Prison sucked. No two ways about it, two hots and a cot was as bad as I’d feared. Not that I actually got two hots at the Prison for Magical Miscreants. Food at this lovely establishment left a lot to be desired. And my cot had one skinny blanket, which did nothing to ward off the chill that came through the tiny, open window set high in the wall. I shivered against the cold and rubbed the goosebumps off my arms. The regulation black shirt and pants the prison staff had given me were basically worthless for warmth. It was a good thing I’d be busting out of here soon, or I’d lose my mind. I hadn’t seen another person in the three days I’d been here, unless I counted the hand that shoved a bowl of gruel through the hole in the door twice a day. I should count myself lucky for that, actually. They could be coming to torture me for information instead of coming to feed me. But what I wouldn’t give for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a Cornish Pasty from my friends’ shop back home. Just the thought of my friends made my heart clench in my chest. A faint rustling sounded from behind me and I turned. A fat black and white rat ran through the hole in the stone wall.
I grinned at the sight of Rufus, who was an emissary for my buddy Emile, an Anima Mage who was locked up in another cell. Our cells were just stone boxes with wooden doors, none of that wall of bars business so popular on TV, so I’d never seen Emile in person. I could see him through Rufus, though. I shifted from where I sat on the bed and lowered my hand so that the little rat could jump onto it. Rufus hopped on, and his warm weight and tiny little paws were the best thing I’d felt the whole time I’d been here. Another being—someone who wasn’t out to get me and didn’t care that I was a FireSoul—was a welcome distraction from this hell hole. “Hey, buddy,” I said. Rufus stood up on his hind legs and twitched his pink nose, his gaze on mine. I grinned as a vision of Emile filled my head, sent by Rufus through his brother Ralph. Ralph was in Emile’s cell, looking at Emile.
My new friend’s Anima Mage powers created a connection between the four of us. As usual, Emile was sitting on his bed, his skinny form curled against the cold. He had dark hair and eyes, and though I could make out his face, the vision wasn’t very clear. Emile was getting weaker and sicker, and I suspected it was because he fed most of his rations to Ralph and Rufus. I’d started sharing with them, too, though the little rats could really scarf down some gruel. We needed to escape soon because I didn’t think Emile would make it much longer. And I was sure they weren’t going to just leave me in here. Something worse was waiting for me. “Hey, Emile,” I said. “Got some good news for me?” “Yeah,” Emile said.
“And some bad news.” I grimaced. Bad news in a place like this was usually bad. “Start with the bad.” “My trial date has been set for day after tomorrow.” “Shit.” Emile was a FireSoul like me. We were the most despised type of immortal, hunted and destroyed because we possessed the ability to steal another’s powers when we killed them. No one cared that most FireSouls had never stolen a power in their life. I’d taken powers, but only when a person offered or from people who were trying to kill me.
Though guilt still crawled up my back with little claws when I thought of it. I tried to shake it away. “Morning or night?” I asked, calculating the time we had left to escape. I wouldn’t leave here without Emile. “Not sure.” “Okay, then we assume morning. Have you heard anything about a potential trial date for me?” Like me, Emile wasn’t allowed to leave his cell. He heard things through Ralph and Rufus when they went on scouting missions. “No. I still don’t think they know you’re a FireSoul.
And I also don’t think they know your name. They normally refer to us by our last names, but they call you Prisoner 857.” “Weird.” I’d been captured a week ago while trying to rescue my best friends from a sociopath called Victor Orriodor. A member of the Order of the Magica—the government that ruled all magic users—had witnessed the rescue attempt. I’d gotten my friends out, but had been captured by the Order member’s guards after I’d used some serious magic against them. “I have no idea why he wouldn’t tell the prison what I am.” “Just be grateful,” Emile said. “You don’t have a trial date yet.” “Yeah.
I don’t know why no one has come to interrogate me, but I’ll take it.” “Breaking your spirit,” he said. “They’ll come soon enough.” I grimaced. Emile was likely looking at execution. “I’ll get us out of here before that happens.” “Do you have backup coming?” he asked. I hoped not. Del and Nix, my best friends who were really my sisters by choice, were also FireSouls. I called them my deirfiúr, sisters in our native Irish.
Though I knew they would stage a rescue attempt, I didn’t want them to risk getting tossed in here, too. I could get myself out just fine. I hoped. “We need to assume that no help is coming. But I’ve got a plan. Did Ralph and Rufus see where the guards are keeping my stuff?” “Yeah, that’s the good news.” Emile gave me directions to the room where they stored prisoners’ belongings before auctioning them off, doing his best to paint a picture of the prison that was outside my cell walls. I’d been brought here while mostly unconscious, so I had little memory of the layout. “Do you really need that stuff? It’s all the way across the prison. We should just run for it.
And how are we getting out anyway?” “Yeah, I need that stuff. I’m not letting them take anything else from me.” They had my daggers, a gift from my boyfriend, Aidan. But it was more than sentimentality. “And they took a transport charm and a Penatrist charm from me.” “Whoa,” Emile said. “Exactly. I want those back.” Penatrist charms were super valuable and insanely rare. They helped you break through protection spells, both getting in and getting out.
Like the protection spells on a prison. The transport charm would blast us right out of here. We needed both if we wanted to escape. “Be ready, Emile,” I said. “I’ll get you out of here.” He nodded, then the connection blanked out. “Thanks, buddy,” I said to Rufus as I set him on the ground near my gruel bowl. I’d saved some for him, and he started chowing down. “We’ll feed you better when we get out of here.” Rufus didn’t respond, but he did look up, gruel on his whiskers.
I grinned, then leaned against the cold wall of my prison cell and turned my attention inward, focusing on my magic. I shouldn’t be able to access my power here—the prison was enchanted to block magic—but as of last week, I was the most powerful Magica in the world. True, I didn’t have much control over my magic, but that would come. Right now, I was basically a fire hydrant of power that was trying to blow out of a straw. The result was usually an explosion. But in here, the prison’s spells dampened enough of my power that I could actually control it. They’d crush a normal Magica’s powers. A prison that allowed its magical inhabitants to use their gifts wouldn’t be very effective. Emile shouldn’t be able to use his, but there were exceptions to every rule. My theory was that Emile’s power drew from the animal’s innate magic, so he had a source of power outside of himself.
Whatever made it possible, I was grateful. Ralph and Rufus were little scouts and emissaries that were vastly improving our chances at escape. Magic thrummed in my veins, humming along my skin. I had a number of gifts to choose from, all of them stolen at some point in the last couple months. As a result, I was loaded for bear. I was a Mirror Mage, able to mimic another supernatural’s gifts, and a wolf shifter. I could send lightning shooting out of my fingertips and create illusions. Now I just had to figure out how to use these to get out of my cell. Lightning could fry the wooden door, but I didn’t want to alert the guards with the thunder that followed. And would my lightning even be strong enough? The way my magic was dampened, I thought maybe not.
That meant I was going to have to mirror the power of whatever supernatural came to deliver dinner. I’d been biding my time, waiting for a useful magical gift, but one hadn’t showed up yet. Now it seemed I was running out of time. I went over Emile’s description of the prison in my head, testing out scenarios. I hoped the dinner guard was telekinetic. That’d be ace. I could just manipulate the lock in the door to click it open. When footsteps sounded in the hall, I jerked upright, my eyes flaring open. It was too early for dinner. And no one walked down this hall outside of meal times.
The figures were still fairly far away—all the way down the hall if I had to guess. I strained my hearing, trying to count the number of people coming down the hall. My hearing had been astoundingly good since I’d unlocked my root power. Even better than the improved hearing I’d gotten when I’d taken a wolf Shifter’s power. Three pairs of footsteps. No, four. One was heavier than the rest, his footsteps plodding. My heart thundered as I waited. When they stopped in front of my door, deadly calm descended over me. This was it.
Whatever the reason four people were at my cell, I wasn’t going to like it. A key scraped against the keyhole. Part of me wanted to hide behind the door and jump them, but my advantage was in stealth. They didn’t know I could use my powers. Though I wasn’t at full strength, it was an incredible advantage. I reached out for their magical signatures, hoping to get an early hint at their gifts. What would I be working with? A sickly sweet smell hit my nose and I stiffened. The bulldog. The Order member who’d sent me to this prison had magic that smelled like that. I’d called him the bulldog for his size and heavy jowls.
He was a powerful weather witch who could also create magical shields. When the door creaked open, I held my breath. The bulldog stepped in, his piercing blue eyes going straight for me. I stiffened and glared at him. He was about sixty, dressed in a snappy suit and sporting a lumbering gait that would put someone at ease before they realized how powerful he was. Three men accompanied him. Two Magica entered behind him. They had hulking shoulders and mean-looking faces. I reached out for their magical signature, trying to get a feel for their gifts. One felt ephemeral.
Invisibility. Cool. The other felt like shocks in my bloodstream. This guy could shoot stunning spells. I’d have to be careful of him. They all wore a heavy metal bracelet. From the feel of their magic, which wasn’t repressed by the cell, the bracelets made them immune to the prison’s dampening spells, allowing them to use their magic. That wasn’t good for me. A slender man trailed behind them, pale and gaunt. His gaze was even colder than the bulldog’s, and he too wore a heavy silver bracelet.
I shivered. But then his power signature hit me. It felt like tiny bubbles in my head. Not a good feeling, not a bad one. He was a Mind Mage. I tried to school my features into placidity as I stared at the men. I needed time to get a handle on everyone’s powers so I could use them to my advantage. Particularly the Mind Mage’s. They all had different gifts over people’s minds, and I didn’t know what his was. I also wanted to know what the bulldog was up to.
He’d been colluding with Victor Orriodor, the sociopath from whom I’d rescued my deirfiúr. Victor wanted me and my deirfiúr for some unknown, terrible purpose. I wanted to know what it was. “Where are your friends?” the bulldog demanded. I laughed at him, but my heart lightened at the knowledge that he still didn’t know their names. He was Order of the Magica. If he knew their names, he’d be able to find them in an instant. He stared at me stonily. So I laughed some more, then finally choked it back and asked, “Wait, you’re serious? You expect me to actually tell you where they are?” He flicked his fingers, and the Mind Mage stepped forward. “You know what he is?” “An ugly cretin who’s thrown his lot in with a slime trail like you?” But I eyed the Mind Mage warily.
“He’s a Mind Mage. His specialty is the thalamus.” The bulldog’s disparaging gaze swept over me. “You’re clever. I’m sure you can figure out what that means.” The thalamus was one of the pain centers of the brain. Damn. I didn’t really want to mess with that kind of power. I was a thief, not a torturer. “Yeah, yeah.
You’ll try to torture me into telling you.” Which actually made my stomach heave, but I couldn’t let him know that. I’d have to be careful trying to get some answers, though. If his Mind Mage got to me before I launched my offensive, I’d be screwed. But I could probably poke a bit more. “Wouldn’t it just be a better idea to convince me to be on your side? Because I can guarantee you can’t force the info out of me.” “No?” His gaze was icy. “Obviously not. I’d gladly die before giving up my friends. And you can’t guarantee you’ll get the truth out of me anyway.
” I flicked imaginary dust off the shoulder of my prison jumpsuit and glanced back up at him. “I’m sure Victor has told you about me. I’m not your ordinary Magica. He couldn’t get what he wanted from me when I was just a kid. You definitely won’t be able to now.” “We have our ways.” “Yeah, yeah. That guy.” My gaze rested on the Mind Mage as I continued to gather up his power and that of the Invisibility Mage. It was swelling inside my chest, ready to be let free.
“Why don’t you just tell me what Victor wants us for. And why you’re allied with him? Do the rest of the Order of the Magica know what I am?” His gaze cut coldly to mine. “They will if I don’t get what I want.” So he was going to stick with the threats. But even those gave me valuable info. Whatever the bulldog was up to, the rest of the Order of the Magica didn’t know about it. He was operating behind their back. I’d suspected it, but the confirmation was literally the best piece of news I’d had all month. The two guards stepped back toward the door, blocking it. The bulldog’s right hand flicked toward the Mind Mage, then gestured toward me.
Out of time. I reached out for the guards’ invisibility and stunning powers. They were both elusive strains of magic. One felt like mist and the other sent little electric shocks over my skin, but I got a grip on their gifts. “How about some incent—” I cut off his words by throwing a blast of stunning magic at him. The magic shot from my fingers as a glittery blue streak. The bulldog crashed to his knees, his eyes rolling back in his head before he fell to his side. The Mind Mage’s pale gaze met mine, surprise in their depths. Didn’t expect me to have my magic, did ya? I called upon the invisibility gift just as he raised his hand to hit me with his magic. My skin felt shivery and wet as the magic raced over my arms and legs, concealing me from everyone in the room.
I couldn’t see my hands! It’d worked. The Mind Mage’s brows jumped as I disappeared fully. With a glance at the guards, I lunged off the bed, trying to stay silent. My bare feet helped. The burly guards rushed forward, their heads whipping around, searching for me. The Mind Mage looked as well, his gaze wide as he raised his hands to send his awful magic at me. I shot a stunning spell at him, the blue magic streaking from my fingers. I lunged to the side, trying to conceal my position now that the blue magic had given me away. The Mind Mage crashed to the ground, then lay still as a rock. I struggled to hold on to the invisibility as I edged around the room.
With the prison’s magic dampening ability, I didn’t have full access to my power. I was running low and would be visible soon. With one last surge of effort, I reached for the last of my power and sent a stunning spell at each of the guards. When the big men crashed to the ground, I leapt up and ran for the door. I hesitated over the bulldog’s prone form, staring down at his jowly face. He had evil intentions for me and my deirfiúr. I could kill him now. Whatever he had planned for us was probably worth killing him over. The support he provided Victor was bad enough. But he was incapacitated.
And I believed in fair fights. So did my deirfiúr. And I had to prove I didn’t belong in prison. Killing folks wouldn’t help that. The Order of the Magica would already be after me, even though they didn’t know my name. I didn’t need to add killing to the list of reasons they thought I should be locked up. I’d never done anything really wrong before. My tomb raiding followed all the laws for the proper disposal of dangerous magical artifacts, so I wasn’t really a thief. And I only killed demons, which was allowed, or those actively out to kill me. I couldn’t ruin my good name.
And killing a defenseless guy might actually ruin my soul. But I could definitely use that silver bracelet around his wrist. If I had full access to my power, I’d have no trouble getting out of here. I crouched down and tugged on the bracelet, careful not to touch the bulldog’s sallow skin. It didn’t budge. I frowned as I spun the thing on his wrist, searching for the clasp. It was a heavy silver piece, almost like a cuff. At the back was a tiny hole for a key. Damn it. They’d locked the things on.
Probably to keep things like this from happening. I gave it a few more tugs, trying to pull the bracelet off his wrist, but it didn’t budge. His fist was just too big. Well, shit. That wasn’t going to work. Looked like I’d be doing this the hard way. But I could feel their magical signatures despite the fact they were passed out. They could come in handy later, so I gathered up a bit of each person’s magical gift, feeling out their signatures and drawing a piece of it into me. As a Mirror Mage, I could use their magic while I was near them. Or I could store up a little bit to be used later.
I’d only have enough for one spell, but that was better than nothing. I stood and left him where he lay, then crept into the hall, my feet silent on the stone floor. Just because I’d defeated the bulldog and his goons didn’t mean there weren’t other guards lurking. Quietly, I shut the door behind me, locking them into my cell. If I was lucky, it’d be a while before they woke or any of the other guards found them. Heart in my throat, I glanced around. The stone hallway was dimly lit with flickering yellow bulbs that hung from bare wires. The prison was old, and the renovation to add electricity had obviously been done with a budget in mind. Heavy wooden doors dotted the hall, each with a small hatch at the bottom for food delivery. Emile’s cell was at one end, and my belongings were in a room on the other side of the building.
We’d agreed that I’d get my stuff first and come back for him. He was no good in a fight, he’d said. I wouldn’t make him risk himself, and if he really was as bad as he’d said, he’d be a liability. I set off down the hall, sticking close to the wall in case someone appeared. It wouldn’t give me much advantage, but it was all I had. Every now and again, I’d hear rustling from inside a cell. I couldn’t see into them, but the feeling of the occupant’s repressed magical signature made me shudder. Whoever was locked up here deserved it. This place housed FireSouls and real criminals. Murderers and monsters.
I wouldn’t feel bad about not helping them escape. Footsteps sounded from ahead. I froze, my gaze riveted to where a new hallway joined the one in which I stood. I tried the door handle nearest me, but it didn’t budge. The hair on my arms stood on end. Shit, shit, shit. There was nowhere to hide. I reached inside myself for the invisibility gift that I’d taken from one of the guards, shivering as the magic raced over my skin. The damp feeling was still there, which was awful combined with the prison’s chill air. When I glanced down at myself, all I saw was the stone wall and floor.
It’d worked. And not a moment too soon. Three guards turned the corner, headed in my direction. They were all big men with squashedlooking faces. Some kind of troll maybe. They each wore a heavy silver bracelet. So they were big and they had use of whatever magical gift they owned. I held my breath and pressed myself against the wall as they passed, praying they couldn’t hear the beat of my heart. It thundered so loudly in my ears, I was certain they had to hear it. The smallest one—who was still a good foot taller than me—hesitated as he passed me, his blunt nose twitching as if he smelled something.
Shit. I hadn’t had a bath in days. If he didn’t smell my magic, he definitely smelled my BO. I was ripe as an avocado left out in the sun. “Brar? You coming?” one of the other guards asked. He shook his head as if to clear it, then started walking again, following his friends. “You need to take a shower, Merk,” he said. “You smell like the underside of a hog’s belly.” Merk laughed, the booming sound echoing off the stone walls. My heart had climbed all the way up into my throat, making it impossible to breathe.
I was so freaked out by his hesitation near me that it took me a moment to realize he’d mistaken my BO for his friend’s. My shoulders nearly sagged in relief as they turned a corner up ahead. I almost grinned, thanking my awful odor and the lack of bathing facilities in the cell, then continued on, deciding to hold on to the invisibility as long as I could. If I dropped it now, I’d never pick it up again. I nearly jumped when something tiny scurried in front of me. Ralph. He turned and twitched his little pink nose at me, as if he were finding me by scent, then he turned and ran off down the hall. Thank you, Emile. My friend must have realized I was trying to escape and sent Ralph to lead me to the room where they stored my stuff. With Ralph leading the way, I reached the room a few minutes later.
Fortunately, I hadn’t run into any more guards. But there was one sitting at a little desk in the tiny room stuffed full of prisoners’ belongings. The woman had a mean look to her face, with drawn brows and pinched lips. She looked up when I stepped into the room. Her eyes widened. “Hey!” She raised a hand as if to shoot me with magic. My invisibility charm must have run out. I called on the last of the stunning power I’d borrowed from the guard, letting it tingle all the way to my fingertips, and zapped her. She hit the ground before the glittery blue streak of magic faded away. “Looks like I’m leaving a trail of bodies behind me,” I whispered to Ralph, who ran to one of the shelves and climbed up the side.
I followed him with my gaze, grinning when I spotted my twin obsidian daggers. They’d always been my favorite weapon, though these were replacements from Aidan for the original pair I’d lost. I grabbed them off the shelf, noting a paper tag that said Prisoner 857. My gaze skated across the shelf full of objects. Other items were tagged with names.