We took the crystal to the house Ashley died in. After Peter’s spirit energy helped me heal the dead zone in the woods, I believed I could do something similar at this one. No one had removed the crime scene tape from the front door. Rather than disturb it, Lugh led us around to the backyard. He cast his invisibility spell again in case any of the neighbors were watching the ruined house. We didn’t need any magic to get inside. Someone forgot to lock the back door when they cleaned up the crime scene.
“You two can keep watch here if you’d like. I know how much the dead zones grate the nerves,” I suggested.
“No, we’ll go with you,” Lugh said. I didn’t argue, even though this over-protectiveness seemed unnecessary.
“All right,” I agreed.
They followed me to the room where Smith stabbed Ashley. I shivered when I stepped into the dead zone. It felt as awful as the first time I’d encountered one. Flynn rolled his shoulders and neck as if he could shrug off his discomfort. Lugh hesitated before stepping over the line. He shuddered and crossed his arms. I spotted a large, dead bamboo plant and pulled it to the center of the dead zone. I wanted to replicate as many conditions as possible from the last time. Clearing that dead zone was a side effect of banishing the demon. I couldn’t duplicate that part, but I planned to focus on the plant this time.
“How does this work?” Flynn asked. He held the briefcase open for me.
“Honestly, I’m not totally sure,” I said as I took the crystal.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Lugh asked. As I thought about what I did to free Peter, I realized I didn’t have even half the power I used then.
“It might be dangerous. The last time, it forged a bond between the demon and me. I didn’t use a complicated spell, but it took more power than I have right now,” I explained.
“So you just need a boost. We can do that,” Lugh said.
He put a hand on my shoulder, and I felt sunshine on my skin. Flynn rested one hand on my other shoulder and one on Lugh’s shoulder. A well of power opened up to me. My muscles tensed, and I gritted my teeth. I felt my body swelling and contorting but didn’t see any of the changes reflected in my anatomy. The pain of bones reshaping and skin stretching ripped through me. I nearly broke the connection between us. I would have if not for Flynn and Lugh’s hands gripping me. My mind split. I knew I still stood on two feet in that living room. But collapsing to the forest floor on four paws felt just as real.
As my fragmented consciousness reunited, I understood that Flynn’s wolf needed to know I could handle the power before I tapped into it. Theoretically, I’d known that it took immense power for werewolves to shift. Experiencing it, even by proxy, reframed that knowledge for me. How did Flynn walk around with this inside him every day? I made eye contact with him, and the wolf stared out at me. I bowed my head in respect, and the wolf nodded its approval.
I cast the spell, but the demon didn’t invade my mind this time. Distant desperation called to me. This stone linked to the knife trapping the demon. If Sal hadn’t put that blade in one of her null boxes, it might have broken free through that connection. The magic of this crystal dissolved too quickly, though. As it crumbled, witch magic burst free. Ashley’s power rushed into me. Lugh and Flynn broke contact to cover their eyes. The witch’s spirit shone too bright to look at. Gratitude washed over us, and Ashley passed on from our plane.
No one had used the stone since it trapped her life force, and I felt the difference in power. She’d been younger than Peter when they killed her. Those extra years of potential added up more than I would have thought. If Peter’s collected magic made me feel unstoppable, Ashley’s made me feel like a god. Even after the wolf’s test, Flynn’s power still felt foreign. But I understood this magic perfectly. My weakened state from fighting the demon faded into memory as I acclimated to the energy surging through me.
Holding onto the power tempted me more than anything the demon could have offered. It wouldn’t be right, but I wanted it more than I should. Before I could think of a convincing argument, I reminded myself why we’d come here. The dead zone couldn’t touch me like this. I focused on my intentions: healing, cleansing, and purifying. The magic poured out of me, lighting up the room as it filled the tainted sphere surrounding us.
When the light faded, it took the dead zone’s tarnish with it. A healthy young sprout replaced the withered bamboo in the pot. The purification didn’t drain me the way the last one did. I still had too much power running through my body. Using up as much as I did brought me down to earth. I’d never been invincible. That was my ego’s reaction to the power.
“We have to go to the other dead zone,” I said.
“Why?” Lugh asked.
“I need to fix that one, too. My body can’t hold on to this much energy,” I said, holding back the consequences. It could destroy me if I didn’t put the magic to use soon. I didn’t know how, but I knew it was true. I wouldn’t have lasted a day if I’d tried to hold on to all of Ashley’s magic.
“All right, let’s go,” Flynn said.
“Bring the plant,” I told them and walked out of the room. I didn’t know if it would be the same as the sapling in Fort Snelling. But Lugh would take better care of it than whoever would find it here.
Lugh and Flynn hurried to keep up with me on the way to the truck. Flynn loaded the pot into the back and secured it. The engine started on its own when I thought about how badly I wanted to get moving. It didn’t drive away on its own before Flynn got in the driver’s seat and put it in gear. I had a feeling it might have if I’d just concentrated hard enough. I closed my eyes as we drove and focused on my breathing. If I used too much magic before we got to the next dead zone, I might not have enough to fix that one. It didn’t matter to my body how I spent the magic as long as I got it out of my system. I wanted to use it in this way, though. It felt right.