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“Let’s hope those bastards aren’t already— Got ’em.” She pulled out of the space as the blue crossover pulled out of the parking lot.

She wasn’t far behind, rolling through the lot way too fast and skidding her tires against the street.

“Don’t worry, Lexi. I’ve tailed a couple bad guys in my day.”

She did everything like I’d seen in the movies: stayed a few cars back, didn’t change lanes hastily, and didn’t follow their movements exactly. If they knew we were tailing them, they didn’t show it.

I yanked the phone out of my pocket, reading Kieran’s text. Where are you?

I debated not answering as I caught sight of the crossover turning three cars up. But soon he’d know what I was doing, anyway. Bria wasn’t about to let this go. We’d catch these guys, and we’d subdue them until Kieran showed up. He’d eventually figure out I’d lied about dropping the case.

What could he do to me?

Scenes of torture rolled through my head.

What would he do to me, I amended.

The memory of his hands on my body and his lips between my legs boiled my blood.

I took a deep breath and unlocked my screen. I could handle that.

“I’ll be damned,” Bria whispered before I could type the first word.

The cars thinned out until it was just them and us driving down a lonely road, headed to a neighborhood forgotten by everyone except the ghost hunters and thrill seekers. We were headed to the ghost neighborhood and John.

“They use the air to carry the spirit magic,” Bria said, turning off the road. “Air can drape over things. Somehow, it can hold the spirit magic in place.”

“And a combination of them must be able to slice through the air, because it’s cutting into the spirits in that house.”

“Yes. It’s genius, when you think about it. I’ve never heard of pairing an Air Elemental up with spirit magic. Someone was thinking outside the box. It’s almost like they found a way to duplicate your magic.”

“It’s more effective than my magic,” I said as the SUV crawled toward the neighborhood, entering it from the opposite direction this time. The two guys were likely to take the more direct route.

She pulled in and parked, out of sight from the main house with the trapped spirits at the other end of the street. “No, it’s not,” she said. “Which you’d know if you knew anything.”

“Totally,” I said dryly, climbing from the car. I absently rubbed at my chest. The ache had returned, and it momentarily pulled my focus.

The brittle weeds crunched as Bria trekked across the forgotten yard of an empty house. She flattened against the buzzing wood.

“I can’t feel any souls. Can you?” she asked as she peered around the side of the house.

I shook my head, my phone still clutched in my hand. “No.”

“Their car is parked at the other end, right outside the house of horrors.”

“Can you see them?”

She ducked and slipped around the side of the house, scooting along behind the pillars of the porch before jogging across the front of the yard and ducking behind the next house over. I followed her lead, now able to see for myself.

From this distance, I couldn’t tell if anyone was in the car, but no one lingered outside. The door to the haunted house looked like it was open, but I couldn’t be sure.

“They wouldn’t need to go inside, would they?” I asked quietly.

“They went inside of the government building, so I don’t know. Let’s get as close as we can and see how they do it. We’ll grab them on the way out.”

My adrenaline started pumping again as I followed her from house to house. Each dash left us completely visible, but no movement caught my eye from the house at the end. Three-quarters of the way down we slowed. I could clearly see the door of the last house now, wide open. John, the man I’d spoken to before, waited in the doorway, looking out at the car parked in front.

“Wait,” I said, grabbing Bria’s arm. “Something isn’t right.”

John seemed like a guy who needed to be in the action. For him to be staring out at the car meant there was no one inside with him.

I squinted at the car’s windows. Sun shimmered, the light waxy against the pane of glass. Still nothing moved within, and I couldn’t make out any shapes.

My phone vibrated in my hand as a presence niggled at my awareness. Subtle but building, the soft strength of a soul moved somewhere on the other side of the street, one house down. A moment later, another joined it.

“They’re there,” I whispered, pointing.

Bria’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “I don’t feel anything.”

“Trust me. They’re there. They must know we’re here—” I cut off at the creakkkk of the wooden gate in the fence of the house where I’d sensed the souls. It drifted open and two stiff shapes stepped out, their movements jerky.

I sucked in a breath, my eyes widening at what I was seeing.

The first was a lanky man with stained and hole-ridden clothes. A flap of scalp hung down the side of his head and only one patch of hair adorned the otherwise bare head. His stringy arms hung limp at his sides with one of his fingers missing, and his knees knocked whenever he moved, their ligaments or whatever held them straight clearly lacking.

The woman behind was just as messed up, with half her jaw depressed, an eye missing, and tattered and ripped clothes hanging from her skeletal body. If they were alive, they were on their death bed.

“Clearly they don’t like being followed,” Bria said, unslinging her backpack. “They’re raising an army of the dead to take us out.”

37

Alexis

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked, clutching my chest. My legs quivered from the primal instinct to run away from something so clearly unnatural as the creatures emerging from the backyard.

“What do you think it means?” Bria ripped out her necromancy materials, her movements rushed and her hands shaking. “He’s got cadavers, he’s got souls aplenty in that house, and he’s clearly got a lot of Red Bull. I gotta tear those fuckers down before they get control of their new digs.”

“You mean they’re not going to stay like that?”

She organized her materials for ease of use. “Remember the rats?”

“Those were new bodies, though.”

“Doesn’t matter. As soon as the soul learns to pull the strings, things speed up. These souls can’t be that strong, since I didn’t feel them, but that doesn’t mean worse aren’t coming. Lord only knows what magic they have.”

Their magic throbbed in their middles, much less potent than that of the guy who’d put them there.

“No, they aren’t powerful,” I said, opening and closing my hands, feeling the souls pulse in the bodies.

“The power level of the magic and the soul are sometimes two different things, especially if the Necromancer used non-magical cadavers.”

“I know. Neither the souls nor their magic are very powerful. Way less than the guys we’re tailing, who are less powerful than us.”

She didn’t stop in her harried preparation, but her head tilted. “How do you know that?”

“I did something to Kieran last night and now I just know.” Two more souls popped up on my radar, farther down the road, creeping toward us. After another moment, another presence flared to life. “What can I do?”

“You can rip the souls out of those bodies. That’d be really helpful.” Bria slid her thumb across the top of a lighter. It sparked before the flame flickered to life. “Barring that, just keep them off me, if you can.”

Memories of the night before with Kieran rolled through my head. I remembered seeping into his chest and stroking his soul. He’d let me do it, I was pretty sure, but he was also a live Demigod with protections in place to keep his soul put. These suckers were just hosts for a bunch of poor sods who should’ve been well past the Line by now.

“Okay,” I said, stalking into the street. Another soul flared to life down the way, stronger than the one before it. “Definitely Red Bull,” I said, watching the animated dead people learn to walk. They were already much smoother, picking it up quickly. “I need to start grabbing these souls.”

I closed my eyes and felt through the closest body, finding the squishy middle easily. I dug down, ready for the hard plate protecting the soul. Instead, I punched through into nothing, and found myself immersed in someone else’s junk.

“Ah crap,” I said as the soul latched on and started crawling up the link I’d just created. “Ew. Get off.”

I yanked back, my version of flinching away. Without meaning to, I dragged the soul with me.

A man materialized on the edge of the lawn, his eyes rounded and a surprised look on his face. Behind him, the body crashed down to the ground, lifeless without its pilot.

“Wow. That happened,” I said in a rush of breath, energy rippling through my body. “Do you…ah…” I looked at the man, feeling another soul flare into the world. The magical worker was a machine. That, or it was super easy to grab a soul waiting in the world of the living and stuff it into a ready body. It was certainly easy to pull one out. “Do you want me to put you across the Line…or…”

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