Mercenary Magic Page 25

Long ago, the Dragon Born were, if not common, at least a part of the world. A handful were born into each generation, and they were the most powerful mages of their time. It was an unexpected side effect of the separation spell. When the two souls were split into two bodies, their magic didn’t divide—it multiplied. Each new mage had the power of two.

Or so the legends told. Sera didn’t know if any of it were true. All she did know was that at some point in history, the rest of the supernatural world had turned against the Dragon Born, branding them abominations. They were killed at birth. And for those who escaped an early execution, a later one awaited them. The minute the Magic Council got word of their existence, they turned the world upside down to get to them.

Sera and her sister Alex were Dragon Born. As soon as their parents had realized that, they’d taken the whole family into hiding. And they’d been hiding ever since. Dad had died to protect them. And their mother… Well, Sera didn’t even remember her. She was probably dead too. Dad had never talked much about her, as though the memory of her hurt too much.

Sera didn’t know why the Magic Council had turned against the Dragon Born, but it probably came down to fear. They feared what they didn’t understand—and couldn’t control. The stories of the Dragon Born told of magic Sera couldn’t even begin to comprehend, let alone wield. She knew her and Alex’s magic felt different than other people’s, but it certainly wasn’t powerful. She could sense magic. She could hide it. And she could break it. None of that was especially spectacular, at least not as spectacular as throwing fireballs, shattering windows with telekinetic blasts, or shifting into an extinct magical beast. And the Magic Council hadn’t outlawed any of those kinds of magic.

Across from Sera, Kai was shaking his head. “I don’t recognize your magic. All I can say is that you’re definitely not human.”

She and Alex had spent their whole lives masquerading as human, and he was only the second person who hadn’t bought the act.

“You’ve gone quiet,” Kai said.

What to say, what to say… “I didn’t think dragons liked bread.” Ugh, definitely not that stupid comment.

Kai gave her a grin worthy of a fire-breathing predator. “That’s right. Dragons like meat.” He looked straight at the duo of waiters standing nearby, and they swooped in. “I’ll take the Kobe steak. Medium rare.”

As one of them hurried off, the other looked at Sera.

“Uh…” She flipped through the menu, searching in vain for something with a price tag under three digits. “…Ok, the mushroom soup.”

There wasn’t anything else on the menu she could afford. Honestly, she couldn’t even afford the soup, at least not without eating ramen for the next week. Oh, joy, ramen, the one thing even magic couldn’t make taste better.

“I hope you aren’t one of those women who starves herself to fit into a dress,” Kai said, his voice heavy with disapproval.

“My dresses fit just fine, thank you,” she replied. All one of them.

He didn’t look appeased. Or amused.

“Fine, it’s because I’m broke. I have no money to waste on fancy dishes I can’t even pronounce,” she admitted. “Happy now?”

“No, I am most certainly not happy. You need to eat,” he told her. “Don’t worry about the cost. You’re on the clock. You can bill your meal to me.”

“In that case, I may just order a salad with my soup.”

“Hold on now, before you do something really crazy.” He looked at the waiter. “Scrap the salads and soups. Bring her a steak.”

“Now just you hold on. I am perfectly capable of ordering on my own,” she protested.

“No, you’re really not. You need real food, not rabbit food. I can’t have you passing out in the middle of a fight.” He waved the waiter away. “It’s not healthy the way you live. And it doesn’t make any sense. You have magic. A lot of it.” He held up his hand, stopping her emerging protest. “With your magic, you could make so much more money, and yet you do everything in your power to make sure you remain a bottom of the barrel mercenary. Why? You’re clearly hurting for money, and there’s a definite path open to you to alleviate this problem. I’m familiar with Mayhem’s payment tiers. All you’d have to do is march into Simmons’s office and fess up that you have magic. Once you were tested, your pay rank would jump from the bottom right up to the top. That I can guarantee.”

“Why do you even care? My money—or lack thereof—is my problem.”

An agitated wrinkle formed between his eyes. “You’re being absurd.”

“Then let me be absurd. It’s my problem. I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “And you have a very overinflated view of my magic.” She nudged the roll across her plate, putting on a cheery smile. “I’m a mushroom, remember?”

“No.” Kai reached forward and seized her hand, freezing it before she could continue fiddling with her food. His skin was hot, like it had been forged in a volcano. He looked her right in the eye. “You’re not.”

Sera wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but the waiter saved the day. He’d returned with two plates, an enormous steak upon each. And by enormous, she meant this-could-feed-a-small-mercenary-team enormous. She drew her hand away from Kai’s and picked up her silverware. Eating was a good way to avoid talking. Kai was already eating; he’d met the arrival of his dinner with great enthusiasm. But through it all, his eyes never left her. He stared across the table at her, as though he was plotting something. They ate in silence.

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