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Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I glanced behind me through the door. A sheet of paper fluttered to the ground. Two more followed it before an open box was placed near the entrance. A vampire zipped by, carrying another box.

“You guys had your own agenda,” I murmured, remembering what Clyde had said.

“Of course.” She looked straight ahead, and her body went on point again.

That was when it hit me. Like the undertow before a tsunami, the magic sucked at me. Dark, thick, and evil, something was in the works, and it would not be pretty.

“Skin peeling…” Eyes closed, I leaned away from it, focusing on the prickles rolling across my skin. My stomach churned. “Pulling our insides out.” The darkness rose in the distance, a growing balloon intent on our bodily destruction.

“What do I do?” Marie asked, at my side.

My power stones, all six of them, begged me to take them out, to spread them out in front of me. I complied quickly, pausing twice when one groused about the location. Once those were arrayed on the ground, I stripped off my utility belt and sprinkled the contents on the ground around the stones, creating a circle around me. A slight breeze stirred my hair and dusted my face. A sweet fragrance filled my senses and calmed my nerves.

My phone buzzed, clattering against the ground where I’d dropped it. Marie was there in an instant, quieting it. My mother had been pulling double duty lately, always awake, always sending new readings. She had to be exhausted. That, or she had friends she never told me about, and they were taking shifts.

Probably the latter.

“What does it say, Marie? Quickly.”

“‘Use the vampire.’”

“Okay, well, you heard her. Get in here.” I stepped closer to the power stones, allowing room for Marie at my back.

Without question, Marie stepped into the circle, more courageous than I would’ve been in her situation. And less curious. Did she not wonder who was giving me orders via text?

Ignore list.

I centered myself in my self-made haven of natural magic, focusing on the feeling of what was looming out there in the darkness. Nature guided me in the weave, as it so often did, attaching to what I now knew was my will. Marie’s magic drifted into the mix, predatory and sharp, a lethal killer who hunted in the shadows. Finally, a complex mix of emotions that could best be compared with PMS rose through my middle, confused and sad and annoyed and ragey all at the same time.

Power pulsed around me. The sky crackled.

“They are getting closer,” Marie whispered. “Muttering. I can’t hear what they are saying.”

“I know. I can feel it.”

The huge wave was loosed, rolling toward us quickly.

My hands spread out like claws, my teeth gritted, and my eyes closed. I had one moment to issue a plea that this would work as intended and save everyone in the records room, before I shoved my arms forward, and with them, my spell.

A complex wave, glimmering white, stretched out in front of us. It drifted toward the oncoming spell, slow and steady. Thick and violent.

A cloud of deep green slammed into my wall. Pops and sparks flew out, cracking and banging. The green mass tried to burrow through my weave. Eat it away. Punch holes into it.

My magic held fast, retreating with the onslaught.

My power stones burst with power, feeding the spell I’d already sent into the world. I had no idea how or why.

The colors changed. The weaves continued to do war. My spell held fast, wearing the other down. Corroding it.

“I’ll get the casters,” Marie said.

I snatched her arm and got a nasty scratch from a claw for my efforts. “No! My spell is just getting going. This is the defensive part. Your magic will be kicking off in just a moment.”

“My magic?” Marie said, stilling.

Electricity rolled across my skin, and then Emery was behind us. “What’s happening? Do you need help?”

“No,” I whispered, keeping a tight grip on Marie’s hand. This was about to be the worst thing I’d ever created. I could feel it. I needed to hold a hand—or in this case, a vicious-looking set of claws—to keep my courage. “This is the vampires’ fault, by the way. Let’s all acknowledge that up front.”

“I see them,” Marie said. “Walking forward slowly. Six of them. Arrogance at work.”

A bright flare of light lit everyone up, and suddenly I could see them too. Six, as Marie had said, three in red robes, two in purple, and one in orange. They had more ingredients in their hands, but no one’s lips were moving. They wanted to see how their first spell did before moving on to another.

How dumb could this organization possibly be? Emery and I didn’t need to memorize words or separate our ingredients out beforehand, so time would always be on our side.

As the full weight of what I was, and how lucky I was, hit me, my spell morphed into a strange, grisly-looking thing, replete with magical spikes and gaping black holes.

“What the hell did you create?” Emery asked, stepping closer.

“Something a vampire would be proud of,” I muttered, feeling a little sick to my stomach.

“We shall see.” Marie laid a hand on my shoulder, thankfully without claws. I wasn’t sure being her buddy was a good thing.

The spell flew forward as fast as Darius could run, drifting over the ground silently. It crashed into the mages, piercing them in a hundred places each, the spikes digging into their flesh. Now attached, it began eating away at its new hosts, a magical parasite.

Screams rent the night sky. Emery acted quickly, pulling from the ingredients scattering the ground and dropping a magical noise cap onto the scene.

He turned to me, his eyes intense, before a little smile curved his lips. A moment later, he was sprinting back into the building.

“He is proud of you.” Marie’s grip tightened on my shoulder. One by one, the bodies fell into a heap. “And I would be honored to take responsibility for the effects of that spell. It was magnificent. I hope to be in battle with you someday.”

I grimaced. Definitely not a personal goal to be her friend.

She stiffened, and I felt the coming spell. I turned to throw my hands up, not sure what I would do, but I went airborne. I hit the side of the building and tumbled to the ground. The spell harmlessly zipped past.

“My apologies. I didn’t know if you’d react in time.” Marie was zooming away.

Climbing to my feet, I felt another spell coming. These weren’t being created; they were already made. From casings, I’d bet. Weaker, but harder to sense until they were on top of me.

“We’re under siege,” I yelled over my shoulder. “We gotta go.”

I called up another shield and ran forward. A blast of light hit my magic, fizzing and popping. I shot out, my red jet of electricity enhanced with a few tricks I’d learned recently. A scream rose. A man in orange crumpled to the ground. Another turned and ran toward the building on my right.

I patched together a rolling ball of heat and really, really wished I knew how to make fire. The fire Reagan had summoned in that church had been way cooler than my efforts, not to mention more effective. I needed that kind of firepower. Literally.

It rolled over him, and his robes burst into flames. With the door open, the ball continued inside, searing the frame as it boiled through.

Good enough.

Smoke puffed out of the building. Light glowed and flickered from within.

“Oooooh…” I grimaced. If all the screaming and blasts of light didn’t get us noticed, a burning building would surely do the trick. “We gotta go!”

I turned and started running. Marie was beside me in a moment.

“We gotta go,” I yelled again, bursting into the records room.

Paper and overturned boxes littered the entire right side of the building. Gaping holes announced missing boxes from shelves. In front of me, three vampires waited, six boxes strapped to each of their backs with thick netting. The others were getting loaded up. Darius clearly planned to take as much of the record room with him as possible, but he didn’t think he was above hard labor. It looked like he’d be carrying out boxes too.

“Clearly we’re even in this endeavor,” I said, indignant for reasons I couldn’t name. “Just in case you try to call in a favor for helping us get into the compound”—I waggled my finger at Darius—“this is that favor. You’re welcome for our role in getting you in here.”

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