Baruck's mad laughter echoed and bounced around my skull. "You've come to die with her?

Perfect. That makes this so much easier, because I think I might have broken her." Daemon shadowed Baruck's wild

movements, fading out and taking on his true form - the form he could be killed in.

"She tasted good, too. Different somehow," he taunted. "Not like a Luxen, but still worth it in the end."

Launching himself at Baruck, Daemon threw him several feet away with one powerful blast of light from an outstretched arm. "I'm going to kill you."

Baruck rolled on to his back, nearly choking with laughter. "You think you can take me, Luxen? I have devoured those stronger than you."

Daemon's howl of anger drowned out whatever else Baruck might have said, and he sent another blast of light at him. I felt the ground beneath me tremble as I managed to raise myself up onto my elbows. Each movement, no matter how small, sent sharp stings all through me. I could feel my heartbeat, the struggle behind it. Streaks of lights danced within the darkness of the Arum. They exchanged blows without even touching one another.

Bright, orangey balls of fire formed on the tips of Daemon's hands. They shot out past Baruck, fizzling out before they slammed into trees. The world turned amber and gold. Heat blew back at me. Embers crackled in the air, fading before hitting the ground.

Each strike sent the ground into motion, knocking me back down, face-first into the damp, itchy grass with a grunt. Pushing myself up, I saw a streak of light moving over the field, much like a falling star but shooting across the ground at a dizzying speed.

The light shot between Daemon and Baruck, fizzing out as it reached me. Warm hands gripped my shoulders and lifted me. "Katy, talk to me," Dee begged. "Please talk to me!" Nothing happened when I tried to talk. No words came out.

"Oh my God." Dee was crying, her tears falling from her beautiful face and landing on my nearly silent chest. She pulled me into her thin arms as she screamed for her twin.


Daemon turned from the battle at the same time Baruck did. With one look, a bolt of darkness shot straight for us, knocking Dee back. She screamed out in pain and rolled to her knees. She looked up, her eyes glowing an intense white.

She rose to a crouch, her human form fading into crackling light.

Daemon struck back harder, and the ground rumbled. Baruck dodged Daemon's attack and went after Dee. Screaming in fury, she rushed Baruck.

He caught her again. For a second, darkness swallowed her, and then she crumbled to the ground in a twitching heap. Daemon charged Baruck, tackling him to the ground in a rage that was so potent it fueled everything around him.

From the branches that shook, to the dead leaves falling like macabre rain, to the ground beneath me. The air crackled with power.

I felt it in my bones. Groaning, I staggered to my feet and sucked in a breath. I wasn't going out this way. My friends weren't going out like this.

Dee was on her feet, flickering in and out.

Blood trickled from her nose. She shook her head and stumbled forward.

I saw what was going to happen next through a very narrow lens. Things seemed to slow down. I rushed forward as Daemon glanced over his shoulder at his sister. Baruck pulled his arm back, preparing another stream of matter.

The image of the tree snapping in half along the road flashed before me.

Rushing forward, I crashed into the light that was Dee the moment Baruck released the blast of energy. Darkness surrounded me, and I heard a scream - a piercing scream that wasn't mine.

And then I was flying - really flying. The sky was rolling, stars and darkness, over and over.

The entire world shimmered.

I hit the ground hard, already knowing it was too late.

A body crashed next to mine. A limp, slender arm fell against mine. Dee. I hadn't been quick enough. The arm warmed against mine, becoming less...solid. Her light cast upon me.

Sorrow cut through me like a thousand double-edged razor blades. She wasn't moving, but I could see her chest moving, slow and shallow.

Distracted, Daemon turned and made a fatal mistake. You'll get him killed, Ash had said.

Baruck reared his arm back and his blast caught Daemon in his back. He went up, spiraling through the air, flickering in and out of human form. He landed only a foot from us.

Baruck laughed and shifted into his shadowy form. Three for one ssspecial.

Tears burned my eyes as my cheek nestled against the damp grass. Daemon tried to sit up, but he collapsed onto his back, his face contorting in pain.

It'sss over. All of you will die. Baruck advanced.

Daemon turned his head toward me. Our eyes locked. There was so much regret in that one look. His face faded out, blurred and unrecognizable. He couldn't hold his human form. Seconds later, and he was in his true form.

The shape of a man encased in the most beautifully intense light.

One arm extended out toward me, forming fingers. Heart breaking, I reached out and my fingers disappeared in his light. Warmth encircled my fingers, the slightest pressure of Daemon's hand wrapping around mine. He squeezed, as if to reassure me, and a sob caught in my throat.

Daemon's light flickered but continued climbing up my arm, wrapping me in his intense heat. Like the day of the first Arum attack, in the wake of his warmth, my body began knitting itself back together.

Daemon was using the last of his strength to save me.

"No!" I shouted, but it came out no more than a hoarse whisper. I tried to pull my hand away, but Daemon refused to let go. And he didn't know what I did...I was too hurt to be saved. He should have taken the last of his strength to save himself. Or save Dee...

I pleaded with him with my eyes, but he squeezed my hand tighter.

This wasn't fair. It wasn't right. They didn't deserve this. I didn't deserve this. Pain and hatred welled in me. I would die, my friends would die, my mother would be lost, and Daemon.... I couldn't even understand the purpose behind all of this. The Arum's greed for power? Was it worth all these lives? The injustice of it all tore at me and a surge of energy that came from deep within me, jolted through my body.

I wasn't going to die like this. Neither were Daemon and Dee, not in some Podunk field in bumfuck West Virginia.

Using the strength Daemon had given me, I pushed myself to sit up and grabbed Dee's heated arm, keeping ahold of Daemon, willing them to get up, willing them to fight.

Baruck moved toward Daemon's light. Of course he'd take him out first - the most powerful. He'd be tweaking for hours. I wasn't even a blip on his radar at this point.

Daemon's hand spasmed and his light flared as the edge of Baruck's shadow rippled over him.

And something, something unexpected happened.

A pulse of light went through him, shining so bright that I winced. It arced high in the air, crackling and spitting. It found its other half, recognizing the form beside me. The same was happening with Dee's light even though she was unconscious. Her light blazed, connected with Daemon's.

Baruck's shadow halted.

The arc of light pulsed above and shot down, right into the center of my chest. The impact felt like it sent me deep into the ground, but...I was lifted off the ground, hair flying out around me.

Power built between the three of us. It sparked, and out of the corner of my eye I saw both of them return to human form. Dee slumped on the ground, moaning softly, Daemon pushing to his knees, turning toward me.

But I...I was hovering. At least, that was how it felt. I didn't concentrate on that or even what Daemon was doing. It was only Baruck and me.

I wanted him to go away, to disappear. I wanted his very presence wiped clean from this earth. I wished for it more than anything I have ever desired. Every fiber of my being was centered on him. I pulled everything within me: every fear, every tear I'd shed for Dad, and every moment in my life where I was a bystander.

Power coiled inside me, wrapped through my very core. With a wild battle cry, I let it go.

The cord snapped, and the recoil occurred outside of me.

The sky above us erupted in white lightning.

I felt it leave, and I heard the old trees around us creak and groan as it rushed over them. The strong oaks, with no place to hide, bent to its power. The flash of light followed true to its target, washed through Daemon and Dee, and slammed Baruck in the chest.

His shadow form jerked. There was a loud snapping sound, and the light exploded once more, enveloping him completely.

Daemon stumbled backward and shielded himself from the explosion. The light flared, then quickly receded, and without a single word, Baruck was no more. Daemon slowly lowered his arm and stared blankly at the empty spot. He turned toward me. His voice was barely a whisper. "Kat?" I was on my back before I realized it. The dark sky above began to blur. I didn't know what happened or what I did, but I could feel the power as it slipped out of me, and along with it, something more important.

I felt nothing, and let out a tired breath. It made this rattling sound that I knew should concern me, but I didn't think to care. There was this darkness again, a different kind than the Arum's. This was softer, numbing.

Daemon fell to his knees beside me, pulling me into his strong, solid arms. "Kat, say something insulting. Come on." Off in the distance I could hear Dee stirring and rising to her feet, panic filling her voice.

Without a glance back, Daemon gently moved his fingers over my face and spoke. "Dee, go back to the house now. Get Adam - he's out there somewhere." Dee's arms were wrapped around her waist, and she was bent at an angle that alluded to a cracked rib or two. "I don't want to leave. She's bleeding! We have to get her to a hospital."

I was bleeding? Huh. I hadn't known. I felt wetness on my face: under my lips, my nose, and there was a strange dampness around my eyes, but it didn't hurt. Was I crying? Was it blood? I could feel Daemon around me, but it all seemed far away.

"Go back to the house now!" Daemon yelled and his grip around me tightened, but his voice softened. "Please. Leave us. Go. She's okay.

She...she just needs a minute."

Such a damn liar. I wasn't okay.

Daemon turned his back to her, pushing the tangled waves of hair out of my face. Only after she'd left, did he speak softly to me. "Kat, you're not going to die. Don't move or do anything. Just relax and trust me. Don't fight what's about to happen." I watched as Daemon lowered his head. He rested his forehead against mine. His form faded out and he slipped into his true body. My eyes fluttered shut against the intensity of his light. The heat was almost too much. I was too close to it.

Hold on. Don't let go. His voice came through. Just hold on.

I felt myself sink deeper, and his hand cradled my head. Daemon exhaled long and steady against my lips. Warmth spread from him to me, slowly moving down my throat and into my lungs, filling me with such glorious heat that I knew there was no better way to let go than this.

Like a balloon that was slowly being inflated, I began to rise. My lungs filled as his heat spread through every vein and my fingers began to tingle. The pressure in my head subsided. I swam in the intoxicating feeling that inundated me. My senses started to process the things around me again, and I was no longer in this numb and dim world.

He continued until I was able to move in his arms. I pulled myself up, gripping his arms, following him out of the dark abyss. I reached for him blindly. My lips brushed his and my world exploded in feeling. They shifted until I was able to comprehend and make sense of some of it. And they weren't mine, not entirely.

What am I doing? If they find out what I've done...b ut I can't lose her. I can't.

I gasped for air, floored by the knowledge that I was hearing Daemon's thoughts. He was talking to me - not like before when he was in his true form. This was different, like his thoughts and feelings were dancing around mine. Fear beat at me, as did something softer, even more powerful than fear.

Please. Please. I can't lose you. Please open your eyes. Please don't leave me.

I'm here. I opened my eyes. I'm here.

Daemon jerked back, the light fading slowly, slipping out of me, over my skin and back into him.

"Kat," he whispered, sending shivers through me. He sat back with me still nestled against his chest. I felt his heart thunder violently, beating at the same rate as mine, in perfect sync.

Everything around us seemed...clearer.

"Daemon, what did you do?"

"You need to rest." He paused, his voice throaty, weary. "You're not a hundred percent. It will take a couple of minutes. I think. I haven't healed anything on this level before."

"You did at the library," I murmured. "And at the car..."

His head lowered against mine. "That was just to help with a sprain and bruises. That was nothing like this."

The arm that had been broken didn't even ache as I lifted it. I turned my head toward him, my cheek brushing his. I stared in amazement at the bent trees that folded around us in a perfect circle. My gaze fell to the ground and settled on the space Baruck once stood. The only trace of him was the scorched earth he left behind.

"How did I do that?" I whispered. "I don't understand."

He buried his head in the crook of my neck, breathing in deeply. "I must've done something to you when I healed you. I don't know what. It doesn't make sense, but something happened when our energies joined. It shouldn't have affected you - you're human." I was beginning to wonder about that.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Okay. Sleepy. You?"

"The same."

I watched in silence as his curious eyes followed his thumb over my chin, and he traced along my lower lip.

"I think, for now, it would be best if we kept this between our-selves - the whole healing thing and what you did back there. Okay?" I nodded, but stilled as his hands drifted around my face, removing the smudges our battle had left behind.

A tumble of black waves shifted over his forehead and a smile spread across his face, reaching his eyes, deepening them to a brilliant green. His fingers splayed across my cheeks and his head slanted, and I couldn't help but think of what I'd overheard as his mouth brushed against mine. There was an infinitely tender quality to his soft kiss. It reached deep inside me, sending my heart into overdrive. It was innocent, intimate. Soul-burning as he tipped my head back and explored my lips as if it was the first time we'd kissed. And maybe it was - a real kiss.

When he finally pulled back, he laughed unsteadily. "I was worried that we'd broken you."

"Not quite." My gaze moved over every inch of his weary face. "Did you break yourself?"

He snorted. "Almost."

I took a breath, a little dizzy. "What now?" A slow, tired smile pulled at his lips. "We go home."

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