“Blast us just enough to knock us on our asses, but not enough to severely damage us,” Bria instructed with her hands up, as though she were a bank teller and this was a hold up. The muscle-bound men lined up next to her shot her dubious looks.
“Why’d Zorn put her in charge again?” Jack muttered to Thane and Donovan. Demigod Kieran had assigned half of his elite task force, the Six, to train with me today.
I shifted from side to side in my small backyard, which the Six had cleared of weeds and straggly bushes. We now had somewhere to train in the back of the house where nosey neighbors wouldn’t stop and gawk. And by ‘we,’ I meant myself and my two teenage wards, Daisy and Mordecai, who were picking up their lessons much faster than I was.
In my defense, my magic was a lot more nuanced than simply shifting into a wolf, like Mordecai did, or learning to be sneaky, like Daisy was doing. I had to work with the power from the Line for larger jobs, and that could get dicey in a hurry. A simple sorry didn’t cut it when you accidentally ripped someone’s soul out.
Not that I had, yet. A person’s soul had built-in protections, it turned out, which felt something like a psychic steel cage surrounding it. Whenever I reached someone’s steel cage, I chickened out and backed off, losing my momentum. So far, I’d only successfully gotten to the soul of one person—Demigod Kieran. That had happened in a very intimate moment, and I was pretty sure he’d let me do it. Not a repeatable occurrence, and not helpful in my training.
The experience with Kieran had also had an unintended side effect—I’d somehow connected our souls, allowing us to share magical abilities and keep tabs on each other. Very intimate tabs on each other.
He seemed to think it was a good thing, but as Bria constantly reminded me, getting romantically attached to a Demigod on a warpath was a terrible idea. Especially because Kieran had made it clear I shouldn’t waste my heart on him. A heart that fluttered every time he walked into a room or texted me goodnight.
I was such a fool.
I blew out a breath, forcing myself to focus on the wall of muscle facing me.
Bria licked her lips. “Just real easy-like,” she said, her hands still raised. “Like last time.”
And the time before that. And before that.
Two months had passed since I’d set Kieran’s mother’s spirit free—and my fast progress in the beginning had swiftly plateaued. Daisy and Mordecai attributed it to age, as though being twenty-five meant I was geriatric and incapable of learning. They’d quickly stopped being my favorite people.
I drew on the power of the Line, a doorway of sorts, where spirits crossed from the world of the living into their own realm. With the appearance of a black hole stretched thin, slapped onto a backdrop of bruise-like colors, it repelled the mind. The feel of it, though, comforting and welcoming, gently called to the soul.
A light wind caressed my face and ruffled my hair.
“Here we go, boys,” Donovan said, his dirty blond hair standing up in a stylishly messy halo.
Jack nodded, grim, letting his hugely muscled arms hang loose at his sides. Thane tilted his shaved head from side to side like a boxer gearing up for a match. I grimaced at his thick, brown beard, holding a stray crumb from his breakfast.
“Have I mentioned that it’s weird we can see the wind from the spirit plane actually affect her physical person?” Bria mumbled.
“Yes. At least three times,” Thane said, bracing himself. His muscles rippled and his eyes sparkled with malice.
A tremor of fear shook my spine—a reaction to his violent energy. All of Kieran’s Six could kill me six ways from Sunday, and while my mind knew they would never try, my flight reflex wasn’t so sure.
“Can you stop that from happening?” Bria asked me, her wariness at what I was about to do melting into an expression of contemplation. “You don’t want to give away what you’re capable of before you actually do anything.”
“One thing at a time,” Jack said through clenched teeth.
“We don’t have that luxury,” Bria said, her eyebrows lowering. “You heard what Henry said yesterday. Valens is planning something. Something big. We’ve got precious little time before he realizes Kieran is an enemy and not an asset. If we don’t get the jump on him, he’ll direct all the firepower he’s been assembling on us. He’s nimble like that. We have to get Alexis up and running.”
My belly fluttered and Jack’s lips tightened. He knew Bria was right. We all did.
I took a deep breath to calm my anxiety and focused on the strange wind. Logically, it didn’t seem possible that it would affect my living body unless I could physically cross the Line, which I was pretty sure was a no-go. Not that I had time to experiment.
I dragged my teeth across my lip, focusing. As I drew in more power from the Line, the pleasant breeze became more of a gale. My soul flapped in my body and my hair blew back from my face. The guys tensed even more, and pained expressions crossed their faces. Their physical bodies weren’t affected by the wind, but their souls sure were.
I squeezed my eyes shut, holding on to the feel of the Line, and envisioned slamming a door on the wind.
That didn’t help at all.
“Bria, I need your Necromancer tools, I think,” I said, opening my eyes again. “I need to see what I’m doing.”
While Bria couldn’t rip souls from living bodies or pull power from the Line, she could work with parts of the spirit world (and stuff those parts into dead bodies). Her various tools allowed her (and me) to see the magic inherent in our shared trade.
She jogged forward immediately and snatched her camo backpack from the ground near my back door. Moments later, I was surrounded by scented candles and triangles of incense.
“We’re rollin’.” She hopped up and dusted off her ripped jeans before falling back in line.
Squinting through the scented smoke from the various candles and incense, I pulled power from the Line into the yellow haze around me. Tendrils of green and blue magic curled upward, and then I saw it—a throbbing cord of orange amidst the other colors.
“Huh,” I murmured. “There are, like, different strands of my magic.”
It was one of life’s little jokes that I was a visual learner with a nuanced magic better suited for feeling, but here we were. I catalogued the different feelings associated with each of the strands, then pulled at the orange cord specifically, pushing the others aside. The wind died down before cutting out, but the power of the Line still pumped through my blood, ready for use.
Donovan let out a noisy exhale. “I know she’ll be a game changer, but man, I’m not loving this part of the job.”
“Same,” Thane said. “Being the guinea pig for this shit is rough.”
Without warning them, I slapped my magic against their souls’ steel cages. All four of them gasped and their power surged, something I could now sense because of my connection to Kieran. It was their primal reaction to my attack.
The guys grunted and wobbled where they stood, visibly struggling not to take a knee.
Bria bent at the waist. “Ouch,” she said. “It’s hard to get used to that.”
“No shit,” Thane murmured.
More power and they would’ve dropped like rocks. It was hard to focus on normal things, like standing, when someone was attacking your very soul. This offensive move I had down.
In discovery mode now, I bumped up against Thane’s steel cage, guarding his most precious commodity. I stroked the hard surface before giving a firm poke, looking for cracks or weaknesses. I didn’t feel any. How the hell was I supposed to get in there?
“Nope.” He jumped up and down, shaking out his hands. “Nope. I do not like that, Sam I am.”
“Hold steady,” Bria said.
“She’s tap-dancing on my threshold,” Thane replied through gritted teeth.
“Hold,” Bria commanded.
“Why doesn’t Zorn do this?” Donovan asked with tight eyes. “He has the best constitution for fucked up shit.”
“He doesn’t trust himself not to react,” Thane grunted out. “Ain’t that a bitch? Here I am, with a magic known for reacting, and he doesn’t trust himself.”
“What magic is that?” I asked, giving that steel cage an exploratory jab. The guys had always been strangely tightlipped about their magic, and I’d never been overly curious. It now occurred to me that that might’ve been a mistake.
“Bullshit,” Bria said, ignoring me. She straightened up painfully and put her hand to the middle of her chest. “Zorn just doesn’t want everyone to know he isn’t made of metal. He doesn’t want to admit that Alexis could reduce him to his knees and make him say uncle.”
She’d know. I’d say they were the unlikeliest couple imaginable, but Kieran and I probably held that dubious honor.
Tuning them out, I thought back to those different threads of power. I wrapped the blue—spirit—around Thane’s hard casing, before giving the orange cord a yank. A thick wave of the Line’s power screamed through me.
Before I could back off, Thane jumped and made a sound like “heh.” A blur of movement preceded him surging toward me.
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