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He was siphoning energy from her.

“That’s not cool, John,” I said.

“She gets off on this,” John said without remorse, “and I get energy. Even trade.”

The man did have a point.

“Valens sent me to get rid of a certain non-magical politician,” John said as Clare’s face closed down in concentration. “But he didn’t give me enough details. The politician had a full crew and the layout of his office wasn’t anything like what I’d been told. Valens basically sent me in to die. So when they caught me, I sang like a canary. Gladly. I knew—”

“I sang,” Clare said in a low, rough voice. She was mimicking John.

I grimaced. “That is…off-putting.”

“They offered me protection from Valens—” John said right before Clare started speaking again, her voice blasting through the room.

“His fault…prepared. Got…what…” Clare straightened up a little and creases formed around her eyes. “John is saying that it was his fault he wasn’t prepared, and he got what he deserved.”

John bristled and his fingers tightened on the top of Clare’s head.

She groaned, dropping her head forward. “His presence is strong,” she said with a wispy voice.

“Valens deserved to get caught for what he was trying to do,” John amended, his angry gaze directed down on his new energy source. “He did that shit all the time—sent someone into the non-magical zone badly prepared, then shrugged when they didn’t make it back out. We were expendable. Not worth the effort of doing the job right. I wanted them to go after him, so I answered their questions.”

“And they returned you to him?”

“Yeah.” John rolled his shoulders. “I knew they would. Chesters ain’t no better than Valens and his drones. I didn’t care. I wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page.”

“They… pressure on me… I sang. Ratted…out.” Clare swayed from side to side.

“Clare, can you stop?” I said, pained. “Good work, though. John is, in fact, here. He’s touching you right now. I’d advise leaving the house. He can’t follow.”

“No, I can’t,” John said. “That gives us a shock. It don’t hurt as much as touching the shield, but it won’t let up, neither.”

Someone started to wail in the other room.

“So you ratted Valens out, and he trapped you in here?” I asked.

“Yeah. He brought me here and slit my throat. When I woke up, I was me…but not me. I was this.” He spread his arms wide and looked down at his chest. “We’ll stay here until we’re torn apart, piece by piece. We watch everyone else get sliced to shit around us. Why do you think we’re trying to break through that shield?”

Clare chimed another bell. The sound rang through my body, putting me on edge.

I pushed back from the table and walked into the living room, clasping my hands and monitoring my magical buffer. “How do spirits get torn apart?”

“Can’t you feel that?” John followed behind me, his grisly hands still held out to the sides.

“The…vibration?” I asked, slipping into my trance. Trying to discern what he was talking about.

A pleasant smell drifted into my awareness, dense and gratifying.

“It’s within that vibration,” John said, and his voice changed. Became grimy.

I slipped a little deeper into the trance, floating on the currents of the house. Feeling the different spirits drifting around me. Feeling that warning at the door. The throb of that wall, or shield as they called it, pulsing power to block off the Line.

And then I did feel it. Grimy, like his voice had just been. Putrid. Oil slicked across fresh water. Sewage floating in a well.

“Do you feel it?” he asked, his voice a skeleton, a collection of bones clattering in the back of a moving vehicle.

“Yes,” I said, opening my eyes, then startling.

Light smoke drifted around the room. Bria knelt at my feet, lighting more incense. Shimmering currents moved within the framework of the wall blocking off the Line, like the sheen of a bubble before you blew it into a sphere. The walls of the magically buttressed house buzzed, the haze of the fragrant smoke making them look like glass run through with millions of multicolored wires.

“What is that?” I asked, running my hand through the smoke.

“Necromancer’s aids,” Bria answered, wafting the smoke toward me. “Only a Necromancer can see the magic they reveal, and their power determines how much they see. In other words, you’ll see more with this stuff than I will, since you have some serious skillz. Kieran stumbled on something incredibly cool, I don’t mind saying. My creepy snooping didn’t do you justice. Anyway, this stuff stinks, but it’s helpful to see the layers of reality you can’t see with your naked eye.”

Every so often, a sludgy dark line slashed through the magic, the darkness John had warned me about. Valens has essentially trapped these people in a burning building that was slowly, ever so slowly, roasting them alive.

Was this what Kieran’s mom could expect? A slow, violent dismemberment of her spirit until there was nothing left? Would she go mad, reduced to muttering without coherent thought? Or would she waste away in time, pulling energy from her son just to stay afloat?

My heart sank as rage welled up inside of me.

The answer was no. None of that would happen to her. Because I was going to figure this out, and I was going to set this right. If I had to own my mantle as a soul stealer, or take on Valens directly, or both, I would. I would not allow this slow torture in purgatory. Not while I was breathing.

8

Alexis

I sighed as I rolled up in front of my house in the BMW. The failing light of the evening cast a murky glow through the fog. I’d been working all day, but nothing useful had happened after we left the house of doom. Bria had taken me to two other allegedly haunted houses. One was definitely haunted, with an old woman who was really ticked off that the current residents wouldn’t just bugger off, and the other was just badly built. Wind could really mess with a person’s mind. Neither had furthered my knowledge of what Valens was doing.

While we were “out in the field,” as Bria called it, she’d walked me through a few training exercises, mostly consisting of feeling for souls. I’d learned how to (vaguely) feel the placement of a soul within a body.

I heaved a tired sigh and slipped the sleek little driving machine into park. I shut off the engine and pushed myself to standing. The day’s events had taken a lot out of me, not helped by my constant worry over Kieran’s mom.

It would kill Kieran to know that Valens might actually be eroding his mother’s spirit. And I wouldn’t feel comfortable until all of the spirits had been freed.

“You accepted the car. It’s a nice little ride,” Frank said, standing in the center of my lawn. “But your suit is still…unfortunate.”

“Who asked you, Frank?”

“I’m just calling it like I see it, that’s all. A guy likes a girl who can dress herself. Someone who knows when the hips in her pants are too roomy and her sleeves are the right length.”

“Keep it up, bud. See what happens.” I shrugged my Burberry a little higher on my shoulder as I reached the front door. Hand held out to grab the knob, I paused when the uncharacteristic roar of a large engine infiltrated the quiet thrust of the distant ocean.

The lovely morning weather had given way to a lazy, rolling fog, nearly obscuring the opposite side of the street. The red Ferrari seemed to burst out of it. My heart sped up and the breath caught in my throat as the car drifted toward my house.

“Why today, of all days?” I muttered, thinking about turning around, going inside, and locking the door behind me. I doubted Kieran would break it down. Then again, he probably had a key. It wouldn’t surprise me.

The sweet ride put my new beauty to shame, and the two cars probably made me the most interesting person on the block. A title which I’d tried my whole life to avoid.

I stalked toward him with all the angry energy I could muster. Frank whistled a low, tuneless sound.

“That is a beaut,” he said, stalking forward with me.

“Get back, you.” I waved him away.

The raven head I was expecting gracefully rose from the driver’s side door. His navy blue suit perfectly molded to his wide shoulders before artfully cinching down to his waist. He stared out at the street for a moment, then shut the door and started around the back of the seriously stylish car.

Billows of fog rolled in like tumbleweeds from the end of the street. They brushed past Kieran, fully obscuring the sidewalk opposite us in a thick, wet sheet. He was taking care of people noticing the car issue.

He reached the passenger side door, still not having looked in my direction, giving me a view of the rest of his body.

The pants matched the suit jacket, of course, tailored to fit those powerful legs before ending at shiny black shoes. Sparkling gold cufflinks set off his sleeves, and a pink-purple tie said he was secure in his masculinity.

I couldn’t decide what I liked more, the white T-shirt and faded jeans, or the tailored power suit. He looked equally delicious in both.

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