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The Hunters: Phantom Chapter 24

Elena hung up her cel phone as they puled up to the boardinghouse in Stefan’s car. “The nurse at the hospital says Caleb’s stil unconscious,” she said.

“Good,” said Stefan.

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She gave him a reproving glance and he stared back at her in exasperation. “If he’s unconscious,” he explained, “it’l give us more of a chance to figure out what spel he’s cast on us.”

They’d fil ed three fat black trash bags with the papers, clippings, and books they’d found in the Smal woods’

garden shed. Elena had been afraid to disturb the pentagram with the roses and photographs around it on the shed floor, in case that would affect the spel somehow, but she’d taken a couple of pictures of it with her cel phone. Matt came out and picked up one of the bags. “Bringing over some garbage?”

“Something like that,” Elena said grimly, and fil ed him in on what they’d discovered at the Smal wood house. Matt grimaced. “Wow. But maybe now we can final y do something about what’s been happening.”

“How come you’re here so early?” Elena asked, fol owing him toward the house. “I thought you weren’t coming onto guard duty until ten.” Stefan trailed along behind her.

“I spent the night,” Matt told her. “After Bonnie’s name appeared, I didn’t want to let her out of my sight.”

“Bonnie’s name appeared?” Elena whirled accusingly on Stefan. “Why didn’t you tel me?”

Stefan shrugged uncomfortably. “I didn’t know,” he confessed hesitantly.

“Stefan, I told you to protect Meredith and Celia,” she snapped. “You were supposed to be here. Even before Bonnie’s name showed up, it was Meredith and Celia who were in danger. I was relying on you to watch over them.”

Stefan glared back at her. “I’m not your lapdog, Elena,” he said quietly. “I saw a mysterious threat that I thought bore investigation. I acted to protect you. And I was right. The danger was more immediate to you than the others. And now we have a chance to piece together the spel .”

Elena blinked at his tone but couldn’t deny the truth in his words. “I’m sorry,” she said contritely. “You’re right. I’m glad we discovered Caleb’s shed.”

Matt opened the front door. They dumped the bags in the hal and went through to the kitchen, where Mrs. Flowers, Alaric, and Meredith were enjoying a breakfast of croissants, jam, fruit, and sausages.

“Celia’s gone,” Meredith said to Elena as soon as they entered the room. Her tone was casual y informative, but her usual y cool gray eyes were twinkling, and Elena shared a secret smile with her friend.

“Where’d she go?” Elena asked, equal y casual y, reaching for a croissant. It had been a long morning, and she was starving.

“University of Virginia,” Alaric answered. “She’s hoping to get some leads by doing research on curses and folk magic.”

“We might have some more information now,” Elena announced around a mouthful of deliciously buttery croissant. She explained what they had found in the shed.

“We brought al the papers and Caleb’s notebooks with us. And here’s what he’d laid out on the floor.” She pul ed out her phone, loaded the picture, and handed it to Mrs. Flowers.

“My goodness,” said the old woman. “This certainly looks like dark magic. I wonder what that child thought he was doing.”

Stefan snorted. “He’s no child, Mrs. Flowers. I strongly suspect he’s a werewolf as wel as a dark magician.”

Mrs. Flowers looked at him sternly. “He’s found the wrong way of going about looking for his cousin, that’s for certain. But this magic looks rather amateurish to me. If it has worked, it wil have been more by accident than design.”

“If it’s worked?” Meredith asked. “I think the evidence suggests that whatever he’s done worked.”

“Surely it would be too much of a coincidence for Caleb to be trying to cast spel s on us and for an unexplained curse to be affecting us as wel ,” Alaric noted.

“Where’s Caleb now?” Matt asked, frowning. “Does he know you found al this? Do we need to track him down and keep an eye on him?”

Stefan crossed his arms. “He’s in the hospital.”

There was a little pause as the others looked at one another and decided, based on Stefan’s stony demeanor, not to delve deeper. Meredith glanced questioningly at Elena, and Elena nodded slightly to say, I’ll explain later. She turned to Mrs. Flowers. “Can you tel what spel Caleb was using? What was he trying to do?”

Mrs. Flowers stared thoughtful y at the picture. “It’s an interesting question,” she said. “Roses are typical y used in love spel s, but the pentagram and multiple pictures around it suggest a darker intent here. The roses’ unusual crimson color would probably make them more effective. They might be used to evoke other passions as wel . My best guess would be that Caleb was trying to control your emotions in some way.”

Elena cast a sudden glance at Stefan, taking in his guarded expression and tense shoulders.

“But that’s as much as I can tel you for now,” Mrs. Flowers continued. “If the rest of you want to look through Caleb’s notebooks for clues, Bonnie and I can research the magical properties of roses and what spel s they could be used in.”

“Where is Bonnie?” Elena asked. Although she’d had the sense that something was missing, she’d only just consciously realized that the petite redhead wasn’t among the group in the kitchen.

“Stil sleeping,” Meredith said. “You know how she loves to sleep in.” She grinned. “Bonnie was definitely enjoying being the damsel in peril and having everybody fussing over her last night.”

“I thought she was being real y brave,” Matt said unexpectedly. Elena eyed him. Was he beginning to feel something romantic for Bonnie? They’d be good together, she thought, and was surprised to feel a tiny twinge of possessive anger mixed in with her speculative matchmaking. Matt has always been yours, after all, a hard voice whispered to her.

“I’l go up and wake her,” Meredith said cheerful y. “No rest for the witches.” She swung to her feet and headed for the stairs, limping only slightly.

“How’s your ankle?” Elena asked. “You look a lot better.”

“I heal fast,” Meredith said. “I guess it’s part of the vampire-hunter thing. I didn’t need the cane by the time I went to bed last night, and this morning it feels almost back to normal.”

“Lucky you,” said Elena.

“Lucky me,” Meredith agreed, grinning at Alaric, who smiled back admiringly. Showing off, she ran lightly up the stairs, leaning only a little on the banister for support. Elena took another croissant and spread jam on it. “The rest of us should start going through al the papers and things we took from Caleb’s shed. Alaric, as you’re the only one other than Mrs. Flowers and Bonnie who knows much about magic, you can take his notebooks and I’l – “

She broke off as a scream came from overhead.

“Meredith!” shouted Alaric.

Later, Elena didn’t real y remember getting upstairs. There was just a flash of shoving limbs and pandemonium as everyone tried to get up the narrow staircase as quickly as possible. At the door of the little cream-and-rose bedroom at the end of the hal , Meredith stood, white-faced and stricken. She turned large panicked gray eyes toward them and whispered, “Bonnie.”

Inside, Bonnie’s smal figure lay motionless facedown on the floor, one pajamaed arm flung out toward the door. Unlit black and white candles were in a ring behind her, one black candle knocked over. There was a smudge of what looked like mostly dried blood inside the candle ring, and a weathered book lay open beside it.

Elena pushed past Meredith and knelt beside the stil figure, feeling at her neck for a pulse. She let out the breath she’d been holding as she felt Bonnie’s heartbeat, steady and strong, beneath her fingers.

“Bonnie,” she said, shaking her by the shoulder, then gently rol ing her over. Bonnie flopped without resistance onto her back. She was breathing regularly, but her eyes stayed closed, her long lashes dark against her freckled cheeks.

“Somebody cal an ambulance,” Elena said quickly.

“I’l do it,” Meredith said, breaking out of her frozen stance.

“We don’t need an ambulance,” Mrs. Flowers said quietly, gazing down at Bonnie with an expression of sorrow on her face.

“What are you talking about?” Meredith snapped. “She’s unconscious! We have to get her help.”

Mrs. Flowers’s eyes were grave. “The doctors and nurses at the hospital won’t be able to help Bonnie,” she said. “They might even hurt her by interfering with ineffective medical solutions to a nonmedical problem. Bonnie’s not sick; she’s under a spel . I can feel the magic thick in the air. The best thing we can do is to make her as comfortable as we can here while we look for a cure.”

Matt stepped forward into the room. His face was aghast, but he wasn’t looking at Bonnie’s motionless form on the floor. He raised one hand and pointed. “Look,” he said.

Near the bed, a tray containing a smal teapot, a cup, and a plate had been knocked over onto the floor. The cup had smashed and the teapot lay on its side, tea leaves spil ing out in a long, dark curve across the floor.

A curve that spel ed out a name.