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“No.” Daisy crossed her arms over her chest. Her usually pale cheeks were stained red. “What’s fragile is our situation. Zorn is amped up when he talks about it, and I can tell he’s trying to psych himself up because he suspects an unfavorable outcome.”

I widened my eyes. I knew she trained with him, so she had better insight into his moods, but I’d never seen him look more emotive than a zombie.

She slapped on the water faucet to rinse her dish. “Everything you said is true, Lexi, and I get that, but as soon as Valens knows what we’re doing, none of those other concerns will matter. I’m not saying the fire lady will engage, but it’s worth a shot.”

“Except, as soon as Valens knows about us, it’ll be time for battle,” Mordecai said. “How can you expect another ruler to make a decision and mobilize her forces that fast? She lives across the world.”

Daisy yanked open the dishwasher, dropped in her dish, and slammed the door shut again. “Look. The bottom line is, we have no way of knowing unless one of us tries. I have a nice little life right now. I don’t want to lose it.” She paused at the edge of the kitchen and held up her hand to me. “If we’re throwing our lot in with Kieran, maybe we should do more than hope he has all the answers.” She stomped from the room.

“You’d think she was a battle commander instead of a fourteen-year-old non-magical girl who knows literally nothing about the magical world,” Mordecai mumbled.

I slowed in my eating, vaguely staring after her. “No, she’s a fourteen-year-old non-magical girl who was fucked by the system, left for dead, and now has a real appreciation for surviving. She might have a point.”

9

Alexis

A knock at the front door brought me out of my trance. The colors in my room disintegrated into the normal dull beiges and browns of the living world. The Line drifted away, and I swore I felt a sort of goodbye as it did so.

Until recently, I’d always thought the world of the living was the big deal—the origin of life—and when we were done living, our souls needed a place to bugger off to. Hence the spirit realm.

I’d had it all wrong.

Spirit was the bedrock of the living world. It lined every fiber. Every particle. Every crack. The souls residing in our bodies relied on it.

The Line was a safeguard. Its purpose wasn’t to keep the spirits confined in the beyond, but to keep living bodies out. Its dark, bruise-like colors spoke of death, and drew on our fears of the afterlife. The effect was off-putting, purposefully so. Our living minds hated the very idea of it, because our living bodies weren’t welcome. Only when we shed our shells were we free to roam.

I rubbed my eyes and pushed to my feet. Another knock sounded, echoing down the quiet hallway.

A glance at the clock said I was late for my training.

“Crap,” I said under my breath, tying back my hair.

Halfway down the hall, I heard soft muttering from the living room. The kids sat on the couch, staring at the laptop screen.

I stopped short, then ducked into the kitchen and checked the time again. I grabbed my phone while I was in there.

“It’s eleven,” I said, confused. They looked up at me, Mordecai with raised eyebrows. They hadn’t realized that, in addition to spouting the time like a watchman, I was also asking for an explanation. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be training?”

Daisy went back to the screen. “No one showed. Did you piss off Kieran?”

“I…” My phone didn’t have any new messages or texts. “I don’t think so. He texted me like normal this morning.”

“He texts you every morning?” Mordecai asked in disapproval.

“You need to pay better attention.” Daisy held up a finger to forestall Mordecai’s reply. “That wasn’t gaslighting.”

“You guys need to look up what gaslighting means,” I said, walking closer. “Did they text or call?”

Mordecai scanned the surfaces around them. A moment later, Daisy joined him.

At Bria’s persistent urging, Kieran had gotten them cell phones. But being that they had no friends and no time, not to mention weren’t used to having phones, they rarely used them and often lost them around the house.

“Didn’t you think to check your phones when no one showed up?” I demanded, my no-nonsense tone hastening both of them off the couch. They knew when to push back, and when to get moving. Now was the latter. “They could want you to report to them.”

“They would’ve told us last night,” Daisy said, dashing around me and into the kitchen.

“Given you are still here, and they are not, clearly they didn’t tell you something last night. Something they probably thought they could relay via text. Oh wait, no one thought to check their phones!” Mordecai raced down the hall. “Weren’t you guys saying this very morning that you want to stay in this fight? Well, that’ll be pretty hard if you don’t get training, won’t it?”

Daisy jetted out of the kitchen, around me again, and took off toward her room.

I followed them, my voice rising. The key to really driving your point home was to become a loud, extremely angry moving target.

“If you go in like you are, you’ll both die,” I berated. “Then where will you be?”

“Got it,” I heard from Daisy.

“Found mine,” Mordecai said. A moment later, he mumbled, “The batteries are out.”

“You say that it’s dead, moron,” Daisy said, appearing in the doorway bent over her phone. “Training is postponed.” She smiled, out of breath, and held her phone up high as if finding it were a praiseworthy accomplishment. “It’s postponed. We didn’t miss it.”

Mordecai appeared behind her, his mouth a thin line and his eyes wary.

“You lost your charger too, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, and bowed a little. If he’d been a dog, his tail would be between his legs.

I hated that now I always compared his body language to that of a dog.

“Well?” I drew out the word dangerously while lifting one eyebrow. It had taken some time to learn that little trick, but it really came in handy.

Flustered, Mordecai stepped into the space between Daisy and the doorjamb, bumping her to the side. He paused, his wide eyes on me, unsure.

“Go find it!” I hollered.

Daisy jumped and turned, all hands and jerky movements. “Mordie, I have one. I have one over here.” She got him angled in the right direction before shoving his much larger body out of the way.

“You don’t always train together, Mordecai,” I boomed. “What if you’re supposed to be working on scent today, and Jack is somewhere waiting for you?”

“I have it,” Mordecai said, his voice panicked. “I have it. I’m plugging it in.”

Another knock sounded at the door. The fact that whoever it was had not yet left meant they A) knew someone was home, and B) had a lot of patience. That ruled out strangers, Zorn, and Bria.

I stalked down the hall as Mordecai called, “It’s charging.”

My knuckles were white around the door handle. I pulled it open.

Thane stood just off the steps to the walkway, giving me a ridiculous amount of space. His face held regret and his eyes an apology. Frank was nowhere to be seen. In fact, I hadn’t seen him since Bria had chased him off the night before. I wasn’t sure if I was thankful or a little sad that my annoying watchdog was gone.

“Hey,” Thane said. He dug his hands into his jeans pockets. Clearly he wasn’t training anyone today.

“Hey,” I said, pushing the door wider open. Memories of the day before flashed through my head. “Want to come in?” I was proud of my even voice.

He glanced beyond me before turning sideways and directing his gaze away. “Nah, that’s okay. Look—”

“Don’t apologize.” I stepped out onto the stoop, forcing down a swell of uncertainty. Now that I had a little distance from the situation, I felt for the guy. He couldn’t have scared me any worse than I’d scared him. I’d made the guy go berserk, for cripes sakes. The least I could do was put on my big girl undies and push through my uneasiness. He certainly was. “You have nothing to apologize for. If anyone should apologize, it should be Kieran for keeping everyone’s magic from me.”

He shrugged those big shoulders and looked at the ground. “He didn’t think you’d feel safe.”

No need to tell him Kieran had been right.

“I should’ve walked away when I felt myself nearing my threshold,” Thane went on. “I knew how close I was, but I didn’t back down. That’s unforgivable.”

“Ew,” I heard behind me.

I spun around and Daisy took a big step back and held up her hands like she was being mugged. I hadn’t even heard her approach. Zorn’s lessons were working.

“Bria was in charge,” Daisy said quickly. “None of that was Thane’s fault.”

“Training is postponed,” Mordecai yelled down the hall in triumph. “It’s postponed! We’re in the clear.” He jogged toward us. “Lexi, did you hear that? My training is postponed, too.”

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