The spear arced through the air and time slowed for me, long enough to realize that I’d made a mistake throwing it. If I killed the cat, I’d be stuck with Mildred for eternity. It was enough time that I instinctively reached out for the flying weapon, wanting to retrieve it. And it was long enough moment for a hot flush to flood my body.
The spear clattered to the ground a few inches short of its destination.
Regular time resumed.
The attacking Siamese veered away from the fallen rabbit at the last moment and bounded off into the woods.
I rushed to Sol’s side, dropped to my knees, and checked to see if the bunny was still breathing.
“You did it,” he gasped, and his eyes closed.
I scooped him up and cradled his limp, furry body against my chest. “How do I help him?” I asked Conroy.
“Say your name,” Conroy replied.
“I don’t know my name,” I wailed. I could feel the life draining from the rabbit’s body.
“Mildred just told you,” the owl revealed. “Say it. Say it to save him.”
“Ravena Renata Valentina?” I asked uncertainly.
My whole body tingled with heat.
“Ravena Renata Valentina,” I repeated more forcefully. It felt like an electric current had been switched on inside me. I could feel a power revving through me.
“Claim it,” Conroy urged. “Say I am…”
“I am,” I parroted.
The owl let out an exasperated sigh. “With your name at the end.”
“I am Ravena Renata Valentina,” I said carefully.
“Now stand up and say it like you mean it,” my redia instructed. “Claim your power.”
I struggled to my feet, clutching the flaccid rabbit to my chest. Taking a deep breath, I shouted, “I am Ravena Renata Valentina!”
Suddenly there was no ground beneath me. A bright, crackling wall of red flame engulfed me. It stole my breath as I heard a distant roar of anger. The acrid odor of burnt flesh made me retch.
Then I heard a voice, one I’d never heard before, but that seemed intimately familiar. “Find them. Save all. You must, Renata.”
And then the world was quiet and normal again. I was standing in the campground bonfire area.
I sucked in a deep breath of the clean forest air.
A muffled noise came from my chest.
Glancing down, expecting to see the white rabbit, I was shocked to see Sol’s human head crushed to my breasts.
“Aaah!” I shoved him away from me and was relieved to see that it was attached to his body.
He stumbled backward and fell on his butt with a grunt. He held up his hand and Erich landed in his palm. “Hey,” he began to protest, “I wasn’t the one who—.” He froze, staring at me.
“What?” I looked down at myself, afraid the flames had incinerated my clothing or something.
Now I could see it, the purple shimmer, so dark it looked like iridescent black, that enveloped me. But while the shimmers of others clung to them like a cloud, mine flickered and danced like I wore a cloak of a million miniature flames.
I looked to the magician. “What does it mean?”
Eyes wide, Sol scrambled to his feet. “A true keeper. I thought…”
“Fidian,” Valentina admonished gently.
“I’m sorry.” He knelt on one knee, hat in hand. “I thought they…you were the stuff of legend. Forgive me.”
“Get up,” I told him, embarrassed that he was kneeling before me.
He stood slowly, a look of shame haunting his features. “I didn’t believe.”
“I don’t know what you two are going on about,” Garrett interrupted.
We turned to face the squirrel. He sat on Tess’s lap
“But now that you threw your broom at her and chased the cat away, are you still going to be able to turn me human again?”
Seeing my confusion, Sol softly told me, “He can’t see the change.” To the squirrel he said, “No worries. She’ll be back.”
“Not likely,” Conroy piped up. “You used an Information Extraction on her and made her give up Ravena’s name.”
“She would not have given it willingly,” Sol grunted defensively.
“But to use a coercive tactic,” the owl argued, “that doesn’t make you much different than Mildred.”
Sol drew himself up to his full height. “A shuhval makes the hard choices that those too squeamish don’t dare.”
“It almost killed you,” I felt compelled to point out.
“A shuhval’s duty can entail great sacrifice,” he said proudly.
“Ughh,” Garret interrupted again. “Is anybody gonna find the missing magcial cat?”
“Wait here,” Sol told him. “I’ll hunt the maddener down.”
Not liking the level of animosity in his tone, I held up a finger to Garrett. “Wait here. We won’t be long.” Then I picked up the spear and ran after Sol.
“How did you do it?” Conroy asked as soon as we’d caught up with him. “How did you summon enough power to use an Information Extraction?”
“I’ve used it before,” he murmured, his eyes darting around in search of the wayward cat.
“But you’re caponem,” the owl said.
“As everyone feels the need to remind me,” Sol complained. “First Keith, now you and that witch, Bloodworth.”
“Keith knew?” I asked.
“It’s not like I can hide a lavender shimmer,” Sol muttered bitterly.
“It’s more of a mulberry,” Conroy offered.
The man beside me suddenly changed direction, almost knocking me over. His dark eyes swept over mine and I shivered at the determination I saw there.
He looked away, realizing he’d frightened me. “Keith called it violet.” He changed direction again.
“What are you doing?” I asked as I leapt out of his path.
“Tracking the maddener. What are you doing?”
“Making sure you don’t kill her,” I confessed.
“I’m not going to kill the cat,” he said. “She’s much too valuable.”
“Valuable how?” I asked curiously, racing to keep up with him as he began to run.
“Stop!” he yelled at the streak of silver-grey fur that bolted in front of us. He dove to catch her but missed, landing empty-handed on the forest floor. His hat bounced a few yards away.
“Mildred!” I called after her. “I thought you wanted to be rid of me.”
That stopped the cat in her path. She pranced back toward us and glared at me with those blue eyes.
I could feel the malevolence coming off her and found myself tightening my grip on the spear in case I had to defend myself against her. “I thought you didn’t want to be stuck together for eternity,” I reminded her. “We’re supposed to be righting your wrongs, remember?”
“Fine,” she purred pompously. “We’ll reunite the loving couple.”
“How?” I asked.
“Well now that you know your name, it shouldn’t be too hard. After all, if a child could perform the original spell, even you should be able to reverse it.
Head held high, she trotted back toward the bonfire area.
Sol got to his feet and brushed dirt and leaves from his clothes and summoned his top hat, which he put back on his head at a rakish angle. “I don’t feel guilty.”
“For coercing her. She’s evil.”
I didn’t disagree with him on that count. “Do you think we can trust her with this reversal?”
He shrugged. “Do you think you can afford to risk not going through with it?”
I shook my head slowly. “Mildred had insisted that I help my friend Maggie Lee with the exorcism of a little white dog and I’d be rewarded with a bike charm.”
Sol scowled. “I’m not familiar with a bike charm.”
“Not a spell or curse type charm,” Conroy explained. “A silver one.”
“She says that once the bracelet is filled, I’ll be rid of her,” I continued. “Does that make sense?”
Sol shrugged. “Nothing makes sense about you and yet here we are.”
“So what do we do?”
“There’s nothing for me to do,” he said. “You on the other hand, have to find a hod and perform a spell.”