Chapter 8 - Six Days Until the Next Dark Moon

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"Your family was murdered by these people."

I just looked at him, still not understanding. "And?"

"Maybe your family went into the light, maybe their spirits still linger. If they do, they might be able to tell us something about the men that killed them. Something that can help us find Darla," Luke said softly.

"Still linger..." And then it dawned on me what he was talking about. He was saying my family might still be spirits trapped on this plane. Spirits trapped in between. Spirits still here with us. My blood chilled as one thought rang through my head. Death dealers can control spirits.

"Can you call on them? My family's spirits?" Even as I asked the question I knew I didn't want to hear his answer. I knew he could conjure the dead. If my family was "between"—their spirits in an eternal state of unrest—would they be like one of Luke's banshees? I didn't know if I could stomach seeing Mama's face filled with that level of pain and sorrow.

"No. If they were going to contact me, they would have when you first showed up. Spirits decide who they visit. They didn't come to me, but...I'm betting they'll come to you."

"You—you want me to call on my family's spirits?" My voice trembled.

"Yes, but you would..." He looked hesitant for a moment before straightening his shoulders, as if resigning himself to a last resort. "You'd have to become one of us."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You said you wouldn't teach me."

"There's no choice now. Those men have Darla." He turned and started pacing. "I don't want to do it. You don't understand how hard it's going to be. For you to become one of us... I don't know what'll happen if we do it this way. But these people killed your family. They have Darla..."

He's going to teach me. I was going to get what I wanted most. I should have felt triumph, but instead I only felt fear and a sinking feeling that, maybe even now, it was too late to save his sister.

He grabbed my arm. "We need to find somewhere safe to go. It'll be light in a couple hours. We can do it tomorrow at the witching hour—we can perform the first ritual."

"How many rituals are there?" Darla's words came back to me. Whatever these rituals were, they weren't going to be easy. They were something she was afraid of.

There was an intensity in his eyes I'd never seen before. "Three. Normally candidates perform the rituals over a full year, sometimes longer. People learn to wield their power slowly, gradually building until they're in true possession of their gifts, but we don't have that kind of time." His gripped tightened on my arm. "We can do the rituals over the next three nights. It's crazy, and as far as I know, it's never been done, but we don't have a choice."

"And if they hurt Darla before I finish the rituals?" I was suddenly afraid to hear his answer.

"I looked up your family's death on the internet."

I gave him a hard stare, confused about the change of topic, and quickly put two and two together. While we were making dinner preparations, he'd been surfing the net, looking for more info about my family. Didn't he believe me when I told him what happened?

He waited for me to say something, but when I stayed silent, he continued. "It wasn't hard to find. Mass murder makes headlines. But those men, the ones who attacked us today—when I fought them I could tell that most of them were just minor mages. They had some power, but it wasn't strong enough to overtake me. Anyone can learn magic, but the most powerful mages are from the clans or the guilds. Most of these guys were too weak for that, but one of them...his power...it was like mine."

"He was a death dealer?"

Luke turned his face away. "He was, but stronger than anyone I've ever seen. To be that strong, he has to have been doing things—certain rituals—that are hundreds of years old. Things that are no longer done. Things my people now condemn. Listen, it probably didn't mean anything to you at the time, but they killed your family on the night of a full moon. The timing of the murders... I think it was a sacrifice."

I could feel the blood draining from my face. A cold seeped into my body and chilled me to the very bone. "A sacrifice..."

"A human sacrifice. They slashed your father's throat, right? It was most likely with a knife specially prepared for the ritual. Some of the stronger dark magics need a blood sacrifice to power them. The more powerful the sacrifice, the more powerful the spell. That might explain why they're hunting strong mages, like your family—maybe they're trying to create something truly horrible."

My father was a human sacrifice. I was horrified at Luke's explanation. I stood staring at him, speechless.

"They might do the same to Darla, but not until the time is right for the ritual. If I'm right, and they plan on using her to power an old spell... There are six days until the next dark moon. Power can be drawn during a full moon, but even more power comes with a dark moon." He reached out and grabbed me by the shoulders. The expression in his eyes was one of desperation. "I can't do this alone. I wasn't strong enough on my own. You saw what happened. If you become one of us, you may be able to help pull some of the focus off of me, so I can try and work more powerful spells. We may be able to hold our own long enough to free Darla even if you aren't at full strength. With your help, we might have a chance."

I looked around at the wreckage. Furniture had been overturned and smashed; there were burn marks on the floor and rug. "Do we perform the rituals here?"

"No. They might come back here. We need to leave and go somewhere safe. Somewhere we can rest and get ready for tomorrow night." He reached out and grabbed me, hugging me tight again. "Darla will be okay. We'll get her back. Everything will be okay."

I wanted to believe it—I really did—but in the depths of my soul... I didn't.

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