age and both pretty.

“Or,”said Madame Braith, “Wyn and Meaghan can do that. You two know which room we have ready for Reese, don’t you?”

The girls nodded. One stepped forward. “I’m Meaghan,”she said, thrusting her hand in his face. She had an eager look and a huge smile.

“Reese,”he said, putting his hand in hers.

She shook it slowly, staring deeply into his eyes like she was searching for something. Reese blinked and looked at the floor. The chick was weirding him out. “Nice to meet you,”he said. She still hadn’t let go of his hand. He stole another glance at her. He felt like she was trying to look inside him. He didn’t like it. He snatched his hand back.

“Wyn,”said the other girl from behind Meaghan. She wasn’t smiling. She didn’t offer her hand.

Reese was glad. Maybe all the other students at the academy were nut jobs. What was he doing here?

Meaghan was still smiling. “You’re going to love your room,”she said. “I think you’ll really like it here.”

Reese was having doubts.

* * *

It was Friday evening, and the students usually ate dinner together on Fridays. The rest of the week, food was a catch-as-catch-can kind of scenario. The kitchen in the mansion was always fully stocked with healthy stuff, since Madame Braith didn’t allow highly processed foods in the house. She said it muddied the psychic connection. It was Wyn’s turn to cook. She’d even asked Madame Braith to get some supplies for her, since she was planning on making curry, and she needed fish sauce.

Wyn had asked Meaghan if she wanted to invite Reese to dinner, but Meaghan hadn’t seemed too interested. She hadn’t been happy, because she hadn’t felt anything when she shook Reese’s hand. She also hadn’t been impressed with him otherwise. Wyn understood. Reese had a crooked nose and a permanently sullen expression. His hair was stringy, and he wasn’t particularly tall. She didn’t think he was attractive either. Meaghan was so disappointed with Reese and the entire experience that she’d tried to bow out of dinner, but Wyn had talked her into it. It was a Friday tradition, after all.

However, she hadn’t been able to convince Meaghan to help her with cooking, which Meaghan usually did. So Wyn was in the kitchen by herself, chopping onions, peeling potatoes, and boiling rice. It was a little quiet, but it was nice. Wyn had learned to make curry when she held down a job as a cook at a Thai restaurant her senior year of high school. She’d been on her own then, since her mother had kicked her out of the house two days after her eighteenth birthday. Wyn may have been struggling to complete her homework, work from four to ten every day, and not fall asleep during class, but something about working in the kitchen had always soothed her. There was a something meditative about chopping and sautéing. She liked it. Even though she missed Meaghan’s chatter, she was content in the kitchen alone.

Humming, she transferred a cutting board full of chopped vegetables to a sizzling skillet.

Strong arms wrapped around her from behind. She leaned into the embrace, tilting her head back. “Gavin,”she said.

“Hey babe,”he replied. She twisted in his arms to give him a quick kiss.

“What are you doing down here?”

“Meaghan was in her room. I thought you might need some help.”

“Help, huh?”When it was Gavin’s Friday to cook, he made spaghetti, and he usually ruined it. It was either too mushy or too firm. Once the sauce had been cold. All he had to do was boil some noodles and open a jar, and he was hopeless even at that.

Gavin stirred the vegetables in the skillet. “Yeah,”he said. “I can help.”

Wyn nudged him out of the way and took the wooden spoon from him. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself,”she teased.

“Hurt myself?”Gavin took the lid off the rice pot. “What’s in this?”he asked, leaning over it. The steam caught him in the face, hot and swirling. He leaped back. “Ow,”he said, replacing the lid.

“Told you,”said Wyn.

Gavin retreated, lounging against the counter and folding his arms over his chest. “Fine. So maybe I could offer some moral support, then.”

Wyn laughed. She gazed at him. He was so beautiful and perfect, standing there, grinning at her. He had dimples in his cheeks. Blonde curly hair. Eyes as blue as the Caribbean ocean. She went to him and ran her hands over his shoulders and upper arms (nicely muscled, but not overly so). “Moral support, huh?”

“Yeah,”he said.

She stood on tiptoe and kissed him again. His hands went around her waist, pulling her close to his body. She eased her hands into his hair as the kiss deepened. She pulled back an inch. “Mmm. This is very supportive.”

“I do what I can,”said Gavin and kissed her again.

Behind them, Wyn heard the door to the kitchen open. She pulled away from Gavin and turned to see who was coming in. It was Madame Braith, with Reese in tow.

“Hello lovebirds,”said Madame Braith. “Can’t you two keep your hands off each other for two minutes?”

Wyn blushed. She knew Madame Braith was only teasing. Madame Braith didn’t have any problems with romantic entanglements amongst students. They were all of legal age, after all. Still, Wyn didn’t like being discovered making out with her boyfriend in the kitchen. It was embarrassing.

Gavin wasn’t embarrassed at all. “Are you kidding?”he said. “Have you looked at Wyn lately? There’s no way I can keep my hands to myself.”

This embarrassed Wyn more, even though it pleased her. She elbowed him. “Stop it,”she said. She turned to Madame Braith and Reese. “Sorry. Were you showing Reese around?”

“Actually, I was trying to gather you all up for an exercise this evening,”said Madame Braith. “After dinner? I have something I’d like to try, and I think it will work much better with Reese here.”

Wyn shrugged. “Sure.”They might technically be done with studies for the weekend, but Madame Braith was always springing psychic exercises on them without much notice.

“Absolutely,”said Gavin.

“Seven?”asked Madame Braith. “Can you make it at seven?”

Wyn nodded. She looked at Reese, skulking behind Madame Braith. She sighed. “Do you want to join us for dinner?”

“I’ll be way too busy preparing the exercise,”said Madame Braith. “What about you, Reese?”

Reese didn’t say anything, but he looked less sullen for one second and more confused.

“I’m making curry,”said Wyn.

“Everything she cooks is fantastic,”said Gavin.

Reese shrugged. “Sure.”

* * *

Gavin took Wyn’s hand as they headed downstairs for the exercise with Madame Braith. He liked the way it seemed that everything he did with Wyn was perfectly natural. Being with Wyn was comfortable, like coming home. She was beautiful and sweet, and she squeezed his hand, he couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest guy on the earth.

Meaghan and Amanda met them at the top of the steps. “What did you think of the new guy?”Meaghan asked him.

Gavin shrugged. “He seemed quiet.”

“And ugly,”said Meaghan.

Amanda shrugged helplessly at Gavin. “He wasn’t that ugly,”she said. Amanda was dating Luke, who was probably already in the den, waiting for them. Luke was always early for everything.

“Wyn agreed with me, didn’t you?”asked Meaghan.

Wyn grinned up at Gavin. “When you’re dating the most beautiful man in the world, everyone else pales in comparison,”she said.

Meaghan sighed. “I really thought this guy was going to be like, the one.”

Gavin chuckled and started down the stairs with Wyn. “You’re obsessed with trying to find the right guy, Megs.”

“How would you feel if you were the only person at the academy who wasn’t coupled up?”Meaghan wanted to know. She was right, as far as that went. The only other two students–Lissa and Sophia–were lesbians, and they’d been a couple before they even arrived at the school. “I’m like the seventh wheel.”

“Maybe he’ll grow on you,”said Gavin.

“I seriously doubt it,”said Meaghan.

It was too bad for Meaghan, but Gavin found himself liking Reese. He hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to him over dinner, but he thought it would be nice to have another guy at the academy besides Luke, who was super serious. He loved Wyn, and she made him happier than anyone ever had, but sometimes he craved a little guy time.

Reese appeared at the top of the steps. Gavin waved at him.

“Hey,”said Reese. “So, where’s this exercise?”

Gavin waited for him to catch up. “We always do stuff like this in the den. We have classes in there too. I’ll show you.”

They reached the end of the steps and trooped across the foyer to the den. The room was full of overstuffed leather couches and easy chairs. Its walls were lined with sagging bookcases–Madame Braith’s personal collection of literature on Sensitives and psychic energy. Her office contained even more books, the ones she used on a regular basis and the ones she felt were too dangerous for the students to tangle with yet.

Reese surveyed the room. “Whoa,”he said. “Lots of books.”

“Yeah,”said Gavin.

“What’s that thing?”Reese pointed at a metal sculpture that sat on an end table in the corner of the room. It was a twisted, battered thing in the shape of something like a mix of a crow and a cow.

“That?”said Gavin. “That’s Madame Braith’s Irish goddess thing. She’s seriously into this whole theory about ancient spirits and gods and stuff. Don’t worry. She’ll explain it at some point.”

“Explain what?”said Madame Braith, brushing past the two of them.

Gavin laughed, feeling a little embarrassed. “Oh, you know, everything about this place and spirits and stuff.”

Madame Braith raised her eyebrows. She gestured at the chairs in the room. “Why don’t you two have a seat?”

Gavin was glad he’d found Madame Braith. His abilities had been nothing more than a handy party trick before the academy. Occasionally, he could read surface thoughts, but before coming to the academy, he’d had absolutely no control over it. It meant that he’d been able to sometimes cheat at cards or tell if a girl at a club was actually into him. Madame Braith had taught him that his abilities actually came from the fact that he had an affinity with spirits. If he could tune into the spirits in the room, they could give him information about the people in it and the people who’d been in it. Now he knew how to contact the spirit realm and how to summon spirits to him when there weren’t any around. He’d come a long way.

Gavin settled on one of the couches next to Wyn. Meaghan found a chair and Amanda found Luke. The other girls were already there, sitting and waiting. Reese sat down next to them. Madame Braith stood in the middle of the room. She looked excited. Her hair was pulled into a messy topknot on her head and she sloppily rolled her sleeves up to her elbows. The coffee table next to her was covered in opened books. “I’ve never attempted anything like this before,”she said to them. “This is going to be amazing.”

Hmm. That was interesting. Madame Braith had never said anything like that before. Gavin had always assumed all the exercises were old hat for Madame Braith. He’d never been part of something new. This would be exciting. He squeezed Wyn’s hand. She squeezed back. Cool. They were all excited, then.

“With Reese here,”said Madame Braith, “there are nine of us. This is an auspicious number, with a long history. In early times, people of our abilities were blessed and worshipped.”

Oh God. She wasn’t going to start her lecture about how people who used to see fairies or were the priests of gods were actually just Sensitives and their fairies and gods were actually just the spirit realm, and how the modern world had rejected ancient wisdom and destroyed the balance between flesh and spirit and everything else she always said? Reese would understand what he’d been talking about earlier if she did, but Gavin really didn’t feel like hearing it again.

“Today we will do a very ancient exercise,”said Madame Braith. “One that comes to us from many hundreds of years ago from Ireland and England. It draws on the power of nine, like the nine sisters of Avalon. We will journey deeply into the spirit realm. We will come back wiser and closer to the spiritual.”She grinned at them. “Are you ready?”

Sounded pretty cool. Gavin looked around at the other students who were all nodding excitedly. Only Reese looked wary and worried. Reese would realize soon enough that the academy was a wonderful place and that Madame Braith only had his best interests at heart.

Madame Braith began distributing objects to each of them. White stones, sticks of burning incense, burning candles. She instructed them all to close their eyes and reach out with their minds for the spirit realm. So far it seemed pretty normal. Madame Braith often used objects to focus them. And every exercise started out with reaching for the spirit world with their minds.

“Imagine,”said Madame Braith, “that you are at the bottom of a very tall staircase. You begin to walk up it, and you notice that with each step, it is easier to breath. You feel lighter, more buoyant, like you are floating out of yourself.”

Also pretty standard. Gavin concentrated on feeling lighter. Madame Braith paused to allow them to time to get focused.

“Around you, you begin to feel the wind rush around you,”Madame Braith said. Her voice had gotten soft. It was barely louder than a whisper.

Gavin felt himself begin to feel drowsy but also more aware. It was as Madame Braith said, like he was floating away from his body.

“You begin to see the world, and it seems brighter and more distinct,”continued Madame Braith.

Gavin pushed up another symbolic step. And then it happened, the way it always did. He felt himself burst through into the spirit realm. He opened his eyes. He could still perceive the world around him, but the “real”world was like a shadow or as if it was hidden behind a veil. The clearest things now were the spiritual ones. The room was filled with spirits. They flitted through the air like bright, flying ribbons. They were swirling around Madame Braith and dancing between the rest of the students. Gavin took a deep breath. Here, it seemed, the air was cleaner. Fresher.

Madame Braith threw her arms up to the ceiling. The spirits swam around her fingertips, lacing around each other as if to accent her motion.

Gavin caught Reese’s eye across the room. Reese’s mouth was open. He took in the room with awe. It was his first time really seeing, Gavin knew. Reese was never going to be the same.

“I invoke the nine daughters of the sea, who weave the threads of long life,”rang out Madame Braith’s voice.

The spirits whooshed away from Madame Braith, giving her body space, almost as if they were surprised to hear what she was saying. Gavin didn’t know if he’d ever seen them behave in such a way before.

Madame Braith continued, “May three deaths be taken from me! May my fame not perish! May old age not come to me! May death not come to me in the mortal realm!”

The spirits churned, flying away from Madame Braith. They dived through the windows, through the ceiling. Gavin watched in alarm. Where were the spirits going? Why was Madame Braith talking about death anyway?

“May the wheel spin again! May the clock wind backwards! May the old world live again!”

Something else was pouring into the room. Another kind of spirit. Gavin had never seen anything like it. The spirits were tattered and burnt. Old and used. They floated slowly, pooling into the corners and settling on the floor. Gavin’s throat tightened. He was anxious. He didn’t know why. He’d never felt nervous during one of Madame Braith’s exercises before. But this time, he wasn’t sure he liked what was happening.

“I invoke Morgana of the nine circuits of time,”breathed Madame Braith. “Come to me and make all thy power mine.”

Abruptly, all the old spirits stood straight up. There was a vast whirlwind of movement. The spirits spun through the room as if they were dead leaves stirred by a cold wind. Icy fingers brushed Gavin as the spirits touched his flesh. Some clung to him, crawling up over his arms and body. He tried to shake them off, but they clung to him like leeches. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Wyn was covered in them too.

Gavin summoned every shred of psychic energy Madame Braith had taught him to use and pushed at the spirits, trying to force them off his body and away from Wyn.

It didn’t work.

Instead, the spirits slithered up his body over his chin and cheeks. They slid into his mouth and his nose. Into his eyes. Gavin screamed, and the world went completely black.

He could see again for a minute, but he couldn’t understand what he saw.

A woman lay on a bed next to him, completely naked. It was dark except for the light of candles. He couldn’t see her face. But she was clutching her belly and laughing.

He was astride a horse, at the top of a green hill. Below him, in a valley, lay hundreds of dead men, all wearing tunics and pieces of mismatched armor.

He was on the turret of a stone castle, a woman in his arms. She was sobbing an apology, and around her men were screaming for her death.

He stood in a courtyard, a sword in his hand. It was heavy, but it made him strong. With it, he could stave off the darkness. He could fight.

The woman was still laughing in the bed. She sat up, and he saw her eyes. They were bright green. They were cruel eyes.

The darkness dropped back down like a curtain. Gavin felt as if he tumbled down the staircase he’d climbed minutes before and landed on his back. His body cried out in pain. And he was out of the spirit realm. He opened his eyes. They were all lying on the floor, even Madame Braith. All the lights in the den had gone out, even the sticks of incense and candles that Madame Braith had given them.

Gavin sat up, searching for Wyn. She was next to him. He touched her, and she rolled over, groaning.

“Are you okay?”he asked.

“What happened?”said Wyn.

The others were murmuring too, doing their best to get to their feet or back onto the couches. Madame Braith managed to get to her feet. She surveyed the room for a second, then strode over to the light switch and flicked it back and forth. The lights didn’t come on. “Wow,”she breathed.

“What did you do?”Gavin demanded. He didn’t think that had been a simple exercise. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced.

“Not me,”said Madame Braith. “Us. We did this. We much have blown a breaker!”

“That’s a good thing?”asked Reese. He was climbing back into the chair he’d been sitting in before the exercise started.

“It’s because of you,”said Madame Braith to Reese. “We couldn’t have done this without you. You were the missing piece. I can’t believe…”She looked out at the rest of them. “Did you feel it? Did you feel how powerful that was?”

“I didn’t like it,”said Gavin.

“Well, it will take a little getting used to, maybe,”said Madame Braith.

“No,”said Gavin, “We won’t do that again.”

Madame Braith arched an eyebrow. “You seem a little out of sorts, Gavin,”she said. “I’ve never heard you order anyone around before, let alone me.”

Gavin took a step back, realizing she was right. He usually went with the flow here. And he trusted Madame Braith. Up until a few minutes ago, he would have trusted her with his life. It was just that things seemed different now.

“Luke,”said Madame Braith, “can you go see if you can flip the breaker back over and get some lights?”

Luke nodded and headed out of the den.

“I know that was intense,”said Madame Braith, “but you must realize how exciting this is. The sheer amount of energy that we released just now, together, is absolutely phenomenal. I should have warned you what it would be like, but honestly, I didn’t think it would work so well. I’m completely floored.”

Wyn smiled. “It was really intense,”she said.

“Yeah,”agreed Meaghan.

“If we try something like this again–“started Madame Braith.

“No,”said Gavin. He didn’t care if it was out of character. “We won’t. Or at least, I won’t.”

“It won’t work without you, Gavin,”said Madame Braith.

Gavin shrugged. “Too bad.”

“Oh, Gavin, I’m sorry it scared you,”said Madame Braith. She started laughing. “It’s really okay.”

But Gavin didn’t like the way she laughed. And he didn’t like the way her green, green eyes bored into him, looking cruel and self-satisfied.

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