Mercenary Magic Page 3

“How did you do that?” Naomi asked, kicking off the last lingering remnants of the fiery tentacle.

“There was a hole in the barrier. I snuck through.”

Naomi’s slender brows lifted, but she said nothing. For that, Sera was grateful. Naomi wasn’t just her partner; she was her friend. And Sera didn’t like lying to her friends. She would and did—every day of her lie of a life, in fact. She just didn’t like it. But it was either lie or risk exposure. If the Magic Council found out about her, she’d be sentenced to death for the crime of being born. They’d kill her sister too. If they happened to be feeling particularly self-righteous that day, they might even kill her brother. So, yes, she was going to keep on lying and living.

Sera swung the dozing mage over her shoulder and followed Naomi around the side of the building. Down below, a blanket of fog rolled out from the city, smothering the bridge in layers of ethereal mist. The excitement finally over, most of their audience had returned to taking photos of the scenic view. A few of them, though, had their cameras aimed at her and Naomi. As Sera dumped the mage in the back seat of Naomi’s car, she sighed. Hiding her magic would have been a whole lot simpler in a world without cameras and the internet.

CHAPTER TWO

Magical Might

SERA TRUDGED DOWN the sidewalk toward home. The small house she shared with her sister and brother was in Richmond, the San Francisco district wedged between the Presidio to the north and Golden Gate Park to the south. That put her smack dab in the middle of most of the city’s magical chaos.

Ever since her battle with the mage near Battery Spencer, it had been one thing after another. Later that night, it had been drunk vampires starting bar fights all across downtown. Yesterday, it had been two warring herds of centaurs that had decided it would be a swell idea to turn Golden Gate Park into the battleground for their bloody dispute. And today it had been caterpillars. Lots and lots of monstrous, moody, gigantic wolf-sized caterpillars. Sera was bruised, sore, and her boots were pasted with oozing clumps of mucous-colored caterpillar guts.

She just wanted to take a long, hot shower to wash away the grime and soothe her aching muscles. And after that, eat. Tonight was Friday, which meant pizza. Sera loved pizza. It was the perfect remedy to a perfectly horrendous week.

She stepped into her bedroom just long enough to hang up her sword, then headed for the bathroom. As she washed magic caterpillar goo off of her hands, she glanced at the unicorn clock over the bathtub. Riley wouldn’t be back from school for another ten minutes, just enough time for her to hop into the shower.

But before she could soothe her aching muscles in hot steam, the front door thumped open, and the sound of voices trickled down the hall. Riley and someone else, a man whose voice she didn’t recognize. They were laughing. Sera turned off the sink and headed back to the entryway.

Riley sat on the bench by the door, his back bent over as he took off his shoes. His school backpack lay at his feet, the words ‘Department of Magical Sciences’ printed across the front pouch. He looked up at her, his green eyes half-amused, half-apologetic. Sera knew that look. It was Riley’s guilty look.

“You’re early,” she told her brother.

“So I am.” The look in his eyes persisted.

“Where’s the pizza?”

“Well, Sera, it’s like this.” He stood, his feet shuffling softly across the floor as he walked toward her. “There’s this cafe right along the way home from campus. It’s supposed to be really good. Or so all the reviews say.” His eyes sheepish, he handed her a paper bag. It was still warm. “We got you a gourmet chicken sandwich.”

Sera didn’t want a stupid gourmet chicken sandwich. She wanted a pizza. A big, cheesy, glorious pizza. She’d been looking forward to it all day, since even before the caterpillar fiasco.

“Who’s ‘we’?” she asked, checking her tone.

“Kai and I. He’s the one who told me about the cafe.”

Sera unlocked her jaw and folded her hands together. “And just who is Kai?” Clearly, someone who was a bad element. Only a bad element would have the audacity to mess with pizza night.

“A friend from my running club.” He looked over his shoulder. “Come on in, Kai.”

A dark-haired man stepped inside, carrying a paper bag in each hand. He wore dark jeans with a hint of silver undertone, and a fitted ink-black t-shirt that hugged the smooth muscles of his chest, leaving nothing to the imagination. He might as well have printed ‘I crack walnuts with my biceps’ across the front. Riley said he’d met Kai at his running club, but his new friend looked like he’d be more at home lifting weights in the gym than hitting the trails. Though there was a certain suppleness to his movements. Like a fighter. A damn strong fighter who hit hard and didn’t miss.

But that wasn’t what made Sera’s adrenaline pump into overdrive. It was Kai’s eyes. They shimmered like blue glass and burned with raw power. Magic, ancient and dangerous, wound across his body, draping him from head to toe. It ignited the air around them, burning Sera’s lungs. It snapped and cracked and promised of punishments cruel and painful. This is what it must have felt like to stand before a dragon—a real dragon, back when they’d still roamed the earth. Those fiery beasts that mages summoned were mere shadows of the real thing.

Sera looked at Riley. Surely, he felt it. Kai was an aura of magical might. Never before had she met someone so saturated with power.

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