The group reached an agreement. Plum disguised as Ross would accompany us on our journey, with the promise of a payoff when we reached our destination. She terminated the binding spell, releasing me and the trapped dancer.
We were about to leave, when Delilah discovered that one of her dancers was still unconscious from the ricochet of the spell she had launched at Plum. It took a face full of cold water to rouse her. The woman was clearly disoriented. Delilah ordered her to get up. Plum placed a restraining hand on Delilah’s arm.
“I think your friend has a concussion. She should go to the hospital and get checked out.”
“She’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
“But, I really think…”
“I said, she’ll be fine. We’re already behind schedule.”
Plum shrugged Ross’ shoulders. We all headed for the door with Beastie in tow. It was Delilah’s turn to stop Plum.
“Whoa, that…that furry monster of yours is not coming with us. There’s barely enough room in the van for us.”
“Either Beastie comes or Patricia and I stay here,” said Plum serenely.
Delilah gave her a searching look. I sensed her weighing her options. Plum waited, resolve evident in her calm disposition. Delilah blew out a disgusted breath and relented grudgingly. We made our way out to the van. My heart was pounding painfully against my chest, as every step brought me closer to the moment when they would inject me with Propofol. For the umpteenth time, I wondered how I came to be surrounded by people whom I couldn’t trust. This time, my life would literally be in their hands.
The concussed dancer’s pace slackened, until she was walking behind Plum. I found the sullen expression on her face a little troubling. If looks were daggers, Plum would drop dead. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her glance over at me. A split second later, her right hand swung out in front of her. Belatedly, I saw what was in her hand.
Plum was a step ahead of us both. Her hand shot out as she suddenly turned towards the woman, pushing the dancer’s elbow up as she gripped and twisted the hand holding the needle into the woman’s chest. The dancer’s eyes widened as the needle sunk into her flesh. She struggled and protested, but the brute strength in Ross’ arms overpowered her. She gave Plum a pleading look, as Plum forced her finger down on the plunger.
The woman collapsed a few moments later. Plum left the others to catch and hoist the dancer into the van. They soon discovered that she wasn’t breathing. Plum serenely climbed into the front passenger seat while the others frantically attempted to revive the dancer. I sat huddled in a corner and tried to stay out of their way.
Their clumsy efforts to do CPR were ineffective. I watched in shock as the woman’s soul was expelled from her body, like a puff of dirty white smoke. No one else seemed to see the apparition. Her features were faintly visible and I could see her lips moving. She drifted face up, until she managed to turn back towards her body reaching for it with her insubstantial hands.
“She’s dying,” I blurted out.
The spirit looked into my eyes and I saw fear turn to rage. She turned her gaze on Plum, as she surged towards her. Before I could warn my friend, Beastie stepped into the wraith’s path. His aura suddenly unfurled around him and shone through his eyes as a pale blue glow as he advanced a step. A deep growl rumbled out of him, which made the hair on my neck stand up.
The wraith recoiled so abruptly, I realized that they could see one another. There was something otherworldly about that dog. He held the wraith at bay, until her form began to dissipate. Plum sat staring out of the passenger window, ignoring the commotion of the others’ desperate attempts to save the woman and oblivious to the danger at her back. I looked at Beastie.
“No one else even saw it. Did they boy,” I murmured.
Beastie silently gazed at me and his eyes spoke volumes. It was as though he understood me, like we had shared a secret. I found that strangely comforting and reached out to pet him. Our moment of closeness was brought to an abrupt end by the wails of the others.
“She’s dead. You killed her!”
“No, she killed herself by attacking me,” Plum said flatly.
“You’re a warlock aren’t you? Bring her back to life,” suggested one woman. The others chimed in.
“Let me get this straight. You all honestly expect me to expend life force energy resurrecting someone who just tried to kill me? I won’t even dignify that foolishness with a response! You’re all witches aren’t you? Why don’t you bring her back yourselves?”
Plum glared expectantly at Delilah, who shifted nervously in the driver’s seat. She looked at the group and waved them off impatiently. “She made the decision on her own to deviate from the plan. As far as I’m concerned, she got what she deserved. Let that be a lesson to any of you who are thinking about disobeying my orders!”
A dancer with short spiky hair spoke up,”know what I think? This guy won’t even try to bring Jalisa back ’cause he can’t.”
Plum turned around to face the woman, “Is that right? Well, I think you all can’t bring her back. That’s why you want me to do it. Admit it, you’re all just a bunch of posers. Judging from that pitiful performance back at my place, you all wouldn’t be able to cast a spell, if your life depended on it. Otherwise, that stupid girl…”
“Her name was Jalisa!”
“Ok fine, Jalisa wouldn’t have resorted to trying to stab me with a needle, if you all had any real magical ability!”
“Don’t push your luck…” began Delilah.
“Do I look worried? I could take all of you on without breaking a sweat.”
“Are you challenging us to some sort of battle,” asked Delilah incredulously.
“You’re damn right. Why don’t we make it interesting? The winner leads this ragtag group.”
“I don’t think…”
“You mean to tell me that you couldn’t defeat me backed by four other witches? I knew you were a bunch of posers!”
Delilah bristled at Plum’s taunting tone and took her up on the challenge. The excited shouts of her coven did little to dispel the sudden regret and uncertainty I sensed in Delilah. From Ross’ pockets, Plum suddenly produced a folded piece of what looked like old parchment paper and a long, narrow, ornately carved mahogany wooden box which she opened it to reveal what looked like a sharp letter opener. It had a black stone blade with a silver, jewel encrusted silver handle. Nestled on the blood-red velvet beside the blade was a matching silver, jeweled pen. Delilah started to protest and Plum raised an amused eyebrow.
“Don’t tell me you’ve already lost your nerve. A minute ago, you had complete confidence in your coven. Now that I want to make our little wager official, you want to back out? That says a lot about what you think of them.”
“Stop trying to make me look bad. I would trust these people with my life,” Delilah snapped.
“So, what’s the problem?”
Delilah opened her mouth to reply, glanced uneasily at the others and abruptly closed her lips. Plum shot me a triumphant look and sat the box on the dashboard in front of her. She unfolded and smoothed out the parchment paper. Using the pen, she wrote out their wager on the parchment, saying the words aloud as she wrote.
The amber stones on the handle of the pen glowed, as she wrote the last words. I watched in fascination, as the others gathered around. Plum exchanged the pen for the blade. She murmured a brief incantation and the amber stones on the handle of the blade glowed, as the pen had. Plum pledged herself to abide by the wager or sacrifice her soul.
She pricked her finger with the blade and pressed the bloody finger onto the parchment. I heard a faint sizzling sound as the bloody fingerprint seared the paper. The others followed suit, with the same results. Soon, there were six bloody finger prints scorched into the parchment. They moved back to their places in solemn silence.
Plum carefully folded the parchment, closed the implements inside the box, and deposited everything in an inside jacket pocket. Delilah said aloud what everyone was thinking.
“Now we do battle. I know the perfect place. Let’s go.”