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“He’ll be a strong class five, then.”

“Yes, sir. He’s the Wolfram boy. His father was alpha of the Green Hills pack before Will Green took over.”

Valens’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I thought that boy was dead.”

“He has been living in squalor in the dual-society zone. The report indicates he was as good as dead until his ‘unnamed’ benefactor, Jeffrey Smile, sponsored his treatment.”

“Who?”

“Jeffrey Smile. He doesn’t exist anywhere but on paper. Every avenue to trace him led to a dead end. I had our best hacker on it, and he turned up empty. Whoever is pulling the strings on this is better than our best.”

And there it was: the reason for all her flustered movements. The other player behind this wasn’t just her match, he or she was better. They were one step above her.

“You’ve only had a day,” Valens reminded her. Sometimes being an overachiever wasn’t ideal. She thought she was failing before she’d really even begun. “In that day, you’ve accomplished a great deal.”

“I had the whole team working overtime.”

He furrowed his brow. “Why would someone this skilled waste their time taking down my spirit workers? Through Necromancy, I still have access to souls.”

“If you pardon my speculation, sir, this could be a statement. Those particular employees erected the air/spirit wall over this building. Only a few of the high-powered magical workers could see it, but people talk. The staff saw the practice as an extension of your power. They speculated that you were warding evil spirits away, or that it was a force field of some kind to thwart attackers. All speculation by small-minded simpletons, of course, but it was great marketing for your reputation. In cutting down those two magical workers, the person who did this has destroyed that illusion, while also hindering your ability to raise an army of the dead. I am wondering what leg of your operation will be cut down next.” She squared her stance and clasped her hands behind her back. “Again, this is purely speculation, sir. As I said, I have been left with more questions than answers.”

“Noted.” He brushed his fingers against his lips, his mind turning. “Get more information on the Ghost Whisperer, and alert Will Green that the Wolfram boy is alive and well. If I know Green, he’ll sort that out for us.”

“Should I give him a time table?”

“Don’t bother. Just let it slip that the boy primarily sticks to the dual-society zone and has a silent benefactor of some sort. Green is one of those small-minded simpletons you spoke of. He is barely hanging on to his mantle. He’ll rid us of the boy to protect his placement. What remains of it, anyway. Maybe getting rid of the boy will push this Jeffrey Smile out of anonymity. Vengeance is a hardy pastime.”

“Yes, sir.” Amber spun on her heel and left the office.

Valens turned back to his desk, his thoughts turbulent. Tampering in his territory couldn’t be tolerated. The perpetrator had to know he or she would be killed if caught. Given the level of maneuvering, his adversary had to be highly competent and insightful. Highly trained. It spoke of an experienced Demigod.

But how had he missed another Demigod’s interest in him, and which one was it? He’d be damned if he’d let someone get in the way of his plans.

12

Alexis

“Trees,” Daisy whispered as she cleared the brick wall. “All I see is thick, bushy trees.”

“Are they real?” I asked, stopping behind her and eyeing the mass of green stretching from one side to the other.

“Yes,” Mordecai said. “I smell them.”

“Where were you on that wall, then?” Daisy grumbled.

“I smelled the wall, too.”

“The gap, I meant,” Daisy said.

“Gaps don’t smell.”

Thane chuckled, following along behind us.

Elation bloomed in my middle. Kieran’s feeling, not mine. He was close. Other souls existed somewhat near him, but they seemed muted. They were inside, probably. He was outside. “There’s a building or something beyond these trees.”

“Very far beyond?” Daisy asked.

Remembering what I’d discovered in my room earlier, I closed my eyes and pulled magic from the Line. I boosted my awareness and then spread the extra power around me, along the ground and through the trees. This would allow me to see the ever-present spirit in the world of the living.

“What is it?” Daisy whispered. “Why are you waving your hands in the air like a psychopath?”

“Shh.” Pure power and spirit vibrated through my body and hugged my soul tightly. I peeled my eyes open, seeing the spirit seep through all around me. It pooled in holes and crevices and clung to branches. Soft mist rose from the ground, ultraviolet blues and purples that normal humans couldn’t see.

My magical vision gave me a sort of bat-like perception of the area. Souls throbbed brightly to life beyond us, some of them within a mess of walls beyond the trees, like I’d suspected, and one floating on the other side, light and pure and waiting for me.

“Each soul gives off a different pulse,” I said in fascination, amping up the spirit surging through the area. “It’s not something I can see. It’s a…feeling. An acknowledgment. Like seeing a face and knowing who it belongs to. Same thing. Huh. How come I’ve never noticed this before?”

“So…what’s the plan?” Mordecai asked.

“Right, yes. Sorry.” I pushed farther into the trees before stopping again. “Kieran is waiting out front of what is probably a house or office building or something. Others—the rest of the Six and Bria, I assume—are in the enclosure, also waiting. Given that this is a puzzle, or challenge, or training exercise, the right thing to do would be to check the perimeter and see if there are any traps or tripwires or lord knows what. But I’d rather not bother. Thoughts?”

“The Six will beat the living hell out of us if we aren’t thorough,” Daisy said. “I’ve learned that lesson.”

“It’s a hard lesson,” Mordecai agreed.

“But I’m in charge, and so I’ll get the heat for not bothering.” I lifted my eyebrows.

Daisy glanced at Mordecai, then didn’t glance at Thane, still standing behind us. The non-action spoke volumes. She didn’t want to admit she liked my idea when a potential tattletale was in our midst.

“I can change and take care of the perimeter really fast,” Mordecai said.

I thought about it for a second, trying to fight past the butterflies and excitement that gave me the mad desire to sprint through the trees, over some sort of fence, and into Kieran’s arms. I had to be rational. I had to think about our training. Kieran was counting on me to step it up. There was a reason he didn’t want me wasting my heart on him. He knew he needed to focus on the battle ahead, which he doubted he’d survive. We might not survive either if we didn’t—

“Oh screw it, let’s just go.”

His services might not have originally included sex, but he’d opened that floodgate. He could deal with the repercussions.

Mordecai stopped me. “Wait…there is less tree smell over here.”

He led the way, stopping at a wall of green and sticking out his hand. It passed through without disturbing the foliage. Another illusion.

I stopped relying so heavily on my vision and reverted back to focusing on the spirit around us. It still clung to trees and branches, outlining them, and showed an open space of about three feet wide where Mordecai’s hand had been.

“Oh my God,” I breathed, stepping in front of him. I could see through the illusion.

“Good looking out, Mordie,” Daisy said softly from behind me.

“Yes, that was excellent work,” I said over my shoulder. “Now that we know about this facet of Zorn’s magic, we’ll want to keep our eyes open.”

“I can’t spot them.” Daisy’s voice rang with frustration and defeat. “I can’t do anything helpful. A non-magical person doesn’t have any chance in the magical world.”

The urgency to run to Kieran pulled at me, but a stronger sensation stayed my feet. I needed to look after my kid.

“Wait.” I turned to face her. Her soul glowed bright and beautiful in her chest, and I smiled at the sight.

Mordecai pushed closer. “Your eyes are serious, but you’re smiling weirdly. Are you okay?”

“You look really creepy,” Daisy said.

My urge to smile vanished.

“Listen, Daisy, I know magic seems like a leg up. And honestly, it is. It’s a cheat. That’s why the non-magical section us off and live without us. They think they’re safer keeping the two groups segregated.

“But here’s the thing. Batman didn’t have any super powers. He was a normal man who got a fright from a bunch of bats when he was a kid, then tried to overcome his fears and went a little nuts. What made him noteworthy was an excellent fighting ability and a bunch of gadgets. Other than that, he was just a slightly crazy dude in a costume. So learn to fight like no one else can, get Kieran to buy you a bunch of shit, and settle for a sidekick with a genie robe instead of spandex. Voila. You’re golden.”

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