Mercenary Magic Page 1

CHAPTER ONE

Panoramic Battleground

BATTERY SPENCER WAS widely considered the best spot to snap shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. Every day, visitors to the ruins of the former military fort braved bone-chilling wind and fog for a spectacular panoramic view of one of San Francisco’s wonders. Today, they were braving the twirling cyclones summoned forth by a psychotic mage with melodramatic tendencies.

Well, perhaps ‘braving’ wasn’t the right word. The crowd stood at the edge of the fort, their cameras pressed against the chain-link fence that separated the ruins from the neighboring plot owned by Magical Research Laboratories. The foolish voyeurs clicked away with insatiable glee, their interest in the bridge temporarily discarded in favor of more exciting entertainment.

Exciting for them. Not for Sera, who didn’t exactly consider being slapped against concrete walls fun times. Everyone thought Mayhem, San Francisco’s oldest monster cleanup guild, attracted nothing but sadists and adrenaline junkies. In reality, it attracted mercenaries who preferred to eat every day, have working electricity, and keep a roof over their head: all those little delights that came with a steady paycheck. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on who you asked—there was no shortage of magical miscreants in the city.

This particular miscreant shot a blast of wind at Sera. She rolled to the side, avoiding it—barely. Her teeth chattered as the arctic gust whipped past her shoulder and jiggled the metal fence. It was never really warm up here at the battery, but this was outright ridiculous. The mage was drawing on the wind, channeling it into his own attacks. Which meant he’d be able to keep going for awhile. Awesome.

“We need to get past those cyclones,” Sera told Naomi.

Sera’s sometimes-partner looked out across the parking lot of twirling mini-tornados that separated them from the mad mage, her short platinum hair buzzing in the wind. “Yeah. Good idea.” There was no humor in her eyes.

Not that Sera could blame her. They’d only been trying to get to the mage for the last quarter of an hour. Now, fifteen minutes might not sound like very long, but it’s a freaking eternity when you’re locked in battle with a mage who thinks it would be a fine idea to add your blood to the copious layers of graffiti painted onto the ugly green walls behind their captive audience. He’d tried to hurl her and Naomi over the fence more than once—and when that failed, through the fence.

The click-happy tourists should have taken that as their hint to run. After all, if that fence fell, they’d be the ones crushed beneath it. But had they run like sensible human beings concerned for their own well-being? No, they’d instead started taking videos. Sera’s gravel-pasted denim bottom was probably all over Youtube by now. They even had a special channel on there for all things supernatural. Yay, fame.

“Try swinging around behind him?” Sera said to Naomi.

“I did try. He’s not letting me out of his sight. Apparently, he can toss tornados at both of us at once. I have a feeling he’s done this before.”

The mage took that moment to hurl a fireball their way. Sera and Naomi split in opposite directions, and the ball hit the fence with a rattle. While Sera was mulling over the fact that the mage could wield both wind and fire magic, the spectators had no such sense. A few of them tried to squeeze their hands through the fence to pick up the ball. The fire was out, but the ball was still smoking. They were completely out of their minds.

“Don’t touch it!” Sera hissed at them.

They ignored her, as expected. An old man slid his walking stick through an opening in the fence and prodded the smoking ball toward his feet. Sera didn’t even know why she bothered.

Mages, fairies, vampires, and all sorts of other magical beasties—the existence of the supernatural was common knowledge. But rather than staying away from magic, people flocked to it. They visited vampire bars. They watched mage duels. And they collected all things remotely magical, even worthless chunks of debris like that spent fireball. They believed that if they could just collect enough magical objects, they themselves would become magical.

Well, it didn’t work that way, no matter how much they wanted it to be true. It was a myth spread by the hopeful masses and encouraged along by the Magic Council, the organization that ruled over the entire magical community. They figured that as long as people held out some hope of gaining supernatural powers, they wouldn’t go on murderous rampages against them. So far, their plan had worked out pretty well. The Magic Council was smart. They were also complete monsters.

Sera shook the jitters out of her sweaty hands. No one from the Magic Council was here. They were all busy sitting in their marble-floored offices, listening to pretentious mood music while sipping their fancy cappuccinos. And as long as Sera didn’t do anything spectacular in front of all those cameras, it would stay that way. As long as they didn’t have a clue she existed, she’d be safe.

The mage edged closer to the door he’d been eyeing since Sera and Naomi had arrived on the scene. Whatever was in there, he wanted in. It was their job to make sure he didn’t get what he wanted—and to keep the innocent bystanders safe. Sera wasn’t sure which of the two tasks was more impossible.

“Get down from there!” she shouted over her shoulder.

A man sat balanced atop the fence, one leg sprawled over each side. He was in his late-twenties, wealthy enough to afford designer jeans and not fuss about ripping them on the fence. He probably had a whole closet of designer clothes. He was handsome—and knew it. As relaxed as a cat lying down for a nap, he lifted his phone over his head and snapped a shot. Then he dipped his chin toward Naomi and gave her a wink. Down below, some of his friends cheered and let out a chorus of catcalls.

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