A Little Night Magic (Chapter 20)

By an hour before sunset, Stacy and I were both exhausted, and while my control wasn't perfect, it was as good as it was realistically going to get. We both decided we needed a little nap, and while Cain finished up the last of his preparations for the night, Stacy retreated to a guest room, and I went into my room. I tried to close my eyes, tried to sleep, but even with the conduits spread over town, my body was still vibrating with power, and I knew I wouldn't get any sleep. The best I could hope for was a little rest. I curled up on my bed, Gibson next to me, his little nose twitching as I pet him and stared off into space.

Despite the direness of the situation, despite the fact that I didn't know if it would even work once the sun had set, I felt oddly exhilarated. For the first time, I could understand Davina's hunger for this feeling, this power, this sense that anything and everything was possible simply for the wishing of it. I sat on the porch roof, staring at the sky as it grew ever pinker, and tried not to think about the two possible outcomes for the night. Both of them were frightening in their own way.

Occasionally, I would see a form appearing at the corner, and for a moment, my heart would catch, thinking that it might be Tobias, but he didn't show up. Not that I expected him to. I had asked him to leave, and he'd done what I'd asked. I could only hope that he was already on his way out of town, that any danger that might erupt from what would turn out to be either my genius or my extreme foolishness wouldn't touch him. If I got nothing else out of tonight, Tobias's safety would be something. It would be enough.

It would have to be.

The sky grew darker, and as the last bits of pink dimmed on the horizon, I reached into the cardboard box I'd set next to me, where Niles and Gibson curled up together. I picked up Niles and slowly pulled him out, his wings flapping roughly as I moved him away from his companion. For his part, deaf and blind, Gibson felt Niles's absence and shuffled from the place where he'd been napping, ramming his head against the cardboard edges of the box. I picked up the pencil I'd also stored in the box, and lifted Niles's little wing.

"Sorry, this might tickle a bit." I wrote, "Tonight," on the underside of one wing, then held him up and said, "Go find her," and released him into the night. He circled Gibson's box a couple of times, then flew on his way.

I took the box back inside and set it down by the open window, which I left open so that, when Niles was done with his journey, he could find his way back to his best friend, and they would be together.

If you can't get the happy endings you want, sometimes you have to settle for the ones you can have.

* * *

Cain and Stacy had been at work for a while, gathering up supplies and conduits, transporting them as close to the site as they could using Grace and Addie's B&B van. I walked; although it was well past sunset, I knew Davina wouldn't show up until closer to midnight, and the idea of being so close to the conduits, so rushed with all that power made me feel a little dizzy and sick. I enjoyed the walk, noticing each step, feeling gratitude for each breath. In the afternoon, when the sun was out and this moment was beyond my comprehension, it had all seemed like a really good idea. Now, it felt a bit like walking the plank. No way to go but forward, and no idea what would be waiting for me after the initial splash.

I got to the clearing faster than I had expected; it seemed like I was on my road, and then a moment later, at my destination. Cain had done his work; the white sand circle close to the moving water practically glowed in the light of the full moon. Everything and everyone else was well out of sight; close enough to be called upon when I needed them, far enough away that hopefully, Davina's spidey sense wouldn't go off.

I was alone there for a while, the summer air sticky and warm on my skin. I tried to feel for the power from the conduits, but there was nothing. Had it been daytime, I would have been overwhelmed with it, but now … nothing. No tingling in my hands; it was all gone. Nighttime had brought its shade of normalcy; no magic, no power, just my wits and hopes to keep me going until morning.

If I made it until morning.

I tried not to think about that, though.

"Well, hello, baby."

I looked up and there was Davina, her heavy backpack slung over her shoulder, her bright yellow dress making her look beautiful in the moonlight. Niles fluttered in a circle around her head for a bit, then flew over to me, buzzed my shoulder, and flew off to find Gibson, I presumed. If I'd had the choice, I would have done the same thing. As it was, I turned my focus back to Davina and the task at hand.

I had expected my heart to clutch in terror at the sight of her, but instead, what I felt was so conflicted. I had liked her, a lot. She had been a friend, some part of her had wormed its way into my heart, and despite all reason, that was still there.

"Glad to see you came to your senses." She poured the white sand into a circle around us, her voice casual, as if we were girlfriends out for a night's friendly witchcraft. "I know it feels awful, but you really are doing the right thing. You're a damn hero."

"Right." I stepped inside the circle, and she did the same. "Give me the potion. Let's get it over with."

"You're a down-to-business kind of girl, I can respect that." She reached into her backpack, pulled out a blue water bottle this time, and handed it to me.

"I need a minute," I said. "This stuff smells awful, and I just have to get my courage up."

"Fair enough," Davina said, then grinned a very cold grin. "I got all night."

"There's no way you can make it easier to get down?" I asked. "I mean, what's in this stuff?"

"Eye of newt. Little turpentine." She rolled her eyes. "It's a potion, baby, not a nightcap."

"Let me drink some water first," I said, and bent down to my bag, pulling out what would appear to be a normal bottle of Aquafina. Davina's eyes narrowed as I slowly undid the cap.

"What are you – "

And then, while her mouth was open, I jerked the bottle, splashing Cain's conduit potion in her face.

"What the…?" She sputtered a bit, and I could see that some – not much, but some – had gotten into her mouth. Cain had made the potion strong enough that it just seeping through her skin might work, but getting it into her mouth was the holy grail. For every drop she swallowed, I got a little more control, and I was going to need that control to get this ball rolling. I recapped the bottle quickly and dropped it to the ground at my feet; it bounced outside of the circle, out of my reach. Damn. I doubted I'd get an unguarded shot at her twice, but I'd wanted to have it handy, just in case.

Davina stared at me, her eyes wide with rage, and for a moment, I felt nothing. My terror began to grow – it's not going to work, oh hell, I'm going to die – and then, I felt it. Her power, her night magic, flowing into me. Just a little, just a bit, but it was enough to get me started.

"You little bitch," Davina said. I could feel her trying to fight me, her power pulsating within her, but I had enough control to hold her back … just barely, and only for a little while longer. I needed to move fast.

I closed my eyes and called to the solar walkway lights I'd spent much of the day preparing, sending them in bunches to their assigned spots throughout the wooded perimeter around us, where my conduits waited. The lights sounded like a plague of manufactured locusts, their plastic wings clattering as they were finally released to do the job I'd commanded of them in the day. Slowly, the flying lights came into view, hundreds of them, in their new form of fireflies, assembling in clusters over myself and every conduit, shooting stored sunlight out of their asses and down onto us.

Davina turned in a circle, slowly, watching as the conduits stood up in their little pools of light, as the solar-light fireflies danced frenetically above them. My control over Davina was fading, rapidly, and the captured sun in the solar lights was not paying off as well as I had hoped it would. I couldn't feel my power, or the power of the conduits. What little charge I'd been able to get off Davina was fading, and my nerves began to rise. The idea of stored sunlight had been a long shot, and I'd known it, but … shit.

"Baby, what kind of woman do you think I am?" Davina said, her voice cold and dangerous. What little control I'd had over her was gone.

"I don't know, Davina," I said, trying to concentrate on the fireflies, slowly pulling them closer, away from the conduits. Plan B would have to do. "What kind of woman are you?"

Davina walked closer to me, her eyes almost sad, like she felt a little sorry for me. Once, I would have believed that expression, but now … I saw something else behind the false emotion in her eyes.

It was the certainty of an easy victory.

"I'm the kind of woman who always has insurance," she said.

I couldn't guess what she meant by that, so I had to just stick to the plan. I closed my eyes, breathed in deep, and pulled the stored magic in from the fireflies. With a thunderous crash, they fell in the forest, leaving the conduits in the dark. I felt the power from the fireflies gather within me; looking down, I could see little wisps of yellow light dancing around my fingers. It wasn't much, but if I thought fast, I might be able to do something …

"Liv?"

A quiet, trembling voice came from behind me, and I turned around. In the moonlight, I could see a stocky form coming toward me, walking in jumpy steps, as if being forced to do every move. When she got close enough, I could see Millie, her hair wild, her face streaked with tears, still wearing the hospital gown she'd probably been in when Davina had taken her. She looked haggard and tired and terrified.

"Millie."

"You were right, Liv," she said. "She's not my friend."

"It's okay," I said. "Millie, just … fight her."

"I can't." She sniffled. "Tell Peach and Nick that I'm so sorry."

And with that, she lifted one hand, and I saw the moonlight glinting off of it before I could fully process what it was: a chef's knife, industrial grade and sharp.

I turned around to face Davina. "What the hell are you doing? Let her go!"

Davina rolled her eyes. "I'm doing what I have to do, baby. That's what I always do." She motioned to Millie, and when I turned, Millie had the chef's knife in both hands, not pointed at me, but at herself. At her heart.

"Liv, please…" Millie said, tears rolling down her face. "Help."

"Do what I tell you to do," Davina said, "or Millie here commits hari-kari right in front of you."

I twirled around to face Davina. "Stop it!"

"Call off your conduits. Send everyone home, and give me my fucking power," Davina said, "or this gets real ugly, real fast."

I turned back to Millie, whose eyes were big, focused on the knife poised at her heart. I closed my eyes, concentrated what power I'd borrowed from Davina, and shot it out toward the knife, as well as I could. It morphed into something sort of lizardish, wriggling in Millie's hand until she couldn't keep hold of it anymore. It fell to the ground and skittered away toward the water, which was good, but I'd just spent everything I had.

Which was very, very bad.

"Oh, gee, that's a damn shame," Davina said. "Whatever will I do now?"

She reached out her hand, curling her fingers into an eerie grip, and behind me, I heard Millie gasp and choke. I turned to see her, feet dangling and kicking beneath her, clawing at her neck.

"Stop!" I screamed, and started toward Davina, but she held up her free hand, ticking her index finger in warning.

"Ah, ah, ah," she said, and Millie gurgled behind me. "Call off your dogs. Send them home, or your friend here dies a wretched death."

"Okay!" I held out my hands, and while I could hear Millie struggling behind me, Davina's eyes were on me; she wasn't releasing Millie, but neither was she tightening her grip.

"All right, guys. You heard her. Go."

There was silence in the darkness, but around me Peach, Nick, Stacy, Grace, and Addie moved in closer, preparing to fight; I could feel them like little points of psychic light. I could feel my power flowing through them, and theirs flowing back to me, like daylight. We could take Davina. Maybe. But we definitely couldn't do it before she killed Millie, and I couldn't take that chance.

"Go!" I hollered, my voice bouncing off the trees. I felt their resistance, but they were mine, and I controlled them; one by one, they backed off, disappearing into the forest, taking my power with them. One by one, bit by bit, I lost the only advantage I had.

"They're gone," I said finally. "I held up my end of the bargain." I glanced back at Millie. She was alive, still clutching fruitlessly at her neck, but she was weakening. She wouldn't make it much longer.

"Goddamnit, Davina. Let her go!"

Behind me, Millie cried out, and I could see Davina's fingers clutching deeper into the air as her magical grip on Millie's throat tightened.

"Stop! We had a deal!"

"You're right. We did. But you know what, baby?" Davina's eyes glinted with malice and insanity, and I felt the coldness in her expression sink into me. "You shouldn't have pissed me off."

Behind me, I heard a cracking sound, like thick branches snapping, but by the time I turned around, it was already over. Millie's head was lolling on her shoulders at an unnatural angle, her dead eyes blank in the moonlight as her body fell to the ground, lifeless.

"Millie!" I screamed, but it was already too late. I fell to the ground trying to reach for her, but the white sand on the outside of the circle started to rise up and move around the barrier, like a cyclone. I pulled my knees in and skittered as far to the edge of the circle, only stopping when my hand touched the wall of flying sand. I shrieked at the pain and pulled it back in to me, the knuckles sanded raw and bleeding. I swiped at the tears on my face, trying not to give her the satisfaction of my terror, but since my entire body was shaking with it, it was a pretty moot point.

"Baby," she said, a little breathless, but still in control, "you tried to beat me, and I applaud you for it. Shows a lot of guts, more than I would have given you credit for. But you've lost. It's done. Give me my magic now, and no one else gets hurt."

"No," I said.

She had the nerve to look surprised. "Did you just say no?"

I got onto my hands and knees, my muscles weak from the influx and subsequent withdrawal of power, but I managed to push myself up to standing and take a step toward her.

"Yeah, I said no. You don't get my magic unless I willingly give it to you. You can go ahead and do what you want with me, but you're not getting the magic. It's over."

"We'll see about that." She moved toward me, her skirt and hair shifting around her in the wind from the cyclone that surrounded us. I was too scared and tired to move away from her, afraid I would fall if I tried, so when she put her hand on the back of my neck and leaned in to whisper in my ear, I could do nothing but stand there and let her.

"You seem to be under the impression," she said as the cyclone around us died down, the sand falling neatly back into its original circle, "that I've played all my cards."

With that, she spun me around. I felt dizzy from the movement, and it took me a moment to be able to focus my eyes, even with the full moonlight, but once I did, my heart jolted painfully in my chest.

Tobias. He stood not ten feet away, just outside the edge of the circle, his head hanging as though he was only standing due to some force other than his own will. His face was bloodied, his clothes ripped. I let out a cry, and Davina dug her fingers into my shoulder.

"Now," she said, "you're going to need to be quicker on your feet this time. He's so close to dead anyway that it won't take much more than a push of my finger to knock him over and finish the job. So you tell me, right now, baby … is it yes or no? Give me your magic now, without any more of this foolishness, and he lives. Hesitate even for a second, and you will watch him die, just like you watched Millie. What's your answer?"

I opened my mouth to squeak out a helpless, "Yes," but the dizziness overtook me, and I stumbled to my knees. Something was weird, and it took me a moment to realize what it was that I was feeling; it was both familiar and unfamiliar, stronger than I had felt it earlier, and coming from only one source rather than five. I almost thought it was my imagination until I saw the Aquafina bottle lying at Tobias's feet, uncapped and empty. I raised my eyes to his face and saw that his eyes were closed, but there was the tiniest trace of a smile on his lips.

He'd finished off my concentrated conduit potion.

He was mine.

I rose to my feet, pooling the borrowed power from Tobias, and I curled up my fist and hit Davina square in the face, sending her sprawling. The pure shock of the non-Magical attack did what I had hoped it would: her concentration faltered, and what grip she'd had on Tobias ebbed away. He was open now, a true conduit of power, only instead his life force flowing back into Davina, he now served as a connection between her and me.

"What the…?" Davina got to her knees and touched her face, smearing the blood on her lip where I'd struck her. She looked at me, her eyes wide and shocked, and I could tell she still didn't know what was happening. She probably thought the drain on her power was from holding Tobias up; she hadn't yet noticed that he was standing just fine on his own, his head raised as he watched us, holding his place, keeping the connection open.

God, I loved that man.

"Oh, wow." I took a step toward Davina and crouched in front of her. "My sister's power doesn't want you, does it?"

I moved my fingers, feeling the power within me, taking root, finding home.

"That's how you found me, isn't it? It wants me; it drew you to me. But when I have conduits, the pull is too strong. It wants me too much, and you can't hold onto it."

I tested this theory, pulling Davina to her feet, making her step closer to me even as her ankles buckled under her. Her eyes glittered with fury as she did it, but she stepped exactly where I commanded her to.

"All right, then," I said. "As long as we know who's in charge here."

Sweat broke out on Davina's upper lip as her eyes widened in fear.

"You can't do this," she said, gasping as she struggled to fight me. "You need my permission to take it … my will…"

"Hmmm, that is a sticky point. Let's test it, shall we?" I concentrated on her and began to pull. At first, it was slow going, a lot of effort for very little return, but eventually, I could see the gray smoke that was seeping out of her. My yellow light curled around it, pulling it back to me through Tobias, the portal between us, and with every breath, I felt it settle home inside of me – a power unlike mine, darkened and brittle, but there was also a hint of familiarity in it. Davina had corrupted my sister's power, but my sister was still in there, her power different from mine, but ultimately complementary. I took it in, as much as I could, not everything, not quite all of it, but most of it. If Davina could manage someday to light a candle without a match, I'd have been surprised.

"I think maybe you're wrong about that," I said, slowly lowering Davina to her knees as I released my hold on her. "I think it's not your will, it's Holly's. After all, it was her magic. And I think she wants her magic with me."

Davina groaned and writhed on the ground, fighting me as much as she could, but she was weak. Eventually, she stopped moving except for the short, shallow breaths she was taking, and only then did I disconnect from her entirely, releasing both her and Tobias in a rush of relief.

When it was done, and Davina was passed out on the ground, I stumbled outside the circle and managed to get myself to the flat rock by the brook. The power made me shaky and, ironically, weak. I didn't have the strength to wield it all, not at the moment. Someday, I would, but for now, it was all I could do to maintain consciousness.

"Liv!" Tobias was beside me on the rock, pulling me into his arms, and the relief of it was enough to make me cry out. He pulled back and looked at me. "You all right?"

"I'm okay," I said. "How are you?"

I looked at his sweet face, bloodied and beaten, but still, my own Tobias. I put my hand over his chest and felt the heartbeat under my fingers.

Mine.

"Don't leave me," I said, too tired to keep from expressing the thought out loud.

He wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. "I'm not going anywhere."

I pushed him back so I could look in his eyes. "No, I mean, ever. Don't you ever, ever leave me again. Ever."

He smiled. "Never."

"I mean it," I said. "None of this 'when they come to take me away' bullshit. If they come for you, we run. We go rogue. Whatever. I don't care, so long as we do it together."

He took my hand in his and kissed the tips of my fingers. "Deal."

"Really?"

He nodded, and brushed some hair away from my face. "Yeah. I'm in."

He smiled at me, and I smiled back, and then I heard twigs crunching as footsteps approached. Instinctively, I flinched, and Tobias tightened his grip around me until we saw the shadowy figures of Cain and Stacy emerge into the clearing.

"For fuck's sake, Liv," Stacy began, "we've been waiting for you. What the hell happened?"

I didn't say anything, just watched as Stacy caught a glimpse of Davina lying helpless on the ground, and she whooped.

"Yeah, that's right, baby!" Stacy said. "The bitch is – "

And then she stopped, frozen, and her eyes landed, as I knew they inevitably would, on Millie. Cain, a second too late, stepped between Stacy and Millie's body, putting his hands on her shoulders and angling her away.

"You don't wanna see that," he said, his voice as soft and kind as I'd ever heard it.

"Millie?" Stacy's voice cracked as she said the name, and I could see the moonlight glittering in the wetness in her eyes as she looked at me. "Liv?"

I was too tired to say anything, so I just squeezed Tobias's hand. "Take Stacy back to the van. Can you find it?"

Tobias nodded. "Yeah, I passed it on the way in, but – "

"I'll be okay," I said. "You can come back for me. I'm not going anywhere. Please, take care of Stacy. I need to deal with Cain for a bit."

Tobias kissed me gently, then walked over to Stacy, put his arm around her, and gently guided her out. When I looked back at Cain, I saw him standing over Davina, his hands at his sides, the glint of the gun he'd just pulled out of the back of his jeans barely visible in the moonlight.

"Please, Cain," I said. "Don't."

He didn't look at me, just kept staring at Davina. "Have to."

"I took the power," I said. "All of it. She may not survive the night as it is. But you have to make a choice now and I'm asking you, for Holly. Please don't."

He raised his head at Holly's name.

"I'm so tired," I said, not to him, but to her. I could feel her, with me, her desperation growing stronger as her power found home with mine.

Please. There isn't much time.

"Please," I repeated. "There isn't much time."

His entire body froze as I said the words, and I felt the memory; the darkness Holly had felt, the coldness even as he held her to him. There isn't much time. I love you.

"She loved you," I said.

He has to move on.

"She wants you to move on, but you never will. Not unless you drop the gun."

Please.

There was a protracted silence as Cain stared down at Davina, the gun still in his hand. Finally, I heard a clatter as he dropped it to the ground. When he spoke, his voice was thick with emotion.

"Tell her…" He cleared his throat. "Tell her…"

"She knows," I said. She was gone by then, but I knew it was the truth. She loved him so much that I could feel that love for him within myself, solid and unconditional and more real than anything else in the world. Most of that love was hers, but some of it was my own to keep. In a weird way, he was the only family I had left. A brother, of sorts; the man who had loved the sister I'd never known.

I'd take it.

He looked at me for a long moment, then quietly took off his flannel shirt, revealing a white T-shirt that glowed an ethereal blue in the moonlight. He draped the shirt over Millie's head and shoulders, then picked her up and disappeared into the forest, leaving me alone with Davina. I took a few deep breaths, and drew what strength I could for the last thing I had to do.

I got up, stumbled past Davina and the circle, and found her backpack. It was impossibly heavy, but I managed to drag it back to the brook. One by one, I emptied her vials and potions and herbs into the running water; she may be able to build herself back up as a conjurer one day, but at least she wouldn't have a head start.

Once I was done, I went into my bag and pulled out the second bottle I'd had tucked in there, one I'd taken from Cain's stores. I walked over to Davina, tilted her head, and poured it into her mouth. She sputtered and coughed, then swallowed. I left her there to vomit by herself; I'd done my part. She could recover and get back to town on her own. If she died in the process, it wouldn't be on my head. I sat on the rock by the brook again, gathered up what strength I could, and finally stood up. As I took my wearied and wobbly steps past Davina, I said, "Set foot in this town again, and no force in the world will save you."

A powerful, rage-filled scream reverberated off the trees, and a strong grip pulled on my ankles. I went down, face-first, into the dirt. Before I could get my bearings to turn myself over, something hard hit me on the back of the head, and I saw stars. I scraped and pulled at the ground, managing to flip around just in time to see Davina, up on her knees, a huge rock in her hands. Her eyes were wild and glassy, her hair matted with dirt and leaves. Guttural, primal sounds came from her as she threw her body onto mine, sending sharp shards of pain through me. I screamed as she regained her balance, pulling herself back and lifting the rock, preparing to brain me. I was trapped under her bulk, unable to access my magic through the haze of my exhaustion, and unable to physically move or scramble out of the way.

Never underestimate the power of crazy, I thought, and waited for the blow that would certainly kill me.

But no blow came. I saw a small flash of light, and heard a strangely innocuous-sounding pop. It took me a moment to place the sound, as I'd only heard one like it once before, when Stacy's mom had taken all of us to the shooting range.

Davina jerked back and fell away from me. With her weight off of me, I scrambled away as best I could, getting a few feet between us, and the pop happened again. The world started to spin around me, and there it was again. Pop. Pop.

"Cain!" I called out into the dark, not sure where he was, but sure he could hear me. "Stop!"

I tried to focus, but all I could see was a dark form, one hand extended, and the final blast of light from the end of a gun.

Pop.

"Cain," I said. "No."

Pop. Davina's body jerked again, but there was no life left in her. She was gone. He'd killed her.

I fell back onto the ground, barely able to move. A second later, arms were around me, pulling me up, and carrying me away.

"Liv." Tobias's voice, quiet, shaky. "Are you okay?"

"Tobias?" I was dizzy, and confused. "Where's Cain?"

"Back in the van," he said. "It's okay. I've got you."

And then, everything went dark.