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“How did you create this spell?” The woman made a circle in the air with her finger.

I frowned at the empty space. Though I had no idea what she was talking about, I could guess from the tone of her demanding voice that I’d probably done something wrong.

“I’m Reagan.” Leather Pants stepped into my line of sight and stuck out her hand. “And they are harmless.”

“Penny,” I said, remembering that fire from before. “Are you a witch?”

“No. I’m an asshole. It’s these two you want to talk to.” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder.

“She’s not an asshole, she’s strong-willed,” the man said, stepping closer. He stuck out a soot-stained hand to match his rumpled wardrobe. “I am Desmond, but my friends call me Dizzy. Nice to meet you. We were about to head to our house for some dinner. Would you care to join us?”

“I’m Callie,” the woman said. “C’mon, after the night we all had, we need a stiff drink.”

“I don’t drink,” I blurted, not able to get my bearings. A magical battle of some sort had just torn through the church, dead people littered the floor, and I was huddling in a broom closet. They were taking this in stride, but I just couldn’t. I probably needed therapy. Lots of therapy. “My mom doesn’t think it’s ladylike.” I rose slowly, focusing hard on my temperamental third eye. It had tried to warn me of danger before, and if it did so again, that was it. I was running.

“Do you know what’s not ladylike?” Callie grunted as she bent to get her satchel and then straightened up stiffly. “Hiding in a closet when there is danger near. That’s cowardly. Real ladies aren’t cowards.”

“Take it easy,” Dizzy said in a low voice.

“Take it easy my left foot.” Callie turned and stalked for the door. The word Savage cut through the faux-velvet across her butt. “If she wants any hope of controlling her incredible gift, taking it easy is a waste of time.”

Reagan jerked her head toward the strangely clothed couple before following after them. I could tell that was my invite.

In a split-second decision, I hastened after them. My internal guidance was giving me the all-clear, and they had defeated whomever had given the coven directions to turn them into…whatever they’d turned into. These three might not be good guys, but for right now, they were the best I had.

They were also headed for the door. If they turned into baddies, I hoped I’d be faster than Reagan. Because running was about the only option I had left at this point.

“They are the best in this area, and they don’t usually take on apprentices. If I were you, I’d see what they have to say,” Reagan said, sounding tired but completely at ease.

Flutters filled my belly as we walked past the coven. I looked away, not able to bear it. But as we walked into the main room, I staggered with shock. I’d expected chaos, but nothing at this level. Bodies littered the floor, along with great black scorch marks and lingering colored textures and patterns like I’d seen boil out of the cauldron.

“This isn’t normal for Dizzy and Callie.” Reagan waved her hand through the air, indicating the mayhem, before picking up the pace. “This is my fault, sadly. I get into skirmishes far more than is healthy.”

“This is a skirmish?” I asked.

“Well…no. This is a clusterfuck. But you know what I mean.” She held the door leading outside open. “So, what do you say? Fancy some dinner? You can ask questions.”

I hesitated. I’d ended up in the church because of unanswered questions. I’d ended up helping with that potion for the same reason. The smart thing to do would be to walk away right now. Call a cab, get in, and never disobey my mother again.

But that floating fire from before tugged on my memory. Plus, they’d talked about creatures out of fables as if they were real, and I needed to know if there was anything to it. That wasn’t the real reason I followed them, though. I felt the need to figure out the piece of myself that didn’t fit in anywhere else. The missing element that had left me feeling hollow my entire life.

I wanted to know if there was a place I truly fit. If I was at all like my father, and a piece of me wasn’t meant to be caged in the world of the ordinary.

If anyone could answer that question, it seemed like they could.

Chapter Five

Emery stepped through the tear in the worlds, the gateway invisible to anyone without magic. He blinked at the sudden shift in visuals. Deep blue sky stretched overhead. Lush greenery surrounded him, moving in the light wind, alive and wild.

He sucked in a deep breath and stilled for a moment with his eyes closed. Natural energy buzzed through his body and sizzled along his bones. The slight weariness of crossing from the magical Realm to the Brink, the human world, evaporated. Replaced by the wholeness, and goodness, of the natural magic surrounding him.

Home. He’d missed it.

Solas stepped out a moment later, a scarf covering her fire-red hair. Her intelligent green eyes surveyed their surroundings before going skyward. Her arm brushed his and he stepped away.

“This the place?” she asked, her gaze now sweeping the trees.

He patted his pockets before bringing out a Brink phone, a piece of human technology that didn’t work in the Realm. He pushed the button to turn it on, frowning when it wouldn’t fire up. He’d have to plug it in. Right after he found a place to stay.

He slipped the phone back into his pocket and took out a map instead. “I think so,” he said, starting forward.

She followed him without a word, content to let him take the lead. When this was through, he’d likely never see her again. She was here to repay a favor, nothing more—they weren’t friends. He didn’t have any of those anymore. Or anyone constant in his life at all. He was a drifter now, or near enough. It was better that way. Safer. There was less to lose.

An hour’s walk and they reached a ramshackle office at the end of the sleepy, unimpressive town of Middlebrook. He’d spent a year searching for his former mentor, following vague clues and surmounting near-constant name changes. There was no denying Isaias had a gift for hiding. A gift that he had, in part, taught Emery. But in this, like in all things magical, the pupil had surpassed the teacher. His mentor couldn’t hide from him any longer.

“You can stay out here,” Emery said, his heart heavy at the thought of the coming confrontation. It was long past due, but that didn’t make the prospect any more pleasant.

“What, and miss the show?” Solas chuckled and stepped to the side, waiting for him to open the door for her like the royalty she someday hoped to be.

“I should go in first,” he said by way of apology. He tried the handle and heard a distinct click. A magical warning most people thought was the handle or lock.

It seemed this old dog hadn’t learned any new tricks.

“You’re tensing,” she said. “Will he attack you, then?”

“With certainty. You’ll want to stay clear.”

Solas slid her hands into her trouser pockets, unmoving and completely unaffected.

A grin threatened his lips. Clearly a worn-out mage being hunted by a Natural wasn’t enough to shake her. It was her fire and fearlessness that had intrigued him when they’d first happened on each other in the woods of the Realm a while back. When she got her chance to stand in the coliseum for the Placement Games, a series of bloody and brutal battles magical folk participated in to win a few choice seats within the Realm hierarchy, Emery had no doubt she’d snag one of the top spots. She wasn’t favored by the sponsors, and her family did not have a lot of gold, but her people were from a warrior class almost as majestic and ruthless as the fae. From what he’d seen of her practice sessions, her spark and her passion pushed her above anyone else he’d met from the Realm. She was a wild card. An ace in the hole.

“Suit yourself,” he mumbled, digging through his pockets for the right elements. He was sure he had a few within easy reach.

“Most mages carry a satchel.” She watched him with a steady, assessing gaze.

He stuffed a piece of flint into the door’s keyhole before glancing at his feet. After lifting a boot, he scraped off some dirt. He sprinkled it onto the door handle. “Most mages also need to travel with a recipe book and all their ingredients.”

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