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Her eyes flicked our way.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry.” I bounced where I crouched. We had a long way to run back to the pickup point.

Chapter Thirty-One

“Help me.” He held out his hand. “And add more power to your cloak and dagger spell.”

I entwined my fingers within his, feeling the sizzle roll up my skin and soak down into my middle. This time, it kept going, blistering through my legs and all the way to my feet. It bled into the ground.

Magic rolled and boiled within our circle as I poured energy into whatever Emery had been doing.

He shot me a wide-eyed, fearful glance. It lasted only a moment before he shifted his attention back to the spell, and I was left wondering what had happened.

I focused on his splayed hand, and for the first time, I saw the small tendrils connecting his palm to the spell coating the building. More, I felt them, each individual little strand like a tiny shock to the skin.

I put my hand up with his, trying not to notice the girl on the bench, who was still looking in our direction with a pronounced frown.

“We’ll need to counteract this, or maybe burn a hole through it.” He moved his palm, covering more ground.

I felt the evil and corruption of the spell sink into my palm. Emery used his other hand to create a weave similar to that of the poisoned protection spell. He was trying to duplicate it so he could work out how to reverse it.

Logic. It didn’t always rush to my aid.

The girl lifted her phone and pointed it in our direction. She was taking a picture.

“Can photos see magic?” I asked.

“A picture will help the eye focus on a spell designed to confuse it. This isn’t that type of spell. It is more advanced than that. That picture won’t help her.”

I closed my eyes again, feeling the pulse from above us. It bore down, pressing. I still had no idea what it was supposed to do. The general idea—to spot intruders—was clear, but the detail was so beyond my experience that I couldn’t go much further.

“What is the problem, Jessica?” A large woman in a purple robe stalked toward the benches. Beside her, a tall, spindly man kept pace, his eyes scanning.

“Let’s get to the front door.” Emery stood and pulled me with him. If not for that, I would’ve spooked in the other direction.

“There isn’t any upkeep planned for the records room, is there?” Jessica asked, her head tilting as she stared at our former position.

“No. Last month, you’re thinking,” the woman said.

“You called us all the way down here for a memory lapse?” The man scoffed.

“I beg forgiveness, sir, but I simply asked—”

“I know what you asked.” The man looked around. “No, there are no scheduled drills, and no, there is nothing scheduled for the records room. It is business as usual. What’s prompted this?”

“Here.” Emery pulled me down beside him. “Hurry.”

Oh sure, now he was a believer.

I turned toward the door, feeling the spell as I heard, “I feel…something…here.” Feet scraped against concrete. The woman was turning. She sensed us, and she was really good at doing so.

“Where, Jessica?” the other woman asked.

“Just…”

Another scoff, from someone who thought Jessica’s intuition was ridiculous, but who clearly knew better than to ignore it. That guy was a turd.

Footsteps sounded, and I had no doubt they were coming in our direction.

“Focus,” Emery whispered, squeezing my hand. “Focus on me, Penny.”

I did, and the feelings from the spell came through more strongly. The prickles on my palm helped me pick out the elements in the weave. He used his eyes. I used my feelers. He seemed to think it was two halves of the same coin. We could sense what the other was doing through the energy flowing between us.

Canvas scraped canvas and something rattled.

Emery shook my hand, bringing me back. The clink of rocks interrupted my thoughts.

The mages were close. They would cast that spell and find us. I knew that as sure as I was sitting there.

We needed a distraction.

I tore my hand out of Emery’s and stood. He’d have to figure out the weave while I covered us. We’d have to come back another time to break through, but at least I could buy him as much time as possible to come up with a solution for when we returned.

The two mages in purple faced us, pushed up close, equipped with rocks, sticks, and basil. Their mouths were moving and magic curled into the air around them like smoke. A weak discovery feeling came to me, and I knew they still had a ways to go. Ish.

I racked my brain and closed my eyes, trying to think of something to do. Throwing a ball of fire might work. If only I knew how to make fire. Lighting them on fire would help. Still needed fire for that, though.

I let magic sizzle through me, wishing them away. Wishing for them to get bored and wander off. Another option would be to create a spell that crawled across the ground and then sprang up ten feet away. That would give us the ability to run.

Magic coursed through me. It turned and spun, pulling out determination from my middle. I shook with it, wanting so badly for them to leave.

I gritted my teeth and my heart sped up. My nails dug into my palms. The string in my middle yanked on my ribs. I let go of the spell and opened my eyes in anticipation.

The purple mages had their discovery spell hovering in the air. Ready to go.

My spell wrapped around me, swirling with purpose…and then bled into the ground. Gone.

“Uppity, gerbil-loving—” I clenched my teeth to cut off the words.

The mages bent to blow the spell at us.

Desperate, I punched the older woman in the face.

“We gotta go!” I grabbed Emery by the hair and yanked him up.

“What happened?” the man yelled.

“I saw a fist. Someone is there!” the younger woman hollered.

“My nose! My nose!”

“Run, run, run!” With a fistful of Emery’s hair, I took off.

“Let go,” he yelled, staggering after me. “What happened?”

“I created a diversion.” I let go of his head and put on the jets. “Keep up or this spell protecting us will pop.”

“I don’t think it works like that.”

“Who’s to say? Just keep up.” I turned a corner and hopped to the side at the last moment, nearly running full sprint into a guy with a huge belly. I would not have won that battle.

Emery tore around the corner right after me, not nearly as nimble. He bowled into the guy, the weight of his muscle no match for the other man’s fat.

The guy let out an “Arrrrgh,” which made me giggle manically, before falling backward and rolling twice. I grabbed Emery’s arm as he staggered back. I held on, staying with him as he caught himself and straightened. We picked up speed as the man yelled out obscenities behind us. Together we ran, Emery’s long legs the only thing keeping him in pace with me. We reached for each other at the same time, clasping hands right before we turned the corner, keeping close to stay in the bubble.

The pressure from above bore down harder and small points of pain tickled my awareness. The intent became clear. The blood we’d given was a guest pass, allotting us a certain amount of time.

Time had run out.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” I yelled, putting on a burst of fear-inspired speed. I yanked Emery to keep up even though I was pretty sure the guys in the movies didn’t do that to the girls. Call me a butthead, but I didn’t want to die.

“What is that?” Emery asked. We turned a corner, almost there. Two people in red robes stood in the way, magic stretched out in front of them. “Nope.”

Emery tugged me the other way. Sight was helpful, because I hadn’t been able to feel the spell. Had I been relying on feel alone, I would’ve sprinted right through, Red Rover style.

An invisible hand slashed my arm. The pressure from above throbbed in my chest, squeezing my lungs. Invisible teeth bit at my back thigh.

“Where is this coming from?” Emery asked, and then grunted in pain.

I cried out, magic stabbing down through my shoulder.

“Faster, Emery. Everything you have.”

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