Chapter Thirty-Two

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The next week was tense. Every day, I worried that Hecate would appear in the cottage, denouncing me and demanding that Demeter turn me over to her. I had no doubt that Demeter would obey Hecate. Persephone had been wise not to trust her mother with my secret.

But Hecate didn't appear, and Demeter and I spent the time walking the fields and speaking with the farmers who were her devotees. Dennis followed me everywhere, and although I teased him and chased him off each day, I secretly enjoyed his company. I would miss him when I returned to my own world.

Each afternoon, I arrived back at the cottage before Demeter and tried to practice Red magic. I could now sense its force if I was still, and I was beginning to feel the differences between Red magic and anything else. Red magic felt like a jolt of electricity, and it was the strongest force, but that didn't mean I couldn't feel the gentle tug of Green magic, or the warmth of White magic. One day, I even felt a sickening pull in my stomach that I assumed must be Black magic, but I shied away from that quickly, thinking of Rochelle. I didn't want to end up like her, and while I knew rationally that Black magic had nothing to do with her being power hungry, she had proved my parents' prejudices when she tried to kill me. Black or Red, whatever she was, she'd gone from being my best friend to my enemy, and I didn't want to be like her.

Before, I had only used Red magic when I was frightened, when I was desperate, or when I was angry. Now, in the small house in Greece, I tried to call upon Red magic when I was calm and quiet. It was hard. The more I tried, the more I wondered if it would be impossible to separate Red magic from chaotic emotion. I didn't want to do anything too dramatic, but I tried to light the hearth fire each evening and failed.

After I'd been in Demeter's house for a week, I got particularly frustrated.

"What good does any of this do, if I don't know how to use it?" I slammed my hand down on the table in frustration. The fire leaped when my fist hit the wood, and I stared into the now-dancing flames. I took a step closer to the fire, excited. As a test, I tried to breathe slowly and evenly. As my mind stilled, the flames fell.

Was I going about this all wrong? Maybe I shouldn't try to distance strong emotion from Red magic; maybe the two were irrevocably bound. I didn't want to use Red magic irrationally, though. Instead of focusing on frustration, I stared at the fire and tried to call to mind the fear I felt of Hecate. The fire surged again.

Not all emotions were destructive, I reasoned. Staring at the flames, I pictured Justin's face, and for the first time I allowed myself to fully feel the emotions he stirred in me. Frustration and embarrassment swelled through me as I remembered his rejection. My cheeks burned, but the fire leaped high on the hearth, so I let myself keep retracing the emotions of our relationship. The relief I felt when Justin accepted my declaration of Red magic without question or judgment, the anger I felt when he refused to believe that I'd had nothing to do with the accident at the coffee shop. Images flooded my mind, and my heart raced. I focused on the feeling of his lips on mine after I cast the love spell, ignoring the fact that I wasn't likely to feel that again.

A loud boom brought me back to reality. The fire had grown so hot and the flames had gone so high that the kettle over the hearth had imploded. I fought for a calm state of mind, and the flames gradually dropped down.

Taking a rag from beside the hearth, I reached in and tried to rescue the remains of the kettle. The lump of smoldering iron looked like a misshapen skull, and I carried it out of the cottage gingerly. I flung it into the field and dusted my hands, feeling satisfied; I'd made some progress, even if I had destroyed the kettle. It would be easy enough to walk into town and purchase a new one.

Smiling, I turned back to the house, but a sound in the grass stopped me. I turned slowly and spotted Dennis, who was running frantically toward the vineyard. I called to him, but he only ran faster. I didn't know how much he had seen, but I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up my disguise much longer. Dennis had clearly seen enough to know that I wasn't Persephone, and now he'd run off to tell everyone.

Frantic, I thought of the goddess I'd traded places with. We hadn't devised any way for me to contact her if things went wrong; she had said she'd check in on me, and I had trusted her. But so far, I hadn't seen or heard anything from Persephone. I started pacing, trying to figure out what to do now that my cover had been blown.

I didn't want to run the risk of Hecate catching me, not now when I was just beginning to understand how to use my power. And if Dennis went to Demeter, it wouldn't be long before she summoned Hecate. As if in answer to my thoughts, I heard the low rumble of voices over the hill. Someone was already headed my way from the vineyard; it sounded like a large group of people. I squinted in the distance, and saw Demeter crest the hill with a withered figure in black beside her. Hecate was here! How had everything fallen apart so quickly? I forgot that Demeter had said Hecate would be arriving soon to escort me to the Underworld; all I could think was that the Queen of Witches would soon have me in her clutches.

I panicked. Turning in the opposite direction of the crowd, I ran blindly down the path. I skidded to a halt outside the cave.

I stopped, weighing my options. If Hecate had heard what Dennis had seen, I didn't stand a chance. I might be starting to learn how to control my power, but I had no doubt that she could destroy me in an instant. The last time I'd pissed her off, I'd had Aphrodite's protection, but now I was totally vulnerable. I decided to take my chances with Hades, and I plunged into the dark mouth of the cave.

It was like being buried alive. Once I was in the cave, it turned sharply downward, and all light from the entrance was gone before I had taken ten steps. I paused, panting in the dark, fighting back fear. The cave was still, but I could hear the faint whispering that had drawn me to it that first night. Hecate was somewhere behind me, out in the light. With a shuddering breath, I continued into the darkness.

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