“That’s not what I mean.” Mateo couldn’t quite believe he was saying this, and yet he knew beyond any doubt this was the only way to win. “You want to stop her from working any dark magic, right? Well, there’s one way to make sure she stops. And I think we ought to consider it.”
“Listen—you’re upset, you’re freaked out for Verlaine, I get that—”
“I don’t think you get it at all. Come on. You thought you killed her on Halloween! Why are you getting squeamish about it now?”
“I didn’t murder her on Halloween,” Nadia said. “She was the one who created the fire and stood in the middle of it. I just didn’t risk my life to rescue her. Big difference.”
Obviously Nadia wasn’t thinking this through. “The point is, we’re not exactly worried about keeping her alive. In fact, the longer Elizabeth lives, the more people she hurts, and the closer the One Beneath gets to eating our world alive. So why wouldn’t we kill her?”
“What makes you think we could? Just her Book of Shadows nearly killed me when I went into her house to look for you. The protective spells she knows, the enchantments around every single place she travels—it’s like she’s at the center of a fortress, Mateo. We’re not getting through that fortress without some high-level magic on our side.”
“And that’s exactly what she expects you to do! Outspell her, whatever you’d call it. She wouldn’t expect us to just . . . take her out.”
“You sound like you’re talking about a video game,” Nadia snapped. “Seriously, Mateo, what are you talking about? Stabbing her? Strangling her? Are you the kind of person who could do that to another human being?”
That caught him off guard. Once, in the final horrible hours before Halloween, the magical snares Elizabeth had used to bind Mateo to her had weakened. He’d rushed at her; he’d meant to strangle her. He’d tried to. And in the end he hadn’t been able to follow through.
The result was that Elizabeth had opened this door for the One Beneath, and Nadia had very nearly been killed.
Instead of answering, Mateo said, “I’ve seen Elizabeth as she really is. You haven’t. She’s hardly even a human being any longer. I don’t think she counts. So maybe—maybe it doesn’t matter what we do to her.”
Nadia shook her head and took Mateo’s hands in hers. A lock of her shining, black hair fell across her cheek, only emphasizing the beauty of her heart-shaped face. His anger gentled as she said, “I’m not as worried about what it would do to her. I worry about what killing her would do to you.”
How did she do that? Look into his eyes, say a few words, and somehow say the thing that stopped him cold, spoke to his soul? Mateo didn’t know, but Nadia always seemed to find a way.
He squeezed her fingers more tightly, and when she smiled at him, unsure but hopeful, he decided they could try to think of something else. What that “something else” could possibly be, he didn’t know, and he was pretty sure they’d have to come back to this conversation sooner rather than later. But maybe Nadia needed more time; maybe he did, too. For now, it was okay to just hear her out. “What other options are there?”
“Well. There’s one possibility.” She paused, as though she didn’t want to say the rest. “I could tell Elizabeth I’m going to join her.”
He jerked back. It was like she’d slapped him. “You didn’t—you wouldn’t, ever.”
“Not for real. I mean, of course not. But if I just told her that I’d learn from her, work with her, I’d be able to find out what Elizabeth’s really up to.”
“We know that now. She’s trying to bring the One Beneath to our world, which is apparently a thousand different kinds of bad.”
Mateo’s voice had risen more than he meant it to, but before he could feel bad about it, Nadia started yelling, too. “I can’t stop her from bringing the One Beneath here if I don’t learn more about how she’s doing this.” She tossed her own Book of Shadows a couple of feet away, like it was useless instead of this priceless, secret thing. “Mom might have been a coldhearted bitch capable of leaving her whole family, but she wouldn’t have done anything like this, ever. She wasn’t able to teach me about magic this dark.” Finally, almost as a whisper, Nadia said, “Mom wasn’t this bad. No matter what, she wasn’t this bad.”
It wasn’t as though Mateo couldn’t hear how badly Nadia was hurting. Or that he thought she wasn’t as scared as he was for Verlaine’s dad. Instead it was like those words—work with her—were pounding a drumbeat that drowned out everything else.
Elizabeth had taken his mother. His grandfather. His chance at being accepted, ever, in this stupid, small town. She had blood on her hands and a demon on her side, and Nadia was willing to work with her?
Elizabeth was going to take Nadia, too.
“You say that now,” Mateo said. “You think you can learn some high-level magic, make yourself stronger, and get out. But there’s no way it’s that easy, Nadia. You think Elizabeth started out this dark? I bet she didn’t. I bet she believed it would just be a couple of spells, a little more knowledge, and then she’d be out. Next thing you know, she’s not even human. And this time it’s going to be you.”
Nadia gaped at him. “You actually think I’d go dark? That I’d serve the One Beneath? How could you ever, ever say something like that?”