Eighteen

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Why hadn't the witches walked through the veil? Many of their spirits were old and prone to unsettlement, aggravation, irritation. But they weren't so old that only a few minutes in the living world would agitate them to the point of desperation. Or worse, violence.

Charlotte looked down at her hands.

Their magic. Hundreds of threads in shades of silver, brown, red, and blue twined around her fingers, her palms, and up her arms.

She had all of their magic at her command. Each witch's familiar was bound to Charlotte now. Mina, Nivian, along with her ancestors, had nothing to anchor them anymore.

That must have been the turning point. However willingly they surrendered their magic to Charlotte's care, the loss of it would drive them to extremes, whether they were aware of what they were doing or not.

Charlotte summoned the magic that had been bestowed upon her. A spell burned its way through every muscle, every bone, and every vein, alternating between cool as a breeze, hot as fire, gritty as the earth, and smooth as liquid. Finally, it reached her fingertips, more alive and shivery than any magic she had ever held before.

But she didn't get a chance to release the spell. Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.

The Endless One was rising to his feet, darkness boiling overhead, crackling with red lightning.

Something prickled at the back of Charlotte's neck like a bee sting. She couldn't slap at it for fear of breaking the spell taking shape between her hands. But she hitched one shoulder up in an attempt to block it out.

The sting grew to a vise-like grip, clamped around the base of her skull. The prickly feeling transformed to an itch, spreading down her arms.

Black veins twisted between the threads of magic. One by one, the threads guttered out and vanished from sight. In their place, boils bubbled a pale, sickly yellow beneath Charlotte's skin.

"Do you know why I was never challenged for so long?" The Endless One said.

Charlotte made no reply. She was whispering as fast as she could, conjuring magic to replace what was slipping from her grasp.

"I never let Šuná forget what they feared the most," The Endless One continued. "I wore what they dreaded—the English..." He patted Alexander's chest. "As well as disease and death."

Charlotte's chest felt heavy and tight, each breath of air a rattling wheeze in her throat. She coughed and the bitter taste of blood surged into her mouth.

"You tricked them," she choked. "If anyone spoke out against you..."

The plague they had tried to escape suddenly reappeared. Twice as nasty as before, too."

The Endless One's darkness crept along the ground in tiny rivers, nipping at the crows around Charlotte. Yulia met Charlotte's eye and mouthed an apology.

No.

Not an apology.

The stone.

Charlotte dipped her chin in the faintest nod of acknowledgement. She had to distract The Endless One somehow, only for a few precious seconds so she could grab the wraithstone.

"Do you feel it yet?" he said.

Charlotte's gaze darted back to him. Her hands were shaking. The spell was unraveling between her hands, not gaining strength as it should have been. A raging fever swept through her brain, churning her concentration to a sluggish crawl.

"For five hundred years," The Endless One said. "The world has been free of its fear of the Black Death. Medicine progresses and man forgets his gods. He becomes a god himself. That's why the disease eating its way through your body now is ten times uglier than any case of the plague that has ever been recorded in human history. Just for you, witch."

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