On some levels, Cara was aware that what she was about to do wasn't rational. She'd established a fairly lucrative business around such ancient, pagan beliefs, but she wasn't a believer. She had her feet firmly planted in reality and knew such things didn't exist.
Desperation and grief, although she knew she was suffering from both and that they'd warped her sense of reality, weren't adequate excuses for her behavior when she knew with some part of her mind that it was a waste of time.
It was the almost infinitesimal possibility that there might be something to it, though, that drove her-and grief and desperation.
She couldn't face losing her mother. She'd tried to prepare herself when they'd run out of options, but she simply couldn't.
All she could think as she moved around her living room, preparing for the ritual, was that it couldn't hurt. It might be useless, but she'd exhausted every other possibility-every sane, rational possibility. They'd thrown everything known to modern medicine at her mother's cancer and hadn't succeeded in anything but putting off what seemed to be the inevitable, torturing her mother in the process when she was already suffering.
Pushing those thoughts from her mind, she focused on studying her preparations, trying to think if she'd left anything out. There was no telling what might be important, she thought.
Not that it was likely anything would happen regardless.
She shook that thought off.
Deciding she'd prepared everything for the ritual as nearly as she knew to the way it was supposed to be, she left the living room and went to prepare herself-the offering. When she'd soaked for a little while in the hot water where the herbs had been steeping, she got out, patted herself dry and donned the ritual robe.
Returning to the living room, she lit the ceremonial candles and settled cross-legged within the pentagram with the book containing the summoning spell. Dismissing her qualms, she began to chant the ancient words of magic that would open the doorway to the netherworld. She repeated the chant over and over, demanding, cajoling-until her throat felt dry and raw, and her back and butt ached from sitting so long. She chanted until the candles melted down and began to gutter-and nothing happened. Nothing at all.
The urge to cry assailed her when she finally gave up and fell silent. She swallowed against the tightness in her throat, ignoring the urge as she focused on what she'd done, going over it again in her mind. She'd done everything right, she finally decided-everything except performing the ritual on the night of a full moon.
Why would that have anything to do with it, she wondered angrily? But she realized that it might actually be the most important part of all. She'd thought that when she'd hatched the crazy notion of summoning a demon to heal her mother. She'd dismissed it because she'd been afraid it would be too late to help her mother if she waited until the next full moon. She might not live that long!
"Open damn it!" she screamed abruptly, flinging the book away from her. Not surprisingly, nothing happened except that she turned over a candle and broke the magic circle she'd drawn around herself.
Surging to her feet angrily, she leaned down to blow the rest of the candles out and stalked back to her bedroom, flung herself down on her bed and wept as she hadn't in weeks. She'd tried hard to hold her emotions in check. She hadn't wanted to upset her mother when she was so sick, but her mother wasn't there to be disturbed by her wails of anger and grief.
Soon, her mother wouldn't be there for her at all anymore.
She wept about that, expelling the grief she'd been holding back and her frustration that she'd resorted to such a crazy thing and it had still been for nothing! She fell asleep railing against the unfairness of life. Her mother was all she had! What was she going to do when she was alone? Who would be her ally against the rest of the world?
Exhaustion from her emotional outburst carried her from consciousness to the dream world without any awareness of the transition. One moment she was struggling to cope with a situation that seemed beyond her and the next she found herself in her living room once more, lighting the ceremonial candles and carefully drawing out a pentagram and then marking a circle around it with the magic powders she'd obtained.
An odd sense of deja vu swept through her. Hadn't she done this already?
She frowned, studying the preparations she'd made, checking everything carefully. When she started into her room to undress, to bathe in the ritual bath, and don the ceremonial robe, though, she discovered she was already wearing it.
Confusion flickered through her briefly, but she dismissed it. She'd just been too focused on preparations to remember she'd prepared herself first.
Settling in the center of the protective circle, she opened the book of spells and began to chant the summoning spell. The words seemed to flow from her as if she'd memorized them. That seemed odd, too, but she dismissed it, concentrating. When she'd reached the end of the spell, she began again. On the third repetition, she noticed that her skin had begun to prickle, almost as if with a static charge.
Uneasiness slithered through her. Sternly, she reminded herself that she was doing this for her mother and continued the summoning chant. The prickling intensified. The flames in the candles surrounding her elongated, began to dance-not as if the air currents were controlling them, but something else.
She fell silent when she'd finished the third repetition of the chant, waiting, unnerved by the strange currents she could feel crackling in the air. Abruptly, the flames of the candles seemed to combine, to form a fireball. Her heart leapt into her throat, but before she could react to the certainty that she'd just set her living room on fire, a shadowy figure emerged from the center of the flame. For a handful of moments, it looked like nothing more than a shadow and then it became solid.
Cara stared at the being that stood before her, absolutely frozen with sheer terror. His flesh was as red as fresh blood. A pair of great black wings sprouted from his back and curled around him, keeping his face in deep shadow.
"Why did you summon me?" he demanded in a deep, resonating growl of a voice.
Cara swallowed convulsively several times, trying to find her voice. "To make a bargain with you," she managed finally.