Willow looks up from where she holds my hand, light seeming to pulse faintly from her. All traces of her earlier fear are gone, a calm confidence radiating from her. Though she's only fifteen, in this moment, she looks timeless, ageless. This Willow is still just as alien as the previous one. Not my Willow.

"Don't be afraid."

It is the command of a queen, one who shines brighter than a star and blazes a trail through the darkness.

I can do nothing but watch.

She closes her eyes and the bubble of light around us seems to pulse. The golden rays spread forth, eating away at the edges of the shadow shape.

"I've been looking for you. Your magic tastes of sunshine and innocence, little girl. Just like I imagined it would." The voice slides over my skin, leaving a sour taste in my mouth. It sounds like the slither of a snake through the grass, the rasp of a blade unsheathing. "But I can still taste the foul taint underneath. What sort of naughty things have you been up to?"

It laughs and I catch the glint of teeth, the edges pointed like blades.

She doesn't respond, but her hand tightens around mine. The next pulse of light is brighter, bringing tears to my eyes, and a hiss escapes the creature.

"Bitch," it snarls. "I will drain every last drop of magic from your bones." The darkness swells up in a wave, coiling in on itself before lunging towards us.

It punches through the barrier of light with a sound like the tinkling of breaking glass. A foul wave smelling of decay and rot sweeps over me, bile rising in my throat. I see a tendril on darkness lash forward to wrap around Willow's arm.

She screams. A blast of heat and light rush forth and for a second, the world freezes, everything illuminated in a flash. I have to close my eyes against the light and I hear something that might be a scream or the howl of the wind. The world tilts and I'm falling, and then there is nothing.

________________

I open my eyes to the gentle peachy orange of sunrise creeping across the sky, birds chirping in the trees. My body feels stiff, groaning in protest as l struggle to sit up. Father lies next to me, a smear of blood on his forehead, chest rising and falling gently. There is no sign of Willow.

The area around the house looks as if everything had been blow backwards by a huge force. Trees are bent almost to the ground, bowing away from the house, branches and leaves all blown back to the tree line.

And our house, our poor house, is in ruins. From what I can see, the windows have been blown out and chunks of the roof are missing, splintered wood everywhere, shards of glass glinting in the sun. My throat goes tight as I see what is left of the house that Father had built for Mother years ago.

I put my head in my hands, struggling to remember what happened last night. The monster made of night and death and fear. And my sister- if that was even her. I shudder, remembering the lack of fear on her face, the utter control she had over her power. Seeing her like that was like looking at a stranger. How could that thing have been looking for her, had even known she existed? And what had that monster meant when it said it could taste the taint in her magic? Had Willow been using her powers without letting me know? But more importantly, what kind of things would she have had to be doing to taint her? My head spins as I struggle to understand what I had seen.

A tentative touch on my shoulder makes me spin around, my heart leaping into my throat. But it is just Willow, crouched down next to me.

"Thank the gods," I breath, pulling her to me. Her body radiates cold and I can feel shivers trembling up and down her body.

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