30.3 | Fouler Shades

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Lu couldn't stop the tremor in her bones, or the sweat that layered her palms. Though she didn't dare to look, she knew the sun was half-covered overhead. Her eyes were otherwise occupied with the moonstone ring on her hand, which, in a matter of minutes, she would destroy in breaking the Volkari's curse.

The Volkari—at least thirty of them had come to the cemetery with her and Tatiana. Lu didn't know if they wanted to witness history or if the alpha had summoned them for protection. Perhaps it was both.

Scanning the grave-speckled field, Lu's stomach tightened with dread. Was protection even necessary? Had Nika gotten her message?

"Witchling."

Lu jolted at the voice, at the woman who stepped into the circle of magic runes Lu had drawn on a stone path. Not just because she'd snuck up on her, but because of the foulness radiating from her necklace and the terrible things that would soon unravel if Lu didn't put a stop to it.

She played her part as the clueless victim, however, saying, "Where did you go?"

Tatiana either hadn't heard or wasn't listening. Her gaze was fixed ahead—to where several Volkari were digging up one of the graves. But it was on Alpha Capello and his nephew that the demon-witch focused.

The latter was likely trying to explain where he'd been for the past several hours. Lu had barely spoken to Dante during the days since they attacked headquarters. She had a feeling he was avoiding her, or maybe he'd kept his distance to please the alpha.

Lu regarded Tatiana again, finding a wicked smirk. The sight of it was enough to give Lu chills. She knew that look; it meant Tatiana was up to no good.

"I have a proposal," she whispered, leaning closer. A lump formed in Lu's throat. "When the curse is broken, you and I will have outlived our purpose. I want to make sure we're still friends when that happens."

"We were never friends," Lu said through clenched teeth.

Tatiana rolled her eyes. "Just make sure I don't die today."

"In exchange for what?"

"Information. On your father."

Lu stiffened, searching Tatiana's face for any signs of deceit. But the woman held her gaze, unrelenting and honest.

"My father is dead," Lu managed.

"Yes. And I know the name of the witch who killed him."

It was an effort to draw breath, to keep her composure for the wolves that monitored.

"I'll tell you everything, witchling. But first, you have to make sure I survive until dusk."

My dad. Murdered. By a witch?

"Fine," Lu said, her mouth dry.

She'd play the game for now, but if the Vigil arrived, she wouldn't hesitate to divulge Tatiana's whereabouts. She hadn't forgotten what had been done to Nika in that cave, and not even Lu could forgive the demon-witch for those terrible things.

"Good." Tatiana turned her focus on Konstantin's journal, which lay among a collection of candles in front of them. "I hope you're ready, witchling. It's time to welcome the darkness."

"You've certainly been busy," Jade Ramsay drawled to Elliot as they stood in the cemetery parking lot.

A dozen keepers surrounded them, armed to the teeth with belabane bullets and shifting from foot to foot in anticipation. Elliot gnawed on the inside of his cheek as he assessed them. Mere minutes ago, Misha and Emil Kovac had arrived from Konstantin Academy with a group of the school's security guards. Misha had smuggled Jade along, too, after she'd delivered the news of what was happening at the graveyard.

Elliot had explained everything on the phone while he and Ren tracked Nika. Jade hunted down Misha—who hadn't answered when Ren called—to pass on the information, and now they were here, waiting for a signal, praying that this situation wouldn't grow violent.

Thanks to Ren's criminal speeding, they'd made the drive in record time, but that hadn't subdued Ren's impatience. Elliot hadn't seen the giant man since he'd run off to find Nika. Misha had been worried about what happened to them, so he'd taken a pair of school keepers to retrace Ren's steps.

During all of it, Elliot had lingered by the SUV, driving himself insane with his own thoughts. The waiting was the worst. It let his panic and fear fester uncontrollably.

"Elliot?"

He whipped his head toward the voice, finding Jade's narrow eyes, as skeptical and intrusive as ever.

"You've done a good job," she said, likely repeating whatever he'd ignored. "With translating the journal and everything. I figured Nika wouldn't admit it, so I'll be the one to say thank you."

He shook his head. "I didn't do it for you, or Nika."

"We know." A playful jab with her elbow. "We're gonna get her back."

Before he could reply, a pillar of blue light erupted from the center of the cemetery. The keepers, even Emil, went still and silent, staring in awe as it stretched up, up, up. A hundred feet overhead, it blended into the air, but Elliot felt the power of it—the magic—reaching beyond the earth itself. All the way to the sun and the moon that came together in the darkening sky.

"It's starting," Elliot muttered, first to himself and then louder, so that everyone could hear. "They're breaking the curse!"

So close—Lu was so, so close. He sensed her presence.

Emil turned to the keepers and barked a few orders. Six of them peeled off and sprinted through the iron gates until they were specks among the headstones. It wasn't until the High Keeper approached that Elliot tore his gaze away from the pulsing, pale light.

"The two of you stay here, no matter what. Understood?"

Jade nodded. "Yes, sir."

Emil squeezed Elliot's shoulder, and the action made him think of his father. He hadn't even bid farewell to his family before leaving this morning. He hoped they would forgive him...

And as Emil followed the others into the cemetery, Elliot tilted his face toward the eclipse and prayed to the Oldbloods that they'd reach Lu in time. 

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