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As soon as the door was shut, Charlotte melted to the floor with exhaustion. She pressed her back against the wall, knees drawn up to her chest. The threads of hexes, spells, and charms she had twined around the house like cobwebs tugged at her, trembling, demanding her attention.

She couldn't let them go, couldn't let them grow too weak and snap. She had to maintain them despite the pressure, fracturing her attention, straining in her muscles.

If she allowed even a single thread of magic slip, The Endless One would be free.

But the effort it took to maintain such high levels of magic at once, to balance so many strings without breaking any of them...it left her feeling as if she was being drawn and quartered.

How could she possibly hope to keep her magic stable until the next reaping moon when only a few hours proved so taxing?

The rustle of wings made Charlotte raise her head to see a crow drifting down the hallway—her mother's familiar by the looks of it. She raised her arm and the bird landed lightly on her wrist.

Each variety of witch—hedge, fire, spirit, and water—had a particular familiar that served as a guardian. For de Winter witches, who belonged to the spirit line of Mina's descendants, their familiars were crows.

When a de Winter died, her spirit was anchored with the last remnants of her magic to the crow. Though her body was no longer part of the living world, her familiar tethered her to those she had left behind. Her magic remained active and didn't die with her.

In this way, no witch was ever truly left alone. The spirits of her ancestors always lingered around her in a murder of crows imbued with magic.

I still don't understand why you're doing this, Nivian said, her voice echoing in Charlotte's mind as the crow cocked its head, blinking at her.

"I think you do," Charlotte replied. "You know better than anyone."

Nivian didn't answer right away. Charlotte took advantage of the pause.

"You would do the same for Papa," she added.

Nivian huffed. This Endless One knows of your weaknesses. Do you think that wise?

"He would find out soon enough."

What do you suppose he is? I've never seen darkness cling as it does in his presence.

"It doesn't matter. He's a curse, as Alexander said."

Forgive me for being frank, dear, Nivian said cautiously. As much as you adore Alexander, he is still a human with very little knowledge of magic apart from what you've shared with him. How can you be sure that what he told you was true?

"If The Endless One was a demon or malevolent spirit, I would have known right away. But he isn't anything like what I've encountered before. Until I find evidence to prove otherwise, I'm inclined to believe Alexander. The Endless One is a curse, originating from where or from whom, I have yet to determine. I'll revise my tactics as needed from here on out based off of that information."

Fair enough. Take great care when dealing with this being. If he can hold the darkness at his command the same way you wield magic, he could push you far beyond your limits before you realize it.

"I've handled curses before, Mama," Charlotte said, her voice soft with affection. Even in the afterlife, her mother was worried for her. "Surely I can do it again. And a curse, regardless of where it originated, maintains the same composition. You taught me that."

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