Giselle’s home was in the middle of an undeveloped area. To either side of the human house were empty lots with signs in front of them. For Sale. Sold. Sold. For Sale.
I knew the concept around buying a piece of the earth, but it made little sense to me. How did one buy a piece of a living entity and then call it theirs? Stupid humans.
Inside the house was very little furniture. A few chairs, a kitchen table, and a fur rug in the middle of the floor that Peta promptly went to and sniffed. “Smells funny.”
“Oh, it’s fake. I would never have a real fur rug,” Giselle said.
I did a slow turn, taking the home in.
There was something off about the place, and it took me a moment to peg it.
“Can you feel them too?” Giselle asked. I turned to her.
“The spirits.” She spoke simply and without fear. I raised an eyebrow and held a hand out to the air between us.
A whisper of wind ghosted between my fingers. “Yes. I wondered what that was.” Spirits of the dead, particularly those attached to a Reader because of love or responsibility, were often found in the home of the Reader they followed. Waiting for them.
Giselle smiled. “I have a book I’ve been working with. I would like to use it to help you. Talan said I need to always be stretching my abilities, trying new ways to Read what is coming so I can see clearly.”
Without waiting for me to answer she ran up the stairs, her feet clumping like a herd of buffalo on a rampage. I shook my head and Cactus laughed. “Notice how quickly she blows off the fact we were attacked?”
Peta nodded. “That is the great part of being young. You quickly forget how close you come to death time and again.”
I lowered myself onto the rug beside her, sitting cross-legged. She curled into my lap and put her chin on my thigh. I ran a hand over her head, but said nothing about Talan. Whoever he was, she wasn’t ready to tell me.
When she was, I would be ready, but I had learned to trust her judgment. She let out a contented purr. “I will tell you soon enough.”
Smiling, I looked up at the sound of the buffalo herd rushing down the stairs. The kid would never sneak up on anyone.
Giselle stepped into the doorway with a book almost as big as her torso. The leather was cracked and moldy in parts, the spine broken away and the binding frayed. The pattern in the leather was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Like I’d seen it before, but with so much of it missing and covered in rot it was hard to decipher. More than that, though, the cover drew my eye. The heavy pentagram carved into it was still clearly visible. The hairs along the back of my neck slowly rose to attention.
“A grimoire,” I said, fighting the urge to grab the thing and toss it into the nearest flame.
Giselle smiled. “Yes, you know what it is?”
“Did Talan give it to you?”
Her face paled. “No, he . . . he left and then I found it in the attic.”
Slug slime would not be slicker than the slope she stood on. I held my hand out. “May I see it?”
Her jaw ticked and a funny light came into her eyes. “It’s mine. I found it.” She stepped back.
Peta growled under her breath. “He would not want this for her.”
The young Reader frowned. “You don’t want me to have it. It’s MINE!” She turned to run.
I leapt forward from my knees, tackling her while she writhed. The book bent backward and wrapped itself around me, the leather tightening like a python.
Python, that was the skin the cover was made of. Tighter and tighter it squeezed while I fought for breath. Blackbird I could fight, but this? The book let out a long low hiss as it slowly crushed my body.
Cactus dropped to my side and put his hands on the book. I stared at his fingers as they lit up, the heat crisping the leather. The book reacted, jerking off me. Gasping for air, I reached for it, but Cactus beat me to it.
“I got this one,” he said. As soon as he had a hold on the book it tried to turn on him, lengthening and flattening out as it attempted to wrap around him. The lines of power ran up his arms and the flames that erupted from his hands were a deep blue. The book flipped over backward and Giselle let out a scream, her hands going to her face. “NO, no, I don’t want to be alone!”
The wind in the house picked up, fanning the flames Cactus set, urging them forward. So the spirits in the house were not the same as the ones in the book.
“She is ours, she is ours.” A warbling voice snaked out of the book. Cactus held onto the leather and the flames raced up and down his arms as he battled.
Stepping around him, I reached for Giselle. I pulled her into my arms, protecting her with my body. “She is not yours. No child belongs to the spirit of evil.”
My own connection with Spirit flared and I shrank from it. The last time I’d actively used it, I wiped out my own sister’s mind.
But I could see the lines of Spirit in Giselle already made, road maps through her mind and heart created by another elemental. I followed them, allowing Spirit to calm her heart, and show her she was loved. Show her I would do my best to protect her.
Around us, the air crackled with static electricity, sharp against my skin and hair. The light dimmed until there was nothing but a pinprick around Giselle and me.
“Lark! I can’t see you!” Cactus sounded far off in the distance, even though he was not even on the other side of the room.
I ignored him as the air pressed in tightly, squeezing us as though it were now a constrictor. Giselle gasped, her thin arms clinging to me.