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The Witch Queen of Halloween: Chapter 19

One thing Poppy had learned from her years as a mercenary? In a crisis, people revealed themselves.

Rök was revealing himself as exactly what he’d said earlier.

A hero of old.

She gazed up at him. He was so stalwart, even as a primordial ghoul—the bogeyman of them all—prowled mere feet away. Despite Rök’s revulsion toward undead creatures, he was ready to become one to protect her.

She went into his arms.

Against her hair, he promised, “I’m going to kill them all, Poppy. Even the primordial. Rest easy on that score.”

“And you’re going to pay the ultimate price.” She was tempted to knock him unconscious and drag him into hiding. But even if she managed to drop a statue bust on his head, the blow would just piss him off. “This isn’t the way.”

“No?” He drew back to face her. “You know me; I’m a demon through and through. Could anything be more demonic than charging horns-first into hell to defend my cherished mate? Poppy, I was fucking born for this.”

But hadn’t she been born to protect him as well? Each scenario they’d discussed assumed Rök bearing the brunt—because she was defenseless.

Out of pouches. Out of luck.

Shock coursed through her. Is this really happening? Reality felt dreamlike, a horror movie in slow motion.

He caught her gaze. “Here’s the plan. Since I have no idea what the primordial’s toxin will do, I’ll trace you to Erol’s. If I turn quickly, the immortals there will make short work of me. If I have more time, I’ll return here. Tell Cade to send my crew on a bug hunt to off me.”

“You said you wanted me to cure you!” More tears pricked her eyes.

“I thought better of that plan. What if I attack you? I can handle this fight, but I can’t handle the idea of my harming you. Besides, now that you can control your curse, you’ve got no limitations. This is my Ending of Everything—but it’s not yours. If you live on, then every step I’ve ever taken to get to this point was worth it. I want you to get over me and get on with life. You’re young. A Wiccan can move on.”

“Fuck you, Rök,” she quietly said, tears spilling over. “You’re my mate too.”

A gust of breath left him. “Yeah?”

She nodded. “You asked me when I knew about you. On our date, I thought: He’s the one. It’s never faded, even when I wished I could hate you.”

He leaned down to kiss her damp cheek. “This isn’t what I wanted for you.” His voice was hoarse. “Had big plans for us, you know? But I screwed up. I should’ve talked to you. I could’ve helped you with the curse. You never would’ve had to come here. Now . . . I’m leaving you.”

The question kept repeating: Really happening? The ghouls grew quiet, as if to emphasize the coming moment, the culmination of a thirteen-hundred-year life.

A sob escaped her. She swiped tears, but they kept falling. “I-I will find a way to bring you back. You will come back to me.” Unless the brutal immortals at Erol’s dispatched him.

Rök tightened his arms around her. “Hey, hey, none of that.”

Between sobs, she whispered, “I love you.”

“How could you not?”

Hollow laugh.

“For the record, I love you too, Poppy.”

I can’t lose him. But she couldn’t fight for him. Her only seeming ability was to mute curses. Could she use it against ghouls? They hadn’t been cursed, at least not magically; their contagion was biological, spread outward from that primordial in a line of tragedy and terror. “You said we were in our very own horror movie. Now you’re about to draw the monster.”

“Yeah.” Rök gazed down at her like he’d never see her again. “When you love something, you protect it.”

Exactly what he’d said on their date—what should have been their beginning. Now . . . the end of them.

But she loved him too. Why couldn’t she protect him?

“It’s almost time. I’m going to face the door and focus. Stay at my back and follow close.” He pressed a kiss to her trembling lips, catching another sob. “Poppy, nothing has ever made me prouder than being your mate.” He turned from her and readied his sword with his shoulders squared.

Crying freely, she raised her palm to his back. He tensed, but then leaned into her touch.


Can’t lose him. She dashed her tears away. Tears had never helped her, but sometimes rage had. When she pictured Rök clawed, bitten, and afflicted, rage boiled up until she choked on it. No. No. NO.

Boiling, boiling, her veins burning with it. Power boiling?

Shades of her visitors appeared, half-visible and soundless around the perimeter of the large foyer. The worst ones had collected.

Of all the timing. How dare you, you vile monsters.

Rök hadn’t sensed them yet, had his gaze fixed on the door, all too ready to sacrifice himself.

She tried to access her power and defeat the curse once more, but the visitors didn’t budge. Her lips drew back from her teeth as she swept her gaze over them. I’m going to murder you all. Somehow. Some way.

Had the razor-gloved maniac winced? Why wouldn’t the slasher meet her eyes? He usually loved to cast her killing looks. The dolls craned their heads from her. Even the Horseman’s silent steed averted its gaze.

They . . . cowered.

From me?

More than that, they appeared to await something from her.

Willing to try anything, she crooked her finger at Annelise’s shadowy form. Come here. I’ll rip your swiveling head right off.

The blank-eyed doll appeared on her shoulder, hanging out like a ventriloquist’s dummy, posing zero threat.

Poppy’s jaw dropped.

The doll’s telekinesis grew palpable. Instead of struggling against it, Poppy opened herself up to the power. She sensed it entering her own magic arsenal, exponentially more potent than before—as if it were Poppy’s inborn gift.

Which, she now supposed, it was.

In the end, when all is lost, clarity is found.

Poppy’s ability wasn’t to mute curses. Nor was she a source that fueled someone else’s hex. She was a conduit between the nightmares of humans and reality. She could conjure their fears, corporealize them, and control them.

Manifesting horror. What a dark, sinister power.

Her lips curved. Perfect for a witch.

She turned her smile to the visitors, who all flinched again—as if she was the horror villain. I’m their nightmare.

Their queen.

They’d been goading her, testing her boundaries to make her act and take control. I’d still had more to learn. But wasn’t that always the way?

When she curled her fingers and beckoned them, the visitors solidified around her. They were monstrous. Ominous. Now they’re mine.

Rök whirled around with widened eyes. “Poppy, don’t move!” With Annelise in his sights, he raised his sword, like he was about to swat a lethal bee.

“Demon, wait.” As even more visitors took shape, her body began to vibrate. “Something’s happening.”

Poppy backed from Rök, urging him away from the entry. With each of her steps, the stone floor cracked beneath her vibrating body. “Come. I won’t let those ghouls take you from me.”

Her words recalled Mariketa’s: If you find your prize . . . don’t let them steal it from you.

Rök had never planned on stealing her prize; he was the prize.

Those who thought to steal from a witch didn’t live to regret it.

“Poppy, the door’s about to open.” How confused he must be! “We’ve got bogeys front and back. Use your power against the visitors, so I can do what I need to.”

Her voice was unrecognizable. “That’s not the mission, love.”


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