Chapter Sixteen

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Aphrodite sent me home using magic, and the journey that had taken me over six hours took under a minute. It was like I blacked out: one minute I was standing with the goddess by the side of the road, and the next minute, I was there in the street in front of my house. I took a step and crumpled to the ground. I struggled to crawl up the walk, then pulled myself upright and drew a few deep breaths. Everything had happened so fast: the trucker, my Dedicancy to Aphrodite, and then Hecate's threat. I wanted to crawl up to my bed and sleep for a month.

The old door creaked painfully and I paused, clutching my keys in one hand to muffle any telltale clinks. I counted slowly to one hundred, my heart thundering in my ears. Nothing. No parents, no angry goddesses, nothing made any sound. Maybe the door had only sounded loud to me. I breathed a quick sigh of relief and stepped into the house.

Suddenly, I froze in my tracks. There was a faint rustling noise coming from the kitchen. I paused, praying it was just my overwrought imagination. As I stood there, my eyes adjusted to the dark and I began to count slowly, the way I used to during thunderstorms. One, two, thr—

I heard it again. There was definitely somebody in the kitchen. Creeping around the corner, I tried to still my frantic heart. The blue streetlights outside cast strange shadows, and everything in the familiar old kitchen suddenly looked alien and threatening. Unless my eyes were playing tricks on me, there was a vaguely human shape seated at the table. Had Hecate changed her mind and decided to go after me despite my patron? I drew a deep breath and flicked the light switch, flinging my hands up in preparation for a protection spell.

Rochelle laughed softly. "Turn the lights off, you idiot. Do you want your parents to know you're back?"

My mouth hung open. "What are you doing here?" I flicked the switch after she lit the stub of the white emergency candle that still sat on the table. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sharp glow.

She shrugged. "Waiting for you. Your mom called my house when you took off. I guess she thought you might have been with me."

"What did you tell her?" I grabbed a chair and sank into it.

"That we were having a slumber party, that you were pissed and you'd call them in the morning."

"Thanks."

She cocked her head to one side. "Where were you, really?"

I hesitated. I'd gotten so used to keeping secrets since I became a Red Witch, I'd almost forgotten how good it felt to confide in my best friend.

"Atlanta." Rochelle arched an eyebrow, so I continued, "I went looking for Aphrodite. I thought she could help me."

"Why Atlanta? I mean, can't the gods come and go wherever they want?"

I struggled to put my confused thoughts into words while Rochelle stared at me, unblinking. "I thought that if I could find Aphrodite anywhere, it would be in the city named after one of her devotees."

"But why not just summon her here?"

"Because I hoped she could protect me from Hecate if we were on her own turf."

My best friend whistled. "Dang, girl, I've never talked to any goddesses, and here in one week you've chatted it up with two!"

"Four, actually," I interjected without thinking. "Persephone and Pele have both been here, too." I shuddered as I remembered Pele's request for sacrifices.

Rochelle looked stunned. "What do they all want with you?"

I sighed. "Red magic. It turns out that being a Red Witch means I have power over the forces of chaos. Pele wants me to kill people for her, and Persephone ... well, I'm not sure what she wanted." For some reason, I didn't want to tell Rochelle about the pomegranate seeds. "And Aphrodite offered to help me find a middle ground that won't require death and destruction."

Rochelle scrunched up her nose. "But why would a love goddess care what you do with chaos magic?"

I shrugged. "I don't totally get it, but I guess Helen of Troy was a Red, and I think Aphrodite feels bad that she didn't help her more." I held up my hands at the skeptical look on my best friend's face. "That's what she said! I just knew I didn't want to face Hecate again without some kind of protection."

"So, what, you have a patron now?"

I nodded, hoping that Rochelle wouldn't tell me I was an idiot.

She shrugged thoughtfully. "I haven't found the right god yet, but I think it's a good thing for you."

"Really?" I was surprised. Rochelle always complained about old-fashioned Witches, and I'd just assumed she considered patrons old-fashioned.

She nodded. "I mean, you won't be any worse off than you are now, right?"

I exhaled quickly. "Right." I covered a yawn, but Rochelle kept talking.

"Red magic must be pretty powerful, huh, if so many goddesses have been paying attention to you?"

"I don't know," I lied, suddenly self-conscious about my magic. "But there are only three Red Witches in the world. It's not that the magic is powerful," I hurried, "but I think it's just too much to unleash in large quantities."

She leaned forward. "How did you even know about it?"

"I didn't."

Rochelle eyed me skeptically. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. When Hecate showed up, I panicked. I didn't want to pick a path, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind."

"That was dangerous: what if you'd said something that didn't exist?"

I shrugged. "I just hoped it would throw her off and she'd leave me alone. Instead, I made a vow I still don't understand."

"What else do you think they're keeping from us at Trinity?"

I looked at her in surprise. "Do you really think they'd do that?"

"They clearly knew enough about Red magic to kick you out after you declared." She closed her eyes, thinking. "I bet they only teach us the watered-down stuff. Red magic seems way more powerful than even Black."

"But why wouldn't the teachers at Trinity want us to be strong? Wouldn't they want us to know as much magic as we can?"

Rochelle sighed. "Grow up, Lena. Why would they want us to be powerful? We're easier to control if they spoon-feed us baby magic." She sighed, tipping her chair back. "You'll teach me some of the stuff you learn, right?"

I only hesitated for a moment, but I saw a flicker of anger pass across her eyes when I paused. "Of course. You're my best friend."

She smiled. "Forever."

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