Mercenary Magic Page 18

“I told you I had many talents. Summoning is not one of them. So relax.”

He drew the tornados in toward him. They blended seamlessly into a wind barrier, twirling in a kaleidoscope of colors. Its spin was silky smooth, its hum whisper soft. A subtle sweetness hung in the air, tickling her tongue. Yum.

Kai had the most beautiful, effortless magic she had ever seen. Magic wasn’t something he forced out of himself; it was an extension of his body. It was so breathtaking that she couldn’t help but stare.

“How do you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Make it look so easy.”

The wind barrier went nearly transparent. “Practice.”

“I’ve faced a lot of mages. None of them could do what you can. Your cousin was powered by some force that shot his magic up several classes, and even he wasn’t this powerful.”

Kai turned the barrier light blue. A rim of purple flames sprouted out of the top. It was so beautiful, it was scary. While other mages were sweating trying to make their fire as hot as possible, he was changing its color and forming it into pretty patterns.

“What happened next, Sera?”

“I gave Naomi a boost over the barrier. She landed beside Finn and hit him with some Dust, but for some reason he didn’t go down.”

“So he gained power and resistance. Go on.”

“I couldn’t let him finish summoning the dragon. It was gigantic and people would get hurt. I saw a gap in his barrier, so I made a run for it and slipped through.”

“Show me.”

Crap. “There’s no gap in your barrier.”

A gap formed in the barrier. It was a crooked circle, perfect in its imitation of chaos. Nature couldn’t have designed a better breach if it had tried.

“How about we skip this part, ok?” She walked toward him. “It was a desperate move, and I got lucky. There’s no need to tempt fate.”

The flames dissolved into steam, and the wind barrier slid down Kai’s body like a silk sheet. He stepped over its fast-fading remains, stopping right in front of her.

“And then?” he asked.

He towered over her, a living wall of muscle and magic. It took every scrap of willpower she had to hold her ground before the dragon. He was looking down at her, his eyes etched with suspicion. One thing was for sure: he wasn’t buying her story.

“And then I punched him really hard in the head,” she told him.

“Anything else?”

Yes, my body can dissolve other magic on contact. I’m essentially a battering ram against magic. “No, that’s it.”

Kai turned in place, his eyes scanning the scene. “Something feels wrong here.”

The magic-dissolving battering ram standing next to you.

“I can’t say exactly what it is. A weird feeling, I guess.” He looked at her. “Do you feel it too?”

“There’s nothing—” Wait, a minute. Something did smell bad, like slowly rotting magic. Weird.

“You feel it too?”

Sera looked down at the ground. It was humming. The sound was so faint that she hadn’t noticed it before.

“Sera?”

A subtle flicker twinkled off the asphalt. She crouched down for a closer look, peeling back layer after layer of magic. It was there. Somewhere.

Suddenly, something shattered, and blue and red drawings faded in. Patterns of swirls and circles and lines covered the ground between Buildings Four and Five.

“They were magically cloaked,” Kai said from behind her.

Sera rose, her eyes tracing the peculiar patterns. She’d never seen anything like them before.

“How did you do that?” He set his hand down on her shoulder, then drew it away, shaking it out as though he’d just been burned. “How did you dissolve that cloak? How did you know exactly where the glyphs were? I couldn’t even pinpoint them.”

There wasn’t anything Sera could say that wouldn’t make this worse. The best she could hope for was to distract him long enough that she could get away. “Glyphs?”

He took the bait. “Ancient, powerful magic. It’s not used by many mages anymore. I recognize these glyphs. They are a gateway.”

“You use them to teleport?”

“Yes.” He bent down to get a closer look at them.

“Where do they lead to?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. As I said, it’s old magic. I’ve never used it before. I know only what I’ve read in books.”

“Well, now we know how your thieves keep vanishing into thin air.”

“So it would seem.” He brushed his fingers across one of the glyphs. “There’s still magic in these. It’s mostly decayed, but there’s a little left.” He looked up at her. “Sera, I want you to touch these glyphs.”

“Why?”

He rose. “When I was in school, my Diagnosis teacher added the Sniffer label to my profile. Do you know what a Sniffer is?”

“Someone who can sense the presence of magic.”

“Right. It’s like what I was telling you earlier about monsters being drawn to magic. Some mages can pick up on it too. About one in a hundred can sense it to some degree. And one in a thousand feel magic strongly enough to follow it to its source. They’re called Sniffers. My teacher told me I was one of the strongest Sniffers she’d ever seen.”

“Just another one of your ‘many talents’?”

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