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Lucky read the paper and tried not to pace. "What are you not pacing about?" Chandler inquired over his tea, one reddish eyebrow cocked.
    "Just... waiting."
    "Sort of a pregnant pause? What are you waiting for?" He read her uncomfortable expression easily. "You can stop, I think I figured it out." She looked surprised. "What, you thought this was going to take months?"
    Lucky shrugged, regaining some of her mental balance. "Just as long as it doesn't involve taking off my clothes."
    He shook his head. "The standard ritual only involves my getting an aura contact, an oath, and an open flame. In your case, it's going to involve something a little more... elaborate. I apologize for that, but we need to go somewhere I can build a bonfire."
    "You know someplace?"
    "OK." That sounded simple enough.
    "It also has to be done during the day. Today's as good a day as any, if you want to get this..." He trailed off in response to the sudden peculiar expression, almost a smile, which crossed her face. "I'm not even going to ask."
    "Sorry, Yasmina reference."
    Hands up. "Ooo-kay. What you do with vampires in your spare time, I don't want to know."
    "I'm just joking," she sighed. "Joking, you know? God, you'd think I never joked around."
    Chandler saw straight through her, as always. "Don't," he said quietly. "Don't get defensive, it'll just make this more difficult."
    "Could you—tell me, do I have to throw myself into this bonfire, or what—?"
    "That's pretty much... it won't hurt," he hastened to add, seeing her expression. "Except in the spiritual sense. Look—"
    "No, no, it's fine, I just..." She trailed off, not sure what she would have said, what she felt.
    "Wasn't what you were expecting?"
    "What, am I only fit for Hell?" she muttered with a touch of bitterness, eyes down.
    "It's a cleansing ritual, a purification. It's... I need to burn some of the shadows out of your aura if I'm going to make contact without being overpowered by it. Your aura is very strong, by nature. You have virtually no skill at controlling it yet, but it is still very strong. Most people only bond themselves with animals. Some bond themselves with other people. While what we are attempting here is not unprecedented, it is not common. I spent most of the night talking with other members—other people, to find out how this has been done before."
    "I thought this was going to stay between you and me."
    "Oh, I didn't mention who I was planning on doing this with. But I did tell you I was going to have to do some research. I asked for access to texts, I asked people who had done it before the steps that they took in order to do it. I can't do something like this without having knowledge beforehand." She nodded her understanding, and he stood up. "You want to drive?"
    "A car?" Lucky asked dubiously; she didn't want to tell him that she didn't actually have a license.
    "No, your bike. I don't own a car."
    "You going to ride with me?"
    "Unless you had some brilliant other plan for getting somewhere we can make a bonfire without some cop coming over and going, 'Hey, what are you doing making this bonfire?' which, in my experience, is generally what they do." He smiled gently.
    "Well, I thought you could just...." She gestured vaguely.
    "Doesn't work that way. Not for me."
    "Oh. OK."
    There didn't seem to be much need for further discussion. They drove north, out of the city. After a while she asked, over the wind, "So, do you already know everything about me, or are you going to?"
    "No one will ever know anything about you except you. Are you afraid that I'm going to know your every memory, every thought, every deed?"
    "Yes." She could admit that now.
    "Not going to happen. I'll know what you're feeling. If you're about to do something particularly intense, I'll know that, too. What, you think I'll have a little voice in the back of your head? No. You'll just be able to feel me there."
    "Oh." She frowned, trying to imagine what it would be like, and gave it up after a few moments. They made their way to a somewhat disused farm near the New Hampshire border and cleared out a space in a fallow field.
    "I brought a small hatchet, I think it actually might be better for you to do it with your weapon, however."
    "Get wood, you mean?"
    She wound up collecting more, probably, than they would need, and they stacked it into a pile. Chandler reached into a pocket and pulled out a small bag of some shiny, silk-like material. It smelled like north. He tossed powder into the stacked wood while walking a circle around the pile, then stepped back.
    The initial flame shot a good eighty feet into the air, then dropped down to the level of a normal blaze.
    "Take the gloves off."
    She stripped them from her hands without question.
    "What's your middle name?"
    "Brigitte." It sounded foreign on her tongue.
    "Kyla Brigitte McKay. Do you enter into familiar bond with me knowing all of the ramifications and effects it will have?"
    "Do you enter into this willingly?"
    "Then of your own will, step into the fire."
    He's asking me to die, passed through her mind as she contemplated the blaze. Then she took three steps forward, into the center.
    The heat was overwhelming, like walking on the sun—it didn't hurt. She could feel serenity steal over here as she stood there, while the light from the fire permeated her being and the light filled her. There was nothing to fear. Nothing to fear at all.
    Her eyes were closed.
    Something touched her shoulder. A hand.
    "Is that you?" she whispered.
    "Give me your hand."
    She reached over her shoulder and let him pull her backward, opening her eyes. Nothing there but cinders and ash. The sky showed her that several hours had passed. Everything suddenly seemed to click into sharper focus than it ever had before; she could see buds on the trees across the field, see aphids on the grass yards from her feet, count the grains of sand in an anthill. Everything was so... clear.
    She laughed, or sobbed. She could hear cars on the highway, knew their make and model. There was a presence in the back of her head, she realized.
    "It's a little intense to begin with, it fades somewhat," he told her gently.
    "Do you... do this?"
    "I always see like this. How do you feel?"
    "Different." She turned and hugged him, in a sudden excess of emotion, careful of her own strength. When had she last embraced another human being?
    "The impurities of your body have been purged away. The shadows in your soul are gone. The ramifications from here are on in are something that we both have to share."

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson