Mercenary Magic Page 14

“It sounds like you really thought this through.”

“Of course.”

“How many people in your family did you code into the system?”

“Twenty-two.”

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the more people know about a secret, the harder it is to keep?” At twenty-two people, it was pretty much impossible. As far as security holes went, this one was crater-sized.

“None of them betrayed us.”

Family loyalty was one thing, but this was just plain old thickheaded denial.

“I had a triad of first tier telepaths put a lock on every single one of us. We’re unable to bypass the traps for any other reason than to uphold our family interests. The spell kills anyone who tries to bypass the security for selfish or nefarious reasons.”

Forget that. This wasn’t denial. It was paranoia of dragon-sized proportions.

“There’s something else,” he said.

“Oh?” Could it get any worse?

“It’s the thieves. Each time, after scavenging around the vault, they simply vanished into thin air.”

“What does the security footage show?”

“They disabled the feed.”

“Every time?”

“Yes.”

“What about the guards? Did they see anything?” she asked.

“People in black with masks. But the guards never got very close. The thieves always set up a barricade, and a few mages defended their position to give the others time to look through the vault. They liked to set the guards’ hair on fire.”

Sera would have cringed to say that. The dragon didn’t even blink.

“At some point, the mages stopped setting off firecrackers, and the guards moved in. The intruders were gone.”

“Odd.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Who is this group? What are they looking for? Why do they want this object? How are they able to get into our vaults, and how do they always escape?”

“It sounds like you’ve got a fine mystery on your hands.”

“We.” His voice was sharp, the single syllable infused with his will and magic.

“Sorry?”

“We have a fine mystery on our hands. You and I. I hired you, remember?”

“You hired the wrong person. What you need is a private investigator. I’m a dumb brute armed with steel. I hack monsters apart with my sword.”

“After the conversation we’ve just had, you honestly expect me to believe you’re just a dumb brute?”

Sera folded her hands together and gave him a simple, unassuming smile. “Yes.”

Something rumbled in his chest, either laughter or fire. “Come on. Let’s go. And bring that sword. I have a feeling you’ll need to do a fair amount of hacking before this is all over.”

What girl could resist a romantic offer like that? “No.”

“No?”

“No. N-O. It might be an unfamiliar word to you, so look it up. It comes after M—and right before I go get my sword.”

“Funny.”

“I don’t want to work with you. I don’t trust you.”

“Why not?” He looked genuinely surprised.

“Because you pretended to be my brother’s friend,” she said. “Why would you even do something like that? What the hell is the matter with you?”

“I wanted to get a good look at you before I hired you. Finn’s story of what you did sounded too spectacular to be true. I had to see it for myself.” His voice was dispassionate, his eyes calculating. He was watching her closely, waiting for her to give something away.

“See for yourself? You mean, by sending a bunch of vampires to attack me in my home?” she demanded.

“No, I didn’t send them.” He didn’t frown, but his eyes had taken on a harder glint. “With your power level, you must be attracting all sorts of weird creatures all the time. Like a magic beacon.”

Hmm.

“It happens to anyone with significant magic. The more powerful you are, the worse it is.”

Sera had never heard that.

“Even if you manage to mask it, you can’t do that all the time. Sometimes, that wall cracks when you sleep. Sometimes when you’re hurt. Or tired. Or distracted.” He smiled. “You get the idea. When the wall weakens, that’s when the monsters find you, drawn in by the taste of your magic. Some mages can sense magic just like the monsters.”

That Sera did know. Because she was one of those mages. She experienced magic like it was just another sense—and yet it used all the other senses. She tasted magic. She heard it. She saw and smelled and touched it. All of it and all at once.

“Unlike the monsters, though, I don’t just sense where magic is. I identify the kind of magic,” he said. “I wanted to get close to you so I could figure out what kind of magic can do what Finn described.”

This was going downhill fast.

“But for the first time ever, I couldn’t define someone’s magic. I’ve never before felt anything like yours. It’s exotic.” He inhaled, drinking in the magic in the air, that magic she was trying so desperately to bury down deep inside of her. “Enticing. Delicious. I could drink in your magic all day. You’re not mundane, no matter what you pretend. I’d love to fight you to see what you can do. I’ve only caught a glimpse, but I bet you’re even more spectacular than I imagine.”

She felt his magic reach out, a tentacle of invisible power wrapping itself around her. It rippled in warm waves against her back, trying to knead the magic out of her. The caress was gentle, even intimate. And it felt like bathing in a hot rose oil bath. She knew he was testing her, hoping that she would use magic to block him out. It felt so good that she almost didn’t care.

Prev Next