Eleven

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Once Charlotte had finished recounting the events, Jonathan was silent for several minutes.

"Well," he said, slow and drawn out as he deliberated. "That's...complicated."

"Yes, it is," Charlotte replied, weary, exhausted.

"You're certain The Endless One is a god?"

"A dying one. The spell affected him to an extent. I was close but I didn't get all the proponents correct."

"Shouldn't his power be waning then? Wouldn't that work in your favor?"

Charlotte shrank further into his coat in an attempt to hide from the wind that had risen to a high-pitched wail of mourning.

"That's why he takes the souls of others," Charlotte said. "Normally, a soul would be devoted freely to a god through worship. For some reason, he has no one to worship now and if he doesn't wish to die, then he must take those souls he requires from the living."

"With every soul he takes, he becomes stronger. That was the reason he was relegated to one night and one soul."

Charlotte nodded and glanced down at her hands, fingertips devoid of the characteristic silver threads she had grown used to. Now her fingers were merely tinged a blueish purple from the cold, rimmed with red welts, a cruel reminder that her witchcraft had been torn away from her and she wasn't likely to get it back.

"I don't feel my magic anymore, Papa," she said. "I poured as much of it as I could into the spells. What vestiges remained were used to protect myself from the fire."

Jonathan didn't even blink. Part of her wanted to sob that he didn't understand the severity of the situation, that this was on her shoulders. The other part of her wondered if his lack of reaction was to hide how disappointed he was in her.

Jonathan's hands slid away from her. He fiddled with the handkerchief, rubbing at a soot stain with his thumb.

"And your mother?" he said. "As you said, the crows disappeared, the spirits of your witch ancestors along with them. But you've never needed them close to sense their presence. You've traveled around the world and still managed to maintain a connection to Nivian's familiar while it remained behind at Laeves Keep."

Charlotte shook her head. "There's nothing. It's just...so quiet."

She plucked at the scratchy weave of Jonathan's coat as her overworked mind trundled along the same well-worn paths she had been through a thousand times before, desperate for an answer.

"He said Alexander chose this," she rasped. "Alexander wanted it."

Jonathan scrubbed a hand over his face with a sigh.

"Do you think that's true?" he said.

Charlotte hesitated. She didn't want to believe it of course. But there was a time for recognizing the nature of a situation, addressing all sides even if certain angles were hideous to contemplate.

"I don't know," she said. "I relied on my magic to handle things like this and now it's—it's not there. I feel as if I'm falling and there's no end in sight apart from emptiness and darkness."

Jonathan released a heavy exhale and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. Charlotte buried her face in the crook of his neck, screwing her eyes shut tight against the threat of tears. If she started to cry now, she feared she would never stop.

"The horses," she said as she drew back. A change of subject. That's what she needed. Anything to get her mind onto something else. "We should find them. It might be wise to leave the mountains in case The Endless One is nearby."

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