“Your father said I should let you in here when you were ready. I don’t think you’re ready, but we’ve run out of time.” She stepped out of the way and held up her hand to stop me. “Not you. You won’t know what you’re looking at. Emery?” She jerked her thumb into the opening. “That is all Penny’s, so if you steal anything, I’ll hunt you down and cut off your arm. See if I’m joking.”
“Yes, ma’am. I know you’re not joking, ma’am.” Emery gave me a hard look, clearly a little too worried about my mother’s threat, before disappearing into the hole in the wall.
“Okay.” My mother grabbed my shoulder and strong-armed me out of the room. “Unless they are the stupidest beings alive, which is not impossible, they know you’re here. So we need to hurry. Soon they’ll drag Veronica out and do a demonstration, demanding you trade yourself for her.”
“They are going to cut off her finger.”
“I wouldn’t put it past them, the filthy vagrants. But now they’ll do it on our lawn. So let’s get cracking.”
My mother grabbed her shotgun on her way past it and once again took up residence near the door. The shouting had died down, and I looked out the window. Two cars stopped in the middle of the street, and a full load of mages hopped out of each. Just beyond them, I saw Lewis at his window.
“Why doesn’t Lewis call the police?” I asked.
“He probably has. But the guild has the Magical Law Enforcement office in this town in their pocket, so they can detour the human police. We aren’t going to get any help. The guild owns this town.”
“For now,” I said, because this had gotten personal, and the guild would not retain its hold over Seattle forever. Not if I had anything to say about it.
The ward winked into view—one minute, a fascinating weave, and the next, invisible again. I told my mother what I had seen.
“They’ve taken down one of the roots,” Emery said, strolling into the room with two books and a small sack. He put the sack on the ground. “I have no idea how old these spells are, but I wouldn’t want to chance using them.”
“Probably wise.” My mother pointed at the books he still held. “I know you can use those. But I don’t think Penny is ready.”
Emery laughed in that humorless way of his. “Don’t you?”
“Don’t sass me, boy.”
Emery’s face straightened again. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“I can read directions,” I said, taking one of the books.
“Then you’ll need a stand,” my mother said. “Your father always used stands. Very practical, your father. It drove me batty.” She stalked farther into the house.
“There isn’t a lot that terrifies me, but that woman is certainly on the list,” Emery mumbled, looking out the window. “We have ten minutes, tops. That ward is coming down.”
“Here we go.” My mother was back in a moment, setting up a handy little stand that held the book and even had a shelf for the necessary ingredients. “There is only one, though.”
“Take it, Penny.” Emery flipped through the pages of the one he held.
My phone vibrated and my heart crawled up into my throat. I took it out and opened it with a shaking hand. After pressing speaker, I answered. “Hello?”
“Penny Bristol, I presume?” The voice was dry and scratchy, as though its owner had sucked on the end of a great many cigarettes in his life.
“Yes. Who is speaking?”
“This is Baron Kempworth, and I am here to collect you.”
“Over my dead body you’ll be collecting her, you stupidly dressed piece of trash. Now come out and fight like a man.” My mother grabbed the phone out of my hand, closed it, and threw it behind us. “Don’t answer that anymore. You don’t want to hear him give you an ultimatum. Come on. Time’s up. It’s time to save Veronica’s family.” She marched to the door, tore it open, cocked her gun, and aimed.
The blast made me jump.
“Got one,” my mother yelled.
“High on the list,” Emery muttered, a manic smile spreading across his face. “Come on, Penny. Let’s get some space.”
He ran me through the house and to the door leading to the garage. He slapped the button to open the left garage door, still intact, and it rattled upward. The door next to it was lying on the hood of my badly dented car.
Outside, in the driveway, sat my mom’s car, unblemished. Behind it, spread across the lawn and into the street, many of them running for cover from my mother, lurked a dozen mages.
“Turn it into rage, Penny,” Emery yelled as he stopped at the edge of the garage, still within the ward’s protection. “Turn the pain into anger, and let it fly.”
Loud crying preceded my first glimpse of Veronica. Her face bloody and one eye swollen, she was being dragged down the street by a man in a blood-red robe.
“Kempworth,” Emery said with a release of breath.
I cracked a casing and threw. The spell burst out and sliced through the air, a magical machete. A slash of red appeared on the mage closest me, and then the two next to her suffered the same fate. They all looked down in surprise as their top halves slid off their bottom halves.
The mage in the blood-red robe stopped suddenly. He stepped behind Veronica and started to back-pedal, dragging her with him.
“Nope.” I ran, no longer thinking logically. He had Veronica. He planned to hurt her. Emery called my name, and then he was beside me, leaving the safety of the ward and venturing into the fray.
A shotgun blast tore through the late afternoon. A man screamed and staggered, gingerly touching his bloody side. I cracked another casing, pushing the spell forward. Razor blades and acid rained down on the mages in front of me, ripping and burning and tearing. Darius had asked for some really foul spells.
Emery threw up a shield and captured a spell zipping at us. Then another. He broke them apart before releasing a spell of his own.
“I’m going for more firepower,” my mother yelled.
I let the rage continue to course through me, but I let the pain from the knowledge that they were tormenting my friends come, too. I pulled on the energy and electricity and created my own spell, throwing it to the right. Immediately after, I grabbed two of the guild casings and threw them at the cluster of mages walking toward us, their mouths moving.
“I need to start thinking before I act,” I said. “We shouldn’t have left the ward.”
“The best offense is unpredictability. You’re doing great.” Emery threw spells so fast that I was in awe. They flew out, one after the other, in a steady stream of color. He pulled magic from all around us, forming spells seemingly without thought. I tried to keep up but failed, filling in with casings.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw cars slowly pull up at the end of the street. My heart pounded. So many.
“This way,” Emery said, pulling me toward Veronica’s house. “You face front. I’ll face the back.”
Clouds drifted in from all sides above us, dark gray and forbidding. A spell flashed at me and I caught it with my white survival magic. I opened a casing from the guild and threw it in front of me. It skittered along the ground before wrapping itself around a green-robed mage running at us. The younger man screamed and writhed, sinking to the ground.
The guild had intended to play nasty too. At least we were all on the same page.
Emery bumped back into me. I turned around, seeing that he’d barely kept a spell from hitting him. “We need to speed this up and take cover, Turdswallop. I’m under heavy fire here.”
Another shotgun blast.
“Let’s go,” I shouted over the noise as clouds blanketed the sky. Wind picked up, rushing through the street. Tree branches swung wildly.
We ran toward Veronica’s house, where half a dozen mages stood out front next to a table stacked with casings. Emery expertly wove the various elements together and then set his tornado loose. It rose into the sky and churned the air. A spell zipped our way and I slashed it with my own spell, catching it midair and fizzling it out. Sirens sounded in the distance, this level of disturbance clearly too much for the guild to keep quiet.
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