“Peta, help me!” I could barely get the words out, the crushing darkness forced me to my knees. Giselle trembled as I tried to keep her from whatever was attacking us.
My familiar put her nose tight against my ear and even then her voice was tinny and small. “Use Spirit, you have to. Your heart against the darkness here, it is the only thing that will protect her.”
“I don’t want to hurt her.” I couldn’t control Spirit, I had no idea what I was doing. There had to be another way around this.
Giselle cried out and was yanked from my hands, her body sucked into the shadows that encompassed us. I shot to my feet. No choice. There was no choice if I were to save her. I opened myself to Spirit and it flared inside my heart, pulsing like it had a life of its own.
I held my arms out to the side and the darkness shrank from my fingertips. Two steps forward and Giselle was there, huddled on the floor at the foot of the stairs. The shadows writhed around her, diving into her body and back out as she jerked and moaned.
“Please.” Her mouth made the word but there was no sound. Cactus may have burned the grimoire, but the spirits that resided in it . . . they needed to be burned as surely as the pages they encompassed.
“You have to let them into you, Lark,” Peta said. “I saw my other charge do this once. Let them in, then destroy them with Spirit.”
The spirits laughed and slowly pulled away from Giselle. Giselle flung herself back, away from the spinning sparkles that gathered into a pulsating orb. How bad could a bunch of fae-looking sparkles be?
“YEs. LeT Us iN. HAhahAHa.” They called out as tendrils of the spirits lashed at me, their voices rising and falling in a spine-tingling cadence.
Well, that was reassuring. I let go of my hold on my element and tipped my head back. “Come on, then, let’s see if you like tangling with someone your own size.”
The innocuous sparkling orb slammed into me so hard it picked me up off the floor. A hair-raising screech exploded out of Peta. I closed my eyes as my body was spun around. This was not a fight of the flesh, I didn’t need to see where I was going.
My feet touched the floor again and I went to my knees. The darkness . . . it blinked up at me from inside my head, like we were standing face to face. A child not much older than Giselle grinned with sharpened teeth and eyes of solid black like a night of no moon. “You should never have let me in. The girl fought me and you saw how she did as I wanted. She would even fight you, though she had no desire to do so. And here you are, letting me in. You are not stronger than me. You are useless.”
Useless. The word wrapped around my throat like a noose, cutting off my life as surely as a woven rope. She grinned at me, her sharpened teeth flashing. “Words. They have such power over those weak of heart.”
No. I would not let this happen.
I lurched forward, tackling her to the ground. She screeched and flailed at me, the darkness tightening further over my entire body. I clung to her. We would all die if I didn’t do something—fast. I opened myself to Spirit and the girl stiffened under me.
“No. He was to be the last! There was not supposed to be more!” She slapped at me as I drove Spirit into her, pushing hard to fill her with its deadly, pulsating light.
“You will not end me! Astrid cannot die!”
Her body began to glow, fissures and cracks breaking along her face and skin. Her fingers dug into mine as she tried to pry them off. I tucked my head down and hunched my back.
“You will not beat me,” she snarled. My fingers slipped, and Astrid skittered from me, her black eyes wide. “Bitch. I will destroy your soul.”
Every breath I took felt like fire in my lungs and sweat dripped from every part of me. Spirit flickered on the edges of me. I was running out of juice.
Astrid took a step toward me, and held a hand out. Those miniscule sparkles surrounded her fingers. If I couldn’t get my hands on her, I wasn’t sure I could fight her off.
A single tear escaped me and I blinked it away. “Then I’m taking you with me.”
I opened to both Spirit and Earth. The power of the earth flooded through me, and Spirit tangled with it, like lovers long parted.
Astrid snarled, “No. You won’t.”
With a burst of speed, I leapt at her. She dodged to the left, her black eyes narrowed as she glared, the sparkling lights darkening to shadows that thrived and danced. I snaked a hand out and grabbed her shoulder. I dug my fingers in until she screamed.
Last chance. We tumbled to the ground and I wrapped my legs and arms around her and held her tightly to my chest.
She clawed and screamed, writhed and fought. The shadows drove through my body, filling my nose and mouth until I couldn’t breathe. Spirit and Earth, that was all I had left. I released myself to them, let them pour through me into her.
She stiffened in my arms. “No. NO!”
I opened my eyes. Face to face, I saw her eyes fade, the black shadows retreating until there was a pair of everyday normal green eyes looking at me.
“No,” she whispered.
Once more her face cracked, tiny fissures running under the skin. They opened, and light poured out of her in rays as though she’d swallowed the sun. Sorrow flowed from her to me. A pain so intense, I couldn’t help but grieve for what I was doing to her.
That I was the one causing her pain even though I had to. Her green eyes blinked once. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry,” I said as I ripped her essence apart. Astrid’s soul, and the darkness that had been in her scattered, first through my mind, and then into the world once more. Only this time she was so small, so miniscule there would be no infection of another grimoire, or person.