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But he doesn’t have a team like I’ve put together, Kieran thought, steeling himself. His people don’t trust him, and they only respect him because they fear him. He has more power, but he does not have better leadership. That is what will win the day.

“Henry can’t get back, and Donovan is tying up some loose ends,” Kieran said as he crossed the street to Alexis’s house. A male spirit with a manic grin and tattered clothes stood in the middle of the street, eagerly waiting for something. A car to run him over, perhaps? “Besides him, you’re the last in. I’m about to go check on the girls.”

Kieran let himself into Alexis’s backyard through the side gate and had to immediately control his expression. The strong cloud of incense did little to mask the odor of dead bodies in various stages of rot. The animated corpses jerked and staggered through the backyard, bumping into each other and occasionally swiping in aggression. Bria stood behind the Necromancy table with her head bowed amid swirls of colorful smoke. Wax dribbled from candles and bells lay on their sides.

“Those look like fucking zombies,” Jack said in a rough voice. He’d followed Kieran through the gate in the fence, and the look on his face suggested he regretted it.

Kieran agreed. It was as if the zombie apocalypse had kicked off in Alexis’s backyard.

“Over there…” Jack pointed to the far side of the yard.

A body with skin peeling off its chest lurched out of the way, giving Kieran a view of what Jack had spotted: Alexis, leaning against a table, arguing with empty space. A collapsed body lay at her feet with one of the arms bent back the wrong way.

He’d intended to collect everyone for a last meal, but he was quickly losing his appetite. He had a new appreciation for Bria’s warped sense of humor.

“I realize it is super gross, but you wanted to help. This is how you can help.” Alexis gestured down to the body. “We could sure use you.”

As Kieran came closer, he could make out the form of the teen girl who’d stared at him in the government building every morning since he could see spirits. She picked at the buttons on her sweater, looking down at the body in disgust.

“I can move things in this form,” the girl said, glancing behind her at a group of nine bodies in the corner of the yard. Though they were no less dead, their movements seemed more purposeful.

“Once, maybe twice. In a body, you can move things all day long. Regardless, I have one body left. If you want it, you can have it. Otherwise, I need to call someone else.”

“What’s going on?” Kieran asked, joining Alexis.

She looked overtired, badly in need of some downtime. “I summoned nine of your ten hopefuls. Before I summoned the last of them, I remembered Mia and wanted to see if she’d help out. She’s insanely powerful.” She gestured at the teen spirit, who was now staring at Kieran with her large, unblinking eyes. “All the other dead bodies are filled, as you can see. This one’s the last, but Mia doesn’t want to get in.”

“Why is it…all broken like that?” Jack asked, edging away from the corpse at Alexis’s feet.

“One nutcase who was supposed to clear off earlier snuck in here and waited with the others. Bria stuffed him into a body by accident. I had to wrestle him out and shove him across the Line. He’ll probably weasel back out, though. He wants to stay in this world. Anyway, he was trying to choke me when I got him out, so…” Alexis gestured at the broken limb before returning her gaze to the girl. “Take it or leave it, in five…four…three…” She paused. “Two…”

“Claim your vengeance,” Kieran said. “Set things right. Put yourself at peace.”

“One…”

“Okay,” Mia said in a humdrum tone.

In a blink of an eye, she was gone.

“Hang tight while I strap you in,” Alexis said with a focused expression. She closed her eyes. “This is the hard part.”

The body jerked.

“Fuck it.” Jack jumped backward.

The head rolled. An arm flopped to the side.

Jack took another step back and turned so he had one shoulder pointing at the sliding glass door.

“Done.” Alexis heaved a weary sigh and kneaded her right shoulder. Kieran stepped in and gently moved her hand aside, taking over the massage. She leaned back against his body. “You did your research. All the people you called were plenty powerful and ready to tear Valens’s head off. They’ll manage themselves well.”

A cadaver (Kieran now understood why Necromancers used that term—it was much nicer than dead body, corpse, or rotting zombie) broke free from the pack and rushed at Alexis’s table. Jack shifted his weight, ready to react, but he didn’t get the chance.

Alexis merely glanced in the cadaver’s direction, rolled her eyes, and shifted her gaze to the left. The cadaver jerked to a stop with its limbs flailing. The shoulders turned, as though someone else had physically moved them. A moment later, the hips followed. The head whipped around last. The creature lurched forward, walking in the direction Alexis had gazed.

“Sorry,” Bria called out. “That one has been dying to get away. He’ll cause havoc when we finally set him free. They’ll stay put for now, though. I was just tying them all together and chaining them down.”

“That’s how Valens’s old Necromancer was able to work with the Air Elemental to place the spirit trap,” Alexis said tiredly, rubbing her stomach. He could distantly feel her hunger, half drowning in her anxiety and fear. “Bria has the power to trap the spirits for a short amount of time. Up to a day, she said. She always thought they’d have to be in bodies to be trapped, and for how she does it, I think she’s right. But with an Air Elemental to carry and stabilize the magic, and a few tweaks—” She made an explosion with her fingers. “Now we know the exact magic used for the spirit traps.”

“Could you do it?” Jack asked.

“Me?” Alexis rubbed her eyes. “I don’t see why not. Other than morality reasons.”

“Are you girls ready?” Kieran asked as Jack opened the sliding glass door. He soaked in the warmth of her body, the tantalizing feeling of her magic sliding across his skin. Was this the last time he’d get to head into dinner with her? The last time he’d casually drape his arm across her shoulders?

“It’ll be okay.” She rubbed his arm. “Daisy said so. Just don’t ask her why. She gets violent, which means she’s up to something.”

“Oh yeah. She’s up to something, all right.” Bria chuckled. “But damned if I can figure out what. She’s taken Zorn’s training to heart. I can’t even get into her computer! A teen, keeping me out—what has the world come to?”

Kieran didn’t comment. He knew exactly what she’d been up to, and if it hadn’t been for a couple of crucial mistakes that had moved up the time table, Daisy’s long game might’ve saved their asses. All the guys had heaped praise on Mordecai, but that young lady was a diamond in the rough. Zorn had been right all along.

“Anyway, we’re ready,” Bria said, and gave Kieran a thumbs up. “More than ready. We have a collection of cadaver power the like of which I’ve never even heard of. They’re better than real forces.”

“How is that?” Jack asked, leading them into the kitchen.

Delicious aromas swirled around him. Saliva coated his mouth and his stomach fought the churning to growl. Daisy and Mordecai moved around the table, placing the final utensils. Zorn and Thane chatted as they filled pitchers of water and what looked like iced tea. Boman transferred slices of meat to a platter.

“What do we need?” Jack stopped at the sink to wash his hands. Alexis headed upstairs with Bria to wash up and change.

“Grab the salad out of the fridge,” Thane directed.

By the time they’d finished the preparations, the girls were back.

“Because they can’t be killed,” Bria told Jack, acting as if he’d only just asked her about the efficacy of the undead army.

“What can’t be killed?” Thane asked.

“Bria thinks the zombies in the backyard are better than real forces, by which I believe she means alive people.” Jack shook his head, smiling.

“Zombies are better than people any day. Everyone knows that.” Daisy straightened up to admire her handiwork on the table. “They’re hard to kill.”

“Right. Yes.” Jack chuckled and placed the bowl on the table. “Except these aren’t actual zombies.”

“No, these are mind-controlled zombies, basically.” Bria grabbed the salad forks. “You lop off an arm? Who cares. They won’t feel it. You stab them in the chest? Great, they’re good and close and can claw out your eyes. They aren’t afraid of getting hurt, and they aren’t afraid of dying. They’ll do whatever I push them to do.”

“But their magic isn’t as strong.” Jack lifted a brow before peering into the oven. He grabbed a pot holder and took out the aluminum covered baked potatoes. “And I don’t care what you are, or who is pushing you—if you lose your head, your arms, and/or your legs, you’re not going to do much good in the fighting ring. Not to mention that while their version of fighting might be ferocious, it’s not actually good fighting. I could start smacking heads off, no problem.”

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