When Terrie got to the library, Brad, Nate, Devon, David, and Sky were all sitting on the front steps waiting. “I’m sorry it took so long. Are you guys leaving? What’s our plan?”
Brad stood up. “Nate had to lock up. The library just closed. Why don’t we move this strategy session to Will’s Diner? I’m hungry.”
Terrie rolled her eyes. “You are always hungry, Bradley. I pity anyone who tries to date you!”
Nate broke out laughing. “Is it too late to change my mind? Maybe an abort mission button?”
Terrie’s eyes widened. “Wait… what? Are you guys dating? Since when? Why didn’t I know?”
“Chill, bestie. We haven’t gone out on a date yet. We talked while I was here last night, and, well, once we’re not all in mortal danger, we’re going to go out.” Brad said.
Nate walked up behind Brad. He slipped his arms around Brad’s waist, and he rested his chin on Brad’s shoulder. “Don’t listen to him. It’s official. We’re dating. This gorgeous stud muffin is all mine.” He kissed the side of Brad’s neck.
Brad blushed and melted back into Nate’s embrace. “Ok. What he said. We’re a couple.”
“Cutest couple ever!” Terrie squealed.
“Now we need to find a girl willing to date my toad of a little brother, but they will have to ignore his grotesque appearance and lack of social skills.” Sky laughed.
“Whatever, bro, whatever,” Devon said with a grin.
“Terrie, did Matt say when he would be joining us? He’s not answering texts.” David looked worried.
Terrie’s expression clouded. “He might be with Elias for a couple of hours. They are… it’s a long story. Let’s get to the diner, and I’ll explain what I know over lunch. Matt asked me to fill you guys in on what I know, so we could have time to discuss everything while we waited for him and Eli to do… whatever it is that they think they can accomplish.”
David scowled. “I don’t think I like the sound of that. Let’s get going, so you can explain further.”
Matt stood in the corner of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, waiting for Eli to fill the tub. Elias dumped most of the herbs into the steaming hot water and stirred it around. He glanced over at Matt and raised one eyebrow. “You know you’re going to have to drop that towel eventually, right?”
Matt blushed. “I… sorry… I know, and I know we’ve been messing around a bit. And I know we both want to mess around a bit more. When it comes right down to being naked, I guess I’m a little nervous. I’ve taken showers in school and at the beach, but I’ve never actually been naked with someone…. one on one.”
“Wow. No one? I guess I assumed that you’d been with girls before, even if you’d never been with a guy.”
“Nope. No girls, no guys. Nothing but kissing for me so far. The furthest I’ve ever been with anyone was when you slipped your hand down the front of my pants last night.” Matt blushed.
“I hope that didn’t freak you out. If I’d known… we can take things as slow or as fast as you want, Matt. I am perfectly fine with letting you control the pace of whatever we do or don’t do.”
“It’s not like I’m saving myself or anything. I just haven’t found the right person, at least not until now, and now I’ve found two.”
Eli smirked. “Can we continue that conversation later? Right now, I need you naked and in this tub. This isn’t sexual, Matt. I won’t do anything inappropriate. When that happens, you’ll know, and it will only happen with your consent and full participation.” Eli winked.
Matt dropped the towel and stepped into the tub. He sat down and slid under the water up to his neck. Matt looked nervously at Elias. “What now?”
“Now we see if I’m any good at being a witch.” Eli huffed out a laugh. “Let’s begin.” Elias stood over Matt and started reciting the spell. Eli was speaking in Latin and sprinkling more herbs into the tub. The water began to bubble and swirl.
Matt’s eyes were wide as he watched the water swirl around his body. “Is this what’s supposed to happen?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this before, but we know that if something happened, it would probably mean we were doing it right.” Elias said. Then, Matt’s body went rigid, and he cried out. Eli held onto Matt’s shoulders. “I got you, Matt, I got you.” Eli saw the pain on Matt’s face, but he also noticed an inky blackness starting to cloud the formerly crystal-clear water in the tub. Eli looked into Matt’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”
Matt couldn’t speak, but he nodded. Yes, he trusted Elias. He trusted him with his life.
Eli placed one hand on top of Matt’s head, and with his other hand, he grabbed another handful of the cut herbs from the nearly empty pouch on his belt. “Take a deep breath and hold it, Matt.” Matt complied, and Elias pushed his head under the water. Eli sprinkled more herbs into the water and recited the spell a third time. There was a brilliant flash of light, and then the darkness was gone. The water was crystal clear again. Elias released Matt. Matt’s head broke the surface of the water, and he took a breath.
Elias wrapped his arms around Matt’s chest. “Are you ok, Matt? Talk to me! Please!”
Matt leaned back against Elias and looked up at him. “I’m ok. That was intense, and for a short time, it was painful, but I think whatever happened is over.”
Elias looked thoughtful. “After that flash of light, the water cleared. I’ll make some herbal tea while you dry off and get dressed. Then I’ll cast the aura spell, and we’ll see if we were successful.”
Matt had taken a quick shower to rinse all the herbs off his body before he dried off and got dressed. He was now sitting across the kitchen table from a grinning Eli. “What? Did you do it? What did you see? Why are you grinning like a crazy person?”
“I am grinning mostly because of what I don’t see. I can’t see the darkness of the curse. Your aura is beautiful, Matt! So vibrant and full of colors. Before it was… I don’t know, diminished. The first time I saw your aura, it was shrouded in darkness. Now it’s the most colorful aura I have ever seen. You will do great things in your life. Being a witch is just the first step in a long line of amazing things you will do.”
Matt nearly jumped for joy. “Complete success? Can we try the other one now? This is awesome!”
“I want to bond with you, but we need to test you first. If dark magic still taints you, the bond would infect me, and that would ruin our chance at, well, everything, including cleansing David.”
“Ok. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to cast a spell while I can still see your aura. If you use magic, I’d see the darkness infect your aura. A simple fire spell should be easiest for you to perform.”
Matt looked excited. “I’m ready. What do I do?”
Elias smirked. “How good are you at learning languages?”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Will there be homework?” He huffed out a laugh. “I’m in my third year of Spanish. Straight A’s. I mean, it’s not easy, but I can read, write, and speak quite a bit now.”
“Spells are spoken in Latin. I’m not sure if anyone has tried to create any in other languages, but for now, we’ll stick with established spells.”
“That makes sense. People probably created spells thousands of years ago. It would be so cool to make new ones, though!”
“One step at a time.” Eli smiled. “Ok. Extend one hand out in front of you, palm side up. Cup your hand like you are holding something.”
Matt followed the instructions and looked expectantly at Elias. “Done. Now what?”
“I’m going to have you create fire, then increase the size, and finally make it disappear. Are you ready?”
“First say ‘ignis flammae.’”
Matt repeated the phrase, and a tiny spark ignited in the air over his hand. “Wow! I did it!” He was grinning ear to ear.
“Now say ‘invalesco’ and if the fire grows successfully, say ‘recedo,’ and it should go out.”
Matt followed the instructions, and both spells worked perfectly. “That was awesome! Did… did you see what you needed to see? Am I cleansed of the curse?”
“Yes, you are free of the curse, and you are free to join with me in forming a coven if you still want to.”
Matt stepped in closer to Elias. “Of course, I want to join with you in every possible way. Magical, physical, emotional, everything.” He lightly kissed Eli’s lips. “If what we were doing wasn’t so vitally important, I’d join with you right here and now.”
“Well, that’s the plan.” Eli grinned. “But, magically, not sexually.” He laughed, then turned and retrieved an extended length of red ribbon and an elaborately carved dagger from the table.
Matt cocked his head. “Do I want to know what we need to do with those?”
Eli smirked. “Nothing kinky… yet. I need to make small cuts on the palms of our right hands. Just enough to draw blood. Then we will clasp hands, and I will wrap the ribbon around our hands, wrists, and forearms to symbolically join us together, then we repeat the spell.” Eli pointed to the book on the table. He had the book propped open, and a passage highlighted.
Matt read the passage then looked at Elias. “What is the translation?”
“It says ‘Join together in spirit. Join together in magic. Our bond is unbreakable. Stronger together than apart. Our coven grows.’”
“Cool. I like it. Let’s do this.” Matt extended his right hand out toward Eli.
Elias took Matt’s hand. He made the incisions on their hands, and they clasped hands. Then Eli joined them together with the ribbon. “It’s time.”
Both boys repeated the spell. “Simul iungere spiritu. Simul iungere magica. Nostris foedere indissolubili sociavit. Sine solito fortiores. Coven crescat nostrae.”
Matt felt his whole body start to tingle, starting with his right hand and waves of energy flowing all through him. Then he felt his hand go ice cold, and he felt another hand on top of his and Eli’s. He saw his confusion mirrored in Eli’s eyes, but just at that moment, the figure of a woman materialized with her right hand joined with theirs forming a circle of three.
Eli’s jaw dropped, and then his eyes narrowed. “Mother, I have been trying to summon you for days. What made you decide to show up now?”
“You didn’t think you could cast such powerful magic without notice, did you?” Marie Carrier said. She glanced at Matt. “I sense the Montana bloodline. How dare you enter this sacred place.” She turned her ghostly gaze onto her son. “How dare you bond one such as he to our coven!”
“If you had appeared to me any of the six times I summoned you, I would have spoken to you about this. I needed your help, but now I have found my answers. You abandoned me as a baby, and you ignored me even now when you’re a spirit. As the last living member of this coven, I decided to remove the Montana curse as a first step toward undoing the evil that our ancestors caused this town. Besides, Matthew is my soulmate. You will accept him as part of my coven, or I will banish you from this house and my life.”
“You have grown stronger in your magic and your attitude. That is why I did not show up at your every whim. I can not be with you. Therefore you needed to learn to figure things out on your own.”
Elias glared at his mother. “With Matt by my side, I will never be alone again.”
Matt felt Marie’s hand grow warmer as she focused her gaze upon him. “You love my son.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you love another as well.”
“I do. I love both very deeply. I’m trying to figure out what that means.”
Marie’s lips curled up in a smile. “Coven witches have had polyamorous relationships for centuries. Make sure everyone plays by the same rules, and no one gets hurt. I sense only goodness in you, Matthew Montana. I approve of my son’s decisions.”
“I don’t need your approval!” Elias snarled as he unwrapped the red ribbon. “I cleansed and bonded with Matt, and we are going to remove the curse from David whether you approve or not.”
“You are still my son, and this is still my coven, Elias. You have my approval, if not my help, but watch your tone.”
“This is my coven. We did not bond with a ghost.” Elias said.
“Nothing is ever as it first appears. The two of you have the power to cleanse the elder Montana boy but beware. Darker forces are gathering beyond what you now know. Be careful, my son. Danger is everywhere.” With that, Marie Carrier disappeared.
“I didn’t expect to meet your mom today. That was interesting.” Matt said.
“I tried to summon her to ask her questions about all this, but she only shows up when she feels like it. I guess I can’t expect someone who dumped me off as a baby to be reliable even in death.”
“She did say that we are strong enough to cure David. That’s encouraging.” Matt looked at the time on his phone. “We should meet up with everyone and decide what to do next. Are you ready?”
Elias couldn’t help but smile. “After what we just did… with you as my coven mate… and whatever else we are or become… I am ready for anything.”
“Whatever else I am to anyone else, I am yours forever, Elias. If we add anyone else to our coven or our lives in any way, I never want to lose you. You know that, right?” Matt held both of Eli’s hands and stared deep into his eyes.
Eli leaned in, and their lips met in a brief kiss. “Yes, I know. I am yours forever, and I know that you are mine. I love you.”
Matt blushed. “I love you, too. Now let’s go find our friends.”
When the six friends reached Will’s Diner, they pushed two tables together, and then they placed their order. Terrie waited for everyone to settle in, and then she pulled two photographs out of her purse. She slid them across the table to Brad. “Dad got these back already. His friend thought dad was pranking him.”
Brad smiled. “I knew I took good photos! I mean, now we know more than we did last night, and these aren’t the important puzzle pieces that I thought they might be, but it’s still nice to see the hard evidence right here in my hands.” Brad looked over at David and slid him the photos. “That’s you, cuz.”
David’s hands were shaking as he picked up the pictures. He leaned against Sky. “So, this is what you saw last night. I don’t even know what to say other than I hope Matt and Elias can fix me.”
“You do not need fixing, babe. We’ll figure this out. You had the opportunity to attack me and Brad and Terrie’s little brother. You chose to run away instead. Even as a wolf, you made the right choice.” Sky said.
Brad nodded in agreement. “David, you were scary as hell. You roared and growled, and you were right there in front of both me and Johnny. You didn’t touch either of us. I agree one hundred percent with Skylar. The night before, the wolf that attacked Kevin, that wolf never hesitated. That wolf went straight for the kill.”
The conversation drifted from story to story, with everyone getting caught up on everything that had been happening. David ran his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair and let out a low whistle. “This is almost overwhelming, especially since my little brother and I are the two central figures in all of this. I guess the next step is to decide how best to lock me up without attracting attention while we figure out how to stop the change from happening, right?”
“We also need to make a plan to capture or kill the other wolf. That wolf is a killer. That wolf killed my best friend.” Brad said.
“And my best friend,” Terrie added. “There is one more important thing I need to share. My dad’s deputy, Lilly Monroe, revealed to us that she is part of a secret organization of witch hunters.”
Terrie was startled when a voice from behind her spoke. “Did you just say witch hunters? Where? Here in town? Who is it?” She turned and saw Matt and Elias standing behind her.
Matt blushed. “Sorry. We were just about to say hi when we heard you say witch hunters.”
Terrie pointed to the two empty chairs. “We saved your seats. Sit down, and I’ll tell you what I know. I just got everyone else caught up on the other stuff you told me.”
“We have more to share as well, but let’s hear about these witch hunters first. I’ve read a lot about them in the journals of past coven members.” Elias said.
“The who is Lilly Monroe. She’s my dad’s newest deputy. The timing didn’t mean anything to him back then, but as it turns out, she moved to town right after you started visiting the witch house, Elias.”
Eli’s brow furrowed. “They must have a way of sensing magic use. What Matt and I did today, well, we will have to be careful moving forward, but there are things we still have to do that will require powerful magic.”
“Did you… were you successful today?” Terrie asked.
“Yes. Success times two.” Elias couldn’t help but grin.
David leaned forward. “What did you two do?”
Matt grinned. “He removed the curse from me, and we formed a coven. I’m a witch! Now we can concentrate all our efforts on you. The curse’s power over you will be harder to remove. He wouldn’t have had the power to remove it by himself, but a coven combines the powers of the joined witches. Now we should be able to do it.”
“Can we try today? Now? Before the moon rises? I bit Sky. I’m not sure if anyone caught you two up on everything that’s happened yet. Is he cursed now? Will he turn into a werewolf tonight?”
“We need to move this to my house,” Elias said. “I have to consult some books. If we can’t cure you before nightfall, we may have to contain you and possibly Skylar.”
“Ok. Let’s go. We need to hurry.” David said, and the group of eight friends left the diner and headed for witch house.
Elias paced back and forth between the kitchen and the living room of what most people still called the witch house. Eli was beginning to think of it as home, and he never had so many people at his house before. Hell, the only one besides himself that had been in here in the last twenty years was Matt. Brad had refused to come, and that had played into the breakup. Eli’s mind raced as he paced. Everyone was looking at him for answers, even Brad. Now that they accepted that he was a witch, now that they believed in the supernatural, they were all looking at him to save the day. Elias felt his anxiety ratcheting up, and he paced even faster.
Matt leaned against the wall and watched Elias pace. He could tell that Eli was trying to work things out in his head, but Matt could feel the anxiety growing inside Elias. Ever since they bonded, Matt felt an empathic link to Eli. He couldn’t read the other boy’s thoughts, but he sensed Elias’s emotions. Right now, Matt could tell Eli was spiraling toward an anxiety attack. Matt knew he had to do something and do it now.
Eli’s eyes were darting from face to face while he decided what to say to the seven, wait, six? Where was Matt? Then Eli felt the strong arms wrap around him, and he heard Matt’s soft voice in his ear. “Stop pacing. Take a breath. You can do this. Hell, you can do anything. I believe in you. We all do.” Then Matt kissed the side of Eli’s neck.
Elias melted back into Matt’s embrace. “Thank you.” He smiled and stood up straight. Eli took a step forward and looked right at Skylar. “Aurae apparaistis!” Eli stood back and cocked his head, studying the aura. He looked several times from David to Sky and back again with a furrowed brow.
“What? What do you see?” David and Sky asked almost in unison.
Elias sighed. “There are overlaps and similarities in colors and patterns, but it’s difficult to compare because,” He said, looking at David. “a darkness shrouds your aura that is not apparent on Sky’s.”
“Does that mean I’m not going to be a werewolf?” Sky asked.
“Not necessarily. It only means you are not cursed.” Eli turned to the bookshelves and began taking books off the shelf and setting them on the table while he talked. “While I researched how to remove the curse, I learned a lot about werewolves. Lycanthropy is a blood-borne disease that fundamentally changes your DNA. It’s not a curse, and a parent can pass it to a child, similar to any other DNA marker.”
“What does all that mean for me? Can you cure me? Is there another way to tell if Sky is a wolf?” David asked.
Elias sat down across from David and Sky. “I have more research that I need to do. Comparing your aura,” He said to David. “To both Sky’s and Matt’s, I think I will have to use a different spell than I used on Matt. The darkness hovered around Matt, but it did not touch him. The dark magic entwines throughout your aura. It will take greater power and a more intense spell to extract the darkness of the curse from you. It will not happen before moonrise tonight, for that I am sorry.”
“Speaking of Matt,” David glanced at his brother before focusing back on Elias. “You’re sure that he’s free from the curse, and you and he are… what exactly?”
Elias gripped Matt’s hand, their fingers entwining. “Yes, he is free of the curse. We tested it to be sure. Matt was born a witch. I believe you were, too, David, but the werewolf bite forever corrupted your magic. The dark magic of the curse blocked Matt’s magic. When we removed that, he became his true self, a witch. As for him and me….” Eli looked at Matt, and Matt smiled.
Matt interrupted Eli. “As for what Eli and I are… mostly we’re still figuring that out, but the part that directly affects you guys is that we’ve bonded our magic and formed a coven.”
“What exactly does that mean? What benefit or advantage does that give you as opposed to just working together?” Nate asked.
“As a coven, our magic is bonded. Coven witches can draw on each other’s power. We are stronger together than each of us separately. I do not think that I alone could remove the curse from David, but I think that Matt and I can do it together.”
Devon spoke up. “So, you don’t know if my brother is a wolf, just that he isn’t cursed, is that correct?”
“Yes, that is correct. I’ve read that lycanthropy is transmitted through a bite or a scratch, but I don’t know if it’s a one hundred percent transmission rate. I’d lean toward caution and have Sky with us when we lock up David.”
“There’s no way that I won’t be there, wolf or not.” Sky said.
Now Brad joined the conversation, but before he spoke, he walked over and knelt in front of Elias. Brad’s eyes glistened with tears. “Eli, I can’t express how deeply sorry I am that I abandoned you last year. The way I treated you, I don’t even know why you decided to help my family. I wouldn’t even defend you from Derrick and his goons, and here you are doing all of this. I acted like an idiot when Matt started hanging out with you. I regret that, too. I hope both of you can forgive me, and we can start fresh moving forward.”
“There’s nothing to forgive as far as I’m concerned. We’re good, cuz.” Matt said.
Elias reached out and took Brad’s face in both of his hands. He used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. “Bradley, I do not regret loving you, and I hope you don’t regret loving me. You were my first love, my first heartbreak, and many other firsts. You will forever hold a special place in my heart. A month ago, I may not have been able to say this, but now I can say and mean that I forgive you.” Eli let go of Brad’s face. “With the intense looks we’re getting from Nate and Matt, I’d say we’ve both moved on. Clean slate, Brad, no looking back. We were friends before we were lovers, and maybe we can be again.”
“I’d like that,” Brad said. “But now we have a much more important topic to discuss.”
Elias nodded. “You mean the late hour, and out one… maybe two werewolf friends, right?”
“Yeah. Any thoughts?”
Matt leaned forward. “I found an abandoned warehouse that has a chain link fenced off section where their shipping and receiving department must have been. We should head there soon and clear out the boxes and maybe buy a padlock on our way there.”
“What about this other wolf?” Terrie asked. “The one that we think is the one who is murdering our friends. How do we stop him? Or capture him? I know helping Matt and David, and now Sky has been our priority, but this monster has murdered three of our friends. Isn’t stopping him just as important?”
“Of course, it is. I’ve been so focused on learning the healing magic that I….” Elias trailed off.
Brad spoke up. “We got you, Eli. Nate, Devon, and I did a ton of reading on werewolves. After my close encounter, I focused my research on killing the monsters. I was scared that I was possibly researching how to kill my cousin, but after Kevin’s murder, I was going to take the thing out no matter what.”
David huffed out a laugh. “That’s understandable, Brad. Did you find anything good?”
“Pure silver, wolfsbane, and beheading,” Brad smirked. “I printed up a map of the area showing where wolfsbane is growing.” Brad looked outside. “It’s starting to get dark. Collecting wolfsbane needs to be the top priority tomorrow, and getting David and Sky to that warehouse needs to be the top priority right now.”
Elias looked thoughtful. “While you collect wolfsbane, I’ll research charm spells. Maybe we can lure the beast into a trap.”
“That’s brilliant,” Brad said.
“So, who’s going to the warehouse?” Matt asked.
“I am for sure,” Devon said. The group talked and decided that Brad, Nate, and Terrie would go home. David and Sky had to go to the warehouse, and Matt and Devon wouldn’t leave their brothers. Elias also went to the warehouse. For him, it was a combination of supporting Matt, and also, he thought he might be able to fortify the cage with magic. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky, so the eight friends left Eli’s house and went their separate ways.