“Did the beard give it away?” Bria said, gesturing wildly. “Get out of here. Close the door. Run!”
A huge wolf, larger than its natural counterparts, slipped out from between Daisy’s leg and the door frame. It loped into the scene before stopping near Jack with its lips pulled back from its teeth in a silent snarl, Mordecai’s signature.
“No!” I yelled, and sucked in the power of the Line. “Kids, get back in the house!”
A manic laugh rose from Thane before morphing into a ghastly roar. Jack and Mordecai flinched together—the primal response of shifters whose instincts knew something bigger and badder was in the vicinity. Thane braced, and I knew one moment of sheer panic.
He was going to charge my kid.
The colors in the backyard shifted to the surreal palette of the spiritual plane, turning the space into a sort of comforting nightmare. The Line pulsed, high and off to the left, out of the way. Shadows swirled around us, the shapes of people floating behind the veil, which was more translucent than I’d ever seen it.
Calling up the wind of the spirit world, I lifted my hands and yanked it down in a way I didn’t totally understand, ready to direct it solely at Thane.
He ran, faster than a blink, straight for Daisy standing in the doorway of the house. To get there, he’d have to go through Jack and Mordecai.
Oh, hell no.
I harnessed a huge swell of magic before slashing through his middle. The force of the spirit world hit Thane dead center, blasting through him in a way that would surely freeze him up. My magic cut down deep, clanging when it hit his soul’s casing. His soul flapped wildly, pinging around the inside of its casing, pulling at the bindings that held it in place.
He tried to push through it. Tried to fight the effects of the Line. But his feet dragged. His head bowed.
Still, he kept moving.
He needed a bigger push or he’d reach my furry kid.
This time, I braided the power from the Line together with spirit magic before wrapping them around the impregnable casing of his soul. I might not be able to break in, but the pressure would sure suck. I squeezed as hard as I could before sending another slash of magic through him. Then I slashed once more for good measure.
The human-beast howled in agony. He gripped his massive chest before his ghastly body crashed down onto the ground, its size reducing before my eyes. He clawed at dirt before flipping over and hugging his middle.
“Uncle,” I heard, his voice a raspy wheeze. He rolled from side to side. “Uncle!”
“I’ll be damned,” Jack said, rising slowly.
“See?” Bria pointed at a panting Thane, his hands still clutching his chest. I closed off the Line and let the magic dissipate before sagging where I stood. I wasn’t sure if it was from using the magic, or the excessive adrenaline, but I was exhausted. “Zorn is freaked out he’s going to end up like that.” She stowed her knife.
I ran my fingers through my hair. “Would someone mind explaining to me why a freaking Berserker was involved in my training?” I hadn’t meant to yell. “What if I hadn’t been able to stop him?” Or screech.
“But you did.” Bria nodded at me in pride.
My flat stare prompted a better explanation.
She sighed as Jack squatted by Thane’s side. “Look,” she said, “Thane’s the most balanced of the Six, and has the most control of his kind in the entire world. He’s trained to handle a lot of situations, but you don’t fight like anyone else on the planet—” She paused for a moment. “Probably. I mean, I don’t know what the Hades Demigods get up to, but—”
“You’re losing your point,” Jack said softly.
“Right, right. Berserkers are scary, sure, but labels are misleading.” Bria started dragging me toward the back door. “I don’t have to tell you that. Soul Stealer, hello?” She shoved Daisy out of the way and pulled me into the house. “Kieran knows Thane is in these trainings.” She stopped short. “Dang it, I forgot my backpack. Hang on…”
My feet felt like lead as I trudged down my small hallway to the round table straddling the line between the living room and the kitchen. When Bria returned, she grabbed my fabulous Burberry handbag, a gift from Kieran, and shoved it at me.
“As I said, Kieran knows Thane is in these trainings,” she continued. “He’s cool with it. He trusts Thane.”
I jumped at Daisy’s voice. She passed me into the kitchen before grabbing a glass out of the cabinet. Her plain red T-shirt was streaked with dirt and something blue. Chalk? Lord only knew.
Mordecai padded in behind her. Changing form took a lot of energy, and apparently it also hurt for the first handful of changes, so he wasn’t keen on shifting back and forth too quickly.
“Ew.” Daisy kicked at him. “No dogs in the kitchen. Get out! Shoo!”
“Daisy, don’t kick—”
Mordecai growled, a deep-chested, rather terrifying sound.
“Mordecai, don’t you growl at your sister,” I admonished him. “Honestly, one of you can’t even talk. How can you still fight?”
“Lexi, he’ll get hair everywhere.” Daisy inspected the ground behind him. “See? A dog hair.”
“He’s a wolf, Daisy, and you leave hair all over the house. You make the bathroom look like a Sasquatch’s murder scene.”
She huffed and filled her glass. “Anyway, as I was saying before Fido came nipping at my heels… Berserkers are hard to take down, aren’t they?”
“Yes.” Bria nodded adamantly. “When they’re really rolling, they’re hard as hell to stop. Their brain shuts off, rage takes over, and they destroy. That’s their one function—destroy. They make one hell of an ally in battle. Thane was only just starting to get rolling.”
Silence filled the room, thick and gooey. Daisy stared at Bria, unblinking.
“And Lexi was able to take him down?” she finally asked.
My mouth dropped open. “That’s what you took away from all that? Daisy, Berserkers are incredible war machines who stop thinking when the rage takes over. They stop thinking. That’s really dangerous to have around a couple of teens only a few months into training. You didn’t get a good look at him out there, but he was terrifying.”
Mordecai growled softly.
“What’s that, Lassie? Timmy fell down the well?” Daisy smirked at him.
“Daisy, would you stop picking on your brother?” I asked, exasperated.
Daisy crossed her arms over her chest. “Lexi, your magic is stealing souls and leaving dead bodies in your wake—”
“We call them cadavers,” Bria corrected.
“—and you’re not trained. Sometimes you sucker punch Mordie and I through the chest when you’re pissed. You don’t even know you’re doing it, but it still hurts like hell.” She held up a finger. “Hell isn’t swearing, remember?”
We had an agreement that if she swore, I’d punch her in the face. It was terrible parenting on my part, but the threat sometimes worked. More often than not, however, she’d offer a compelling explanation for why she’d broken the rule.
“At least Thane knows what sets him off and can usually avoid it,” she finished. “You just flail around, invisibly slicing people in two.”
“I’m learning to control my magic, and I can’t steal souls yet,” I said in my defense. “He is ruled by rage. He would’ve ripped the house apart to get to you, then ripped you apart.”
Daisy rolled her eyes and drained her glass. “That Demigod you always have hanging around—”
“You mean my boss?”
“He could kill us all, rage or no, and get away with it. And not just him. Every one of the Six could take us down. Zorn wouldn’t even make a sound while he was doing it. The whole crew is dangerous. I don’t know what you’re getting all bent out of shape about.”
I ran my fingers through my hair. I hated when the kids stomped on my reasoning. “I’m just worried about what would happen if I couldn’t stop him.”
“Right.” Daisy pushed forward and pointed at me. “Let’s get back to that. You did, actually, stop him? All by yourself?”
“She did.” Bria nodded with a smile. “She’s making strides. And let’s remember, she also started it. That’ll sink in soon. She’s not quite there yet, but it’ll happen.”
“What’ll sink in, that she is more dangerous than a Berserker?” Daisy asked. “Or that Soul Stealers have a worse reputation than Berserkers?”
I scowled at her. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
“Look…” Bria paused in order to open the front door. “Today was a learning experience. For everyone. This won’t be taken lightly, trust me. All of the guys will be thinking about how they could have handled it differently. Kieran definitely will be. He would lose his shit if anything happened to you. He coddles you far too much.” She pursed her lips, and I knew it was because she thought I was an idiot for getting involved with him. “But no one—and I mean no one—will take a harder look at this than Thane. He’s gone over three decades without a mishap. The guy might look like he’s in his lesser thirties, but he’s more like sixty. These bastards don’t age normally. Thane will beat himself up for this. The very last thing he needs is for you to make him feel worse.”
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