I fanned the magic higher, feeling a tremor as it filtered through my veins. I closed my eyes, focusing on those cords. They burrowed in deeper still, moving down to that squishy middle housing his life’s essence.
“Hold,” Bria said in the background, her voice weak. It had been directed away. She wasn’t talking to me.
The tips of the cords hit a strange plate of sorts. Like a metal barrier. I tapped it, feeling its solidity. I pushed harder, wondering if I could burst through, or if I had to somehow work around…
“Hold, goddammit,” she yelled.
The words jogged me out of the moment. The cords blinked out, and so did the strange fluttering in my belly that was so similar to the headspace I entered when pulling someone back from across the Line.
Murky smoke filled the room, hazing my view of a pale-faced Kieran with his hands braced against the door frame.
“Did I win?” I asked, my voice weaker than I felt.
“Yes, because he was just about to blast you, and didn’t. You’re welcome.” Bria put her hand on Jack’s back. His hands cupped his face, and he lay twisted so his shoulder could rest against the ground. I still had a hold of his middle. “You’re a visual learner. That’s why you’re mostly clueless. You can see spirits, so you know how that all works. You can see the Line, so you know what that’s about. But a bunch of your magic is more nuanced. It slithers through the folds of the different planes, where you can’t see it.” She grabbed her incense, and snuffed the sticks out one by one on my dingy carpet.
“Hey! Those’ll leave marks,” I said, finally relaxing my legs from around Jack.
She snuffed the last incense stick. “Who cares? This rug was trampled to death ten years ago.” She tucked them back into compartments in her backpack. “Bottom line, you need to learn by seeing.” She tugged the zipper closed. “Don’t worry.” She grinned at me before rising. “I got you.”
“Jack, get up,” Kieran barked, lowering his hands from the doorframe. His eyes were on me, unreadable like usual.
Jack moaned, now fully curled up in the fetal position.
“I signed up to do a job, not defend myself from a guy twice my size,” I said, gingerly touching my throbbing cheek. “He slammed my face into the wall. And where are Daisy and Mordecai?”
Kieran stepped over Jack before reaching his hand down to me. I took it and a delightful hum ran through my arm and zipped into the core of my body. I grimaced against it, trying to hold on to my anger.
“Your wards are waiting on the couch,” Kieran said, pulling me up. He didn’t let go of my hand, standing too close. “They have a couple bruises, but are otherwise fine.”
Bria touched her fingers to her neck before wincing. I belatedly noticed four red parallel lines with little points of blood welling up.
“Bria let the situation get the better of her,” Kieran said in disapproval, his gaze drifting to Jack. “As did Jack.”
“No one told me she could fight,” Jack said, his sides rising and falling with deep breaths. “I didn’t expect her to move that fast. She hit me with a fucking bat.” His voice dropped into a mumble. “Why the hell did I volunteer for this?”
“You just had the one,” Bria said, shouldering her pack. “And she’s half your size, I might add. That chick ward is a nut. She doesn’t do anything like normal people. She’s like a little gremlin. Then the shifter kid plays off of her, and suddenly I’m under siege.”
“Like I said.” I shrugged Kieran off. I could not let him get to me again. I had to stand strong. “I didn’t sign up for people barging into my house in the dead of night.”
“It’s morning,” Bria said with a grin, heading for the door. “And you’re working with a Demigod now. What he says goes, regardless of what you signed.”
I felt my expression close down as I turned to face the handsomest jerk I’d ever met. “What he says does not go.”
Kieran’s gaze delved through me. “Mordecai was told this would happen someday. We wondered if he would share that knowledge with you and Daisy. Much to Daisy’s dismay, he didn’t. It seems he thought the attack would be focused on him. He didn’t realize it could affect the whole house. The whole pack, as it were. It was one of many tests.”
“Testing you was my idea,” Bria said. “I needed to see what you’d do under duress.” Bria disappeared through the door. “And see?” she called. “It worked. Now I just need to…”
I lost the thread of her words as Kieran stepped closer, his sweet breath falling across my face. His hand came up to graze my cheek where it had hit the wall, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Thoughts fled. His eyes burned into mine.
“Are you okay?” he whispered, concern ringing through his words. Through his eyes. “He was not supposed to physically harm you, just scare you. I think the fight got away from him.”
“He would’ve won.”
Kieran’s eyes flowed over my face as his fingertips traced down to my neck, stroking softly. “This time. But you’ve progressed in your magic. Usually you splay my chest open for a moment, then withdraw. This time…” A troubled look crossed his face. “This time…I felt you inside of me. I felt you digging in.”
“I know what part of the body I’m supposed to reach into, I just don’t know how to get in there.” I shivered in disgust, pulling my face away from him. I stepped back, letting the cool air wafting through the open doorway wipe away the haze caused by his proximity. “I don’t know if I should figure it out. It’s a dangerous place to hang around in, Kieran. I felt the power of the Line run through me. It’s intense, and just now, I wasn’t connected to my emotions while wielding that power. If I disconnect from my emotions, I’ll be no better than the Soul Stealers in those stories. I won’t have a firm grasp on my morals.”
He glanced down at Jack and then back to me. He shook his head. “You underestimate yourself. I know that because I’ve had those thoughts before—when I was learning my magic. I tested the limits. I was young and dumb and could get away with murder. Literally. I know what it is to be tempted by power, but I’ve never shied away from feeling the rush of using it.”
“We’re different. You’ve been trained since you were young.”
“I was taught to rule with an iron fist. I was taught ruthlessness over goodness. I constantly fight against my training. But you’re right about one thing: we are different. And that difference is what makes me trust you without hesitation. What makes me fight my primal instinct for self-preservation so that you can threaten my very soul. So that you can learn.” He shook his head again, more adamantly this time. “There is no worry of you losing your way, Alexis Price, even for a moment. Your statement just proved it. The power doesn’t flirt with you, as it does with most. It stands ready for your use. You’re in control, not it. That distinction will save you from the thing you most fear.”
I blew out a breath, not sure about all this. He didn’t know me very well. Hardly at all, in fact. He couldn’t know how it would affect me. I didn’t know how it would affect me.
I was terrified to find out.
“Now, let’s go. The first shift is fast approaching.” Kieran turned, apparently satisfied with his obscure explanation, before stepping over a prone Jack.
“Where are we going?” I asked, wondering if I should help the poor guy up. He just laid there, staring at the ceiling with his hands flopped out to either side and dried blood smeared across his upper lip.
Kieran glanced back before walking through the door. “I took a harder look at my mother’s list. It’s time to break into the first of my father’s strongholds and see what he’s hiding.”
“All right, here’s the situation,” Bria whispered as I turned down a desolate street between what seemed like intentionally shabby buildings. Trash rolled along the sidewalk, occasionally disappearing beneath a graffiti-covered van or a truck pulled up to the curb. Up ahead, Kieran rode with a shaky Jack (apparently, I’d freaked Jack out with my magic, and Kieran had then pounded him with his. The guy was not having a good day so far), and Zorn in Donovan’s car. Boman and Thane, two more of the Six, followed behind me in an identical BMW. Henry, the final member of the Six, had stayed behind to play babysitter to my wards, who were mad as hell that they didn’t get to come. “Demigod Kieran is working off of some list that his mother left to him—”
“It’s a list of places that are important to Valens,” I replied. “She gave me the names earlier this evening. Or…last night, technically.”
Bria paused with her finger up and mouth open. She lowered her finger slowly. “Oh. Do you remember all the places?”
“Most, though some were random names I didn’t recognize. Why? And why are you whispering? It’s just us in the car.”
She continued to whisper. “Oh good. Then pick-pocketing Kieran wasn’t in vain. Cool. I overheard him talking about the list before we broke into your house—”
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