Pursuit of Magic – Linsey Hall

I crouched on the rooftop, the cool breeze blowing my hair away from my face. Three stories below, the Grassmarket was unusually silent for early afternoon. Normally, the supernatural district of Edinburgh would be bustling. But today, tension crackled on the air and the street was empty. A fight was about to go down, and anybody with half a brain was hiding out. Except me. Because I was here to start the fight. “They’ll be here any minute.” Ana surveyed the cobblestone street. “As long as the Protectorate’s intel was correct,” I murmured. Yesterday, we’d received word that a mob boss had moved his operations from The Vault, the underground dark magic section of town, to the main street in the Grassmarket. Today, he was planning to send his goons to threaten the shopkeepers into turning over part of their profits. As self-appointed guardian of the little guys, the Protectorate was stepping in to take care of business. And since I’d had enough of mob bosses, I was happy to join the team. “Our first real life operation,” Ana said.

“And I’m so ready.” We were here as part of our training for the Academy. On the rooftop two buildings over, Lacey and Oscar, two other trainees, were waiting to do their part. I scanned the street, searching for Cade, whom I hadn’t seen since our kiss in the Whisky and Warlock two days ago. I spotted him, lurking in an alley near an enchanted bakery. Other Protectorate members hid out as well, in alleys and behind parked cars. “There.” Ana pointed down the street. A fleet of big black SUVs drove down the cobblestone street. “Why do mob bosses always like those cars?” I muttered.

“They think it makes them look badass,” Ana said. “Our buggy is badass. Those are meant for ferrying kids to Little League.” Ana chuckled. “Hey, that’s a hard job.” “Actually, yeah. But the buggy is still cooler.” “Agreed.” I crouched low on the roof so it would be hard to see me. If they looked carefully they would, but no need to borrow trouble.

The cars pulled to a stop on the main street, right in front of the most successful shops in the Grassmarket. This was where they’d start with their threats, which, according to our intel, usually involved injury for the shop owners. We couldn’t let that happen. Especially not on our turf. This was our part of town. This job was personal. Men and women piled out of the big cars, all of them dressed in black. Horns protruded from their heads, and they had fangs and crazy skin tones like ivory and red. “Demons.” Joy lit Ana’s voice.

“Jackpot.” We could kill demons without feeling guilty. Sending them back to the Underworld was our duty. And privilege. Demons were often hired by creeps and villains, taken out of the Underworld and used to commit atrocious deeds. There were at least fifteen of them. I sucked in a breath, readying my magic. In the alley below, Cade raised a fist. The signal to start. As the most experienced fighter, he was the boss on this operation.

As one, the Protectorate members flowed out from alleyways, racing into the cobblestone street. There were six total—Cade, Jude, Caro, Ali, Haris, and Ammons, who ran the Demon Tracker Unit. They could handle the fifteen, as long as the fifteen were cornered. Trapped. Which was my job. I bounced lightly on my feet, waiting for my signal. One of the mob demons shouted, pointing to the oncoming Protectorate members. As planned, the demons hadn’t yet reached the sidewalk. They were still in the street. As soon as our guys joined them, Cade raised his hand, two fingers pointed skyward.

My cue. I hurled my magic outward, sending it toward the sewers beneath the street. It was my job to create a wall of water, trapping the demons in the street so the Protectorate could take them out. They’d never even make it into a shop to issue their ugly threats. My friends charged the demons, who had started to go toward the shops to harass the owners. I envisioned the water in the sewers shooting out of the storm drains and forming a wall, trapping the fight in the street. I’d create a coliseum of water and cobblestone ground, with walls of water trapping the bad guys so that my friends could take them out. But my magic faltered, weakening in my chest. Nausea rose inside me. I pushed harder, begging my magic to work.

I’d lost my sonic boom power, so I needed this. “You can do it,” Ana murmured. Sweat dripped down my temple. My muscles ached and my head buzzed. I sucked in a ragged breath, ignored the nausea, and pushed harder. Finally, water shot from the storm drains, forming a wall around the fighters in the middle of the street. It cut off a group of three that were racing for a potions shop. Ali and Haris, the Djinns, sprinted toward them, disappearing into two of the demons, who began to fight each other. Ali and Haris would keep it up until the demons were almost dead, then they would jump out. Behind them, Jude flicked an electric whip that sparkled like her starry eyes.

It wrapped around a tall demon with massive red horns, snapping him in half. I winced, bile rising in my throat. “She means business,” Ana murmured. “Gotta be tough.” And Jude was super tough. Caro, her platinum hair glinting in the sun, shot her jet of deadly water at a blue demon who was bearing down on her with flaming hands. It pierced the demon’s chest and flowed out the back as a red stream. “Take that!” she yelled. Cade, all lethal grace, hurled his silver shield toward two mages, beheading them in quick succession. The heads flew into the air as blood spurted.

The shield returned to Cade, and he caught it, ready to hurl again. He took aim for two more demons, but the trainees on the other building threw fireballs, taking them out first. Cade grinned, then turned to another. As if on cue, a demon looked up at us on the roof. Her black hair blew back from her horns, and she frowned, her fangs long and jagged. “Yeah, it’s me,” I muttered. “I’m making the wall of water.” Though she couldn’t hear me, she seemed to realize what was going on. If these bastards had any hope of surviving, much less threatening the shopkeepers they’d come to harass, they’d have to get by my wall. She raised her hands, which glowed with yellow light.

“No idea what that is. But I want no part.” Ana raised her hands, her magic swelling on the air, and produced a shield. The demon hurled her magic. The magic slammed into Ana’s shield and dissipated. “Ha! Don’t like that, do you?” Ana cackled. The demon shrieked her rage. In my chest, my magic faltered again. Queasiness made sweat break out on my skin. My grip on the water was fading.

Before, I’d been able to feel the water in my chest—a deep knowing. Now, I felt only a trickle. Sweating, I focused, putting all my attention toward keeping the wall of water high and strong. Beside me, Ana repelled the woman’s attacks, keeping her blows from hitting me. We’d always made a good team. But my gift faltered again, the wall of water dropping by several feet as my control weakened. We’d only make a good team if I could do my part. “Come on, Bree,” Ana muttered. I struggled, giving it my all, but the wall of water continued to drop. No, no, no.

The fight was still raging in the street, but there were several demon mobsters trying to break through my water wall to get to the shop owners. Or hell, maybe they were just trying to escape Cade’s deadly wrath. Whatever the case, I was all that stood between them and escape. And my chest was starting to feel empty, my stomach acidic. The wall of water continued to drop. Panic beat frantic wings inside my mind. “Bree!” Ana said. “Get it together. They’re going to escape. We need to send them back to hell.

” “I know.” I gasped, mind buzzing. This was so bad. Cade glanced up at me, concern creasing his brow. Finally, the water crashed to the ground, my magic tapped out. I collapsed, barely catching myself with my hands. Shit, shit, shit. I shook my head, panting, and looked up. Ana still had her shield raised, but the demon woman had stopped attacking. She was running for the shops, instead.

“We’ve got to fight,” I said. It was my job to stay up here and use my water magic, but it wasn’t working. And I couldn’t just wait and watch. That was the worst. I had to do something. My magic was kaput, but I wasn’t helpless. I ignored the sick emptiness that seethed in my belly and leapt off the roof, using the windowsills to scramble down the brick front. Ana followed. I hit the ground and drew my sword from the ether. The demon woman charged toward me.

Her gaze darted from the shop front to me. I clenched my teeth against the emptiness that filled my chest, and raised my blade. “Get out of my way,” the demon woman snarled. She raised her hands. Yellow magic sparked around them. “Not a chance in hell. Which is exactly where I’m sending you.” I drew my metal shield from the ether and held it up just as she hurled her magic. It slammed into my shield, throwing me back against the brick wall. Pain flared the wall crumbled behind me.

I growled and pushed myself off the wall, lunging toward her. Just as she started to hurl another blast of magic, I swiped out with my blade, severing her head from her neck. Blood spurted, splashing my leather jacket. Gross. I ignored it and turned, spotting a huge demon with black horns and pale ivory skin. He threw himself against the wooden door of the potion shop, trying to break it down with his shoulder. “Don’t even try it!” I shouted, then ran for him. Ana sprinted to my side, a dagger clutched in her hand. She hurled it at the demon and nailed him in his bare shoulder. He roared and turned to us, eyes blazing red.

“Hit him again,” I said. She threw her second dagger. It hit him in the chest, right where his heart should be. But he stayed standing, then charged, his face twisted in a grimace of rage. “Of course his heart is somewhere else,” Ana muttered. “You never can tell with demons.” I leapt up as the demon neared, throwing myself toward him. He reached out, his long claws slicing across my chest. Pain flared, but I ignored it, swiping with my sword. It sliced across his neck.

Blood sprayed, hitting me in the face. I gagged, dropping back onto the ground, then plunged my blade into his gut. He roared, which was really more of a garbled noise now that I’d destroyed his throat, and tumbled onto his back. I yanked my sword from his gut as he began to disappear back to the Underworld and turned to Ana. She wiped blood off her face. “You really need to avoid the arteries.” I pointed to her face. “You missed some.” She scowled and pointed at me. “Ha! As if you should talk.

” I grinned, though it felt hollow, and turned to survey the scene as my chest ached, the gash seeping blood. Almost simultaneously, Cade tore the head off a skinny demon with spindly limbs and fangs as long as my hand, while Jude split another one in two. Ali and Haris leapt out of the collapsing bodies of the last two demons. The street ran red with blood and water, but all of my friends looked okay. Some sported cuts and others limped, but everyone was standing. Not bad. Except for the fact that my magic had gone totally kaput. My shoulders sagged. With heavy feet, I approached my colleagues, who gathered in the street. All around, shopkeepers poked their heads out of doors and windows, surveying the terrain.

Cade came to join me, concern still creasing the brow of his handsome face. I tried to smile, but failed. He stood next to me, tension crackling the air between us. Unusually weak, I leaned against him, absorbing some of his strength. I might have healing powers now, but it was doing no good in the face of my faltering magic. It was worse than ever. “Good job, everyone,” Cade said. “You did well today.” “I’ll take care of the cars,” Ammons said. He pointed to Ali and Haris.

“You two can help.” The Djinn nodded and joined him. Jude looked at me. Nerves fluttered in my stomach. Cade might have been in control of the fight operations, but Jude was acting as the trainer today. That meant she was in charge of me, Ana, and the other two trainees. As far as I could tell, everyone else had done their part. Only I had failed. Because I was the DragonGod. Fancy name for someone who couldn’t control their massive freaking magic.

“Well done, you lot.” Jude’s gaze traveled to me. “But Bree—you were supposed to stay on the roof.” “I wanted to help.” “She did do a good job,” Caro said. Jude sighed. “I know. But with power as strong as yours, you need to be careful. Our roles have reasons, and I know that inaction kills you, but it’s for the best when we stick to our assignments. One day, you’ll act too quickly and regret it.

You wouldn’t have gotten that wound if you’d waited.” I didn’t mind the wound, but I nodded, knowing she was right. The Protectorate was all about planning and roles—mitigating damage through control. And they had a point. “We’ll meet in my office when we return, Bree,” Jude said. “You too, Ana. We have some things to talk about regarding the Rebel Gods.” I nodded. Good. As much as I hated to face the music, I wanted answers.

It’d been three days since I’d learned I was a DragonGod and that a group called the Rebel Gods was after me. I’d been trying to get a meeting with Jude or Hedy to learn more, but apparently all I’d had to do was blow my part of a big operation. The crowd broke up. Ana drifted away to hover by the sidewalk. I shot her a thankful smile, then looked up at Cade. He was handsome as ever, with his dark hair gleaming in the sun and a black T-shirt stretched over his muscular chest. The two days since our kiss now seemed like an eternity. Nerves skated across my skin, making me shiver. “Are you all right?” His gaze traced over my face. “Probably not.

” “Your magic?” “Yes. Arach told me it would go haywire and start to devour itself, but it’s happening sooner than I expected.” I reached out for the water in the sewer again, feeling the slightest bit of magic tug in my chest. Dingy water swelled up from the storm drain, then disappeared back underground. “Damn it.” Cade pulled me in for a hug, squeezing me tight. I absorbed his strength, my heart fluttering at the warmth of his muscles. “You’ll figure it out,” he said. “I sure hope Jude has some info for me. I’ve been waiting two days.

No one will talk to me.” I pulled back and scowled. They’d made me train as normal, but nothing was normal. “And you’ve been nowhere to be seen.” “You want to pump me for information, too?” A seductive smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “Maybe.” Mostly, I’d just wanted to see him. But now wasn’t the time to talk about that. I wanted answers, and if Jude was about to give them to me, I needed to be there. “I’m going to go.

See you later.” He shook his head. “I’m coming with you.” “To the meeting with Jude?” “Aye. It was delayed because we had to figure out what the hell is going on.” “Well, good. Let’s get a move on. Because I want answers about the DragonGods, the Rebel Gods, and how the heck I’m going to keep my magic.” Twenty minutes later, Ana, Cade, and I met Jude and Hedy in the round room. Also known as the war room, it was where they met when things were dire.

Apparently, I qualified. Or at least, my situation did. The round room was the oldest part of the castle, where the walls were made of heavy stone and the wooden floors were beaten and scratched. Here, tapestries covered the walls, and sconces glowed golden, but it still had a heavy air to it. Jude and Hedy already sat at the round table. I’d done my best to wipe the demon blood off my face, but I hadn’t wanted to waste time changing. Demon blood might be gross, but my thirst for answers outweighed the ick-factor. Cade, Ana, and I joined them at the table. After our kiss in the pub two days ago, I’d told Cade what I was. He’d been impressed, which—I couldn’t lie—I’d totally liked.

“Why did it take so long to have this meeting?” I blurted out. Annoyance—tinged strongly with fear—buzzed in my veins. “Two days is hardly long.” Jude smiled calmly. “You just found out you were a DragonGod.” “Two days is long if your magic is devouring itself.” Jude’s starry blue eyes darkened with understanding, and perhaps even a bit of sadness. “We weren’t expecting your magic to go haywire so quickly.” “It may be because it is so strong,” Hedy said. “Each power is fighting for dominance and suppressing the others faster than we expected.

” “What do I do?” I asked. If I wanted to stay at the Protectorate, I needed my magic. Not to mention, it felt like hell when it went haywire. Nausea was a constant companion, as was a strong feeling of loss. “That’s what has taken us days to decide,” Jude said. “We needed to consult a seer and other resources to determine the right course of action. And to determine if our concerns were warranted.” “And?” Ana asked. “We’ll start with the Rebel Gods,” Jude said. “Yes.

” I leaned forward, anxious to learn more. The only thing I knew about them was that they had a book with their name on it—in Latin. And a crazy woman with dark magic worked for them, hunting us. “What did you learn?” “Until now, the Rebel Gods were ancient history, as far as we were concerned. No one has heard from them for hundreds of years. They were an organization that wreaked havoc upon magical populations, stealing and enslaving.” “For what purpose?” I asked. “Did you figure out what was written in the little book that I found a few days ago?” “Only the cover was in Latin,” Hedy said. “The rest was in an unknown language. Florian, the ghost librarian, is working on a translation, but he hasn’t found one yet.

” “Dang.” I frowned. “What did you already know about them?” “We’ve never known what their main goal was,” Jude said. “Maybe power, or wealth. Their motivations were lost to history. But our seer confirms that they are back—returned to the earth for a specific purpose.” “Hunting us?” I guessed. Jude inclined her head. “Yes, that could be it. They have shown a marked interest in you.

The seer believes that they are a great threat to the Protectorate.” “The curse last week made that pretty clear,” I said. Their dark magic had threatened to destroy the whole castle. “It did.” Hedy nodded. “And they were likely after you.” “So I need to go after them,” I said. “Bring the fight. I don’t like waiting.” Ana huffed a small laugh beside me, one that clearly said, Ain’t that the truth.

“No, you don’t,” Jude said. “In some cases, your bravery is a boon. In others, you jump too quickly. It has been your greatest weakness during your training. You always win the fight, Bree. Always. But with magic as strong as yours, you must learn to deploy it only when necessary.” My cheeks heated. But she was right. She’d mentioned this to me before, and I was working on it.

But I needed to try harder. I nodded at her. “Good,” Jude said. “If you want to go after the Rebel Gods, you must conquer the magic inside you. The new powers that you are developing are starting to devour each other, leaving you almost helpless. You must learn how to anchor such strong magic.” I shifted uncomfortably, hating that word. I wasn’t helpless. I had my sword and speed and guts. But without my magic… She was right.

.

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