Mercenary Magic Page 7

“Kai is not an assassin.”

No, he’s just a mage-eating dragon. But his sandwich sure looked inviting. “I didn’t say that he is. I only said that he’s dangerous. Which is true. Just look at what happened here tonight. Five minutes after he arrived, vampires attacked us. When was the last time that happened?”


“Oh, right. Never. Because I keep a low profile and don’t invite random strangers into our home.”

“Kai is not a random stranger.”

“Ok, then. What’s his last name?”

Riley stared at her for a moment, then blinked. “It never came up.”

“I’m not trying to get on your case. I’m just reminding you to be careful. I know it’s easy to forget. This is the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place. After awhile, you stop remembering to always look over your shoulder. You forget that the threat is still out there, just waiting for us to screw up.”

“This is no way to live.”

“It’s the only way to live. The other way means death.”

Sera grabbed the sandwich bag. It wasn’t like Kai was going to come back for it. And if he did, she’d defend her property. Finders keepers.

“For someone who was pretty pissed off about the pizza just a few minutes ago, you sure are devouring those sandwiches fast,” Riley commented, watching her chow down on Kai’s sandwich.

It was charbroiled beef, which was exactly what she’d have expected from the dragon. “Killing monsters makes me hungry. I’ve killed a lot of monsters today.” She took another bite. “I’m still pissed about the pizza.”

“If I promise to bring back pizza next Friday, will you be nice to Kai?”

She swallowed down the last of the sandwich, then frowned at him. “You haven’t been listening.”

“I have. I just refuse to accept the isolated, paranoid, crazy life you describe for us. How long do you expect us to live like this, hiding from the world?”

“For as long as my and Alex’s ‘abominable’ magic comes with a death sentence for us and anyone around us. Or the Magic Council is toppled. Whichever comes first.”

“The Magic Council has been around for centuries. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” Riley said.

“No, it’s not. Which brings me back to the need for discretion.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Yes, I am. Very.” She grinned. “And you be sure to remember that the next time you decide to change the menu on pizza night.”



SAN FRANCISCO WAS one of the world’s biggest supernatural hot spots. And within San Francisco, it was the Presidio where you could find the most magic. Twenty years ago, the United States government had delegated management of the park to the Presidio Magic Trust, an organization made up of people hand-picked by the Magic Council. Today, the Presidio had the densest magical population in the entire city. Mages and fairies and vampires lived in fancy new mansions on secluded plots. The Otherworldly—ghosts, spirits, and phantoms—lingered in the old buildings and batteries, tied down to memories forgotten by all but them. There were company buildings owned by the magical dynasties.

There was also a magic school, the one where Riley studied: the San Francisco University of Magical Arts and Sciences. Its campus sat at the southern end of the Presidio.

And not far from there was Mayhem’s headquarters. A three-story house with beige and white brick walls, a shingled roof, and bay windows—from the outside Sera’s workplace looked more like an upscale villa than a mercenary guild’s office building. Grassy green lawns spread out from the house like velvet carpet, ending at a high metal fence interwoven with thorns and roses. It looked posh and proper, just the sort of thing that made Mayhem’s posh and proper clients feel right at home.

The fences and thorns also happened to be super useful for defending against supernatural swarms. Even the roses had a purpose beyond pure esthetics. Their pollen was a sedative. So even if invading hordes tried to scale the fence, they’d pass out before reaching the top.

Inside the house, the reception area was awash with marble, glass, and pretentious potted plants. In one corner sat Fiona, the receptionist, dressed in silk, cashmere, and pearls; after all, nothing said ‘old money’ like pearls. In the other corner, was a coffee and snack bar stocked with cheesecake, muffins, fresh fruit, and a dozen different sorts of granola. There was also an enormous—and undoubtably expensive—coffee machine with its own operator. His name was Fred, and he was cool.

“Hey, Sera. I heard about the vampires,” Fred said as she passed in front of the bar. “Tough break. Do you think some magical meanie you thwarted sicced them on you?”

Like everyone else at Mayhem, Fred thought she was human. That’s one reason he talked to her—and snuck her tasty snacks that were meant for the clientele.

“Nah, they were probably just smitten with the caterpillar perfume I was wearing.” She took the muffin-shaped napkin bundle he’d handed her with a grin, then tucked it into her jacket.

“Dragon-summoning mages, overgrown caterpillars, warring centaurs, crazy vampires. You just can’t catch a break, can you?”

“It’s not so bad. It’s already—” She peeked at the clock on the wall. “—nine o’clock, and I haven’t gotten into a fight yet today.”

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