“God, who knows what he sees in her,” one of the girls said as she applied her lipstick. She leaned in close to the mirror, planted a hand on the white basin, and smiled at her reflection.
The other girl snorted. “Beats me. She has no looks, she has little magic, and she isn’t from a known family. Maybe Damien King is just playing with her.”
The first girl snorted. “Maybe it’s charity work. Apparently he needs it if he’s going to have any hope of following in his father’s footsteps and heading up the Magical Enforcement Unit.”
“Yeah, charity work. I think it would be easier and a whole lot more pleasant to spend his time cleaning toilets than going out with that thing.”
On the term that thing, Felicity stared at her hands. She was sitting on the toilet seat in the last stall in the bathroom. The door was open a crack, and her legs were up by her chest.
She hugged them tightly as she turned her face to the side. She wiped a few stray tears on her scuffed trouser legs.
She tried not to react to their cruel comments. She’d been hearing them for several months now.
Why had Damien King picked her? Damien, the most attractive, most powerful, most eligible magician in all the school? She didn’t know. Luck? Her looks? Her magic? Felicity Smith possessed none of those.
… As stupid as it sounded, she just thought he cared for her.
He had to, right? Otherwise that enigmatic smile he always shot her – the one that took over his face like dawn pushing back the night – wouldn’t count. Nor would the way he looked at her with those sparkling eyes that suggested he could take her away from all of this if only she trusted him. Nor would the soft press of his fingers as they always curled around hers whenever he walked her across the grounds.
“Come on, let’s go. We can’t miss the party later tonight,” the first girl said. There was the echoing click of her makeup bag as she shoved her lipstick back into it.
“Yeah. Come on.”
Together, both girls walked out.
Felicity wasted a whole minute there as she dried her eyes on her pants. Only when they were completely dry did she inch forward, push off the seat, carefully grab the bathroom door, peek around it, and walk out. Even then, she paused in front of the mirrors. Not for long. She hated mirrors.
Felicity was plain. Or normal, at least. And around here, normal was ugly. She’d somehow found her way into the most prestigious academy of magic in the country. It was full of old, rich, entitled families. The kind of families that had been perfecting their image – including the faces of their children – for centuries.
Felicity? She had kind of dull hazel eyes that might look pretty under sunlight but sure as hell wouldn’t pop on a selfie. Neither did her shoulder-length, glossy black hair count. It didn’t matter that from the right angle you could see a few flashes of deep blue indigo shining through each strand. Nor would it count that, according to her grandma at least, she had a great smile.
From whatever angle you looked at it from, Felicity still wasn’t good enough.
… For everyone but Damien, that was.
She held onto that thought as she trailed her fingers down her cheek one last time. She patted her collar, tried to neaten up her appearance, and walked out.
She expected those girls to be long gone. They weren’t. They were parked right outside of the toilet stalls texting on their phones.
One of them – Josephine Lay, the undisputed princess of Broadstone Academy – looked right at Felicity and smiled. It was the kind of move that told Felicity Josephine had known she was in that toilet stall all along.
“You poor thing. You look all red-cheeked and bleary-eyed. Have you been crying, dear?” Josephine asked.
Felicity resisted the urge to wipe her face again. She shrugged. “I got something in my eye.”
Josephine’s friend, Virginia, laughed. It was grating.
Maybe none of her other friends thought that, but practically everything in this school grated on Felicity’s nerves. From the way people talked to her, to the way they treated her, to the expectations they thrust upon her after graduation. It always felt like someone had claws on her skin and they were dragging them down her back to get to the bones beneath.
Felicity shrugged off that image as she strode the halls.
She was in the girls’ wing. Everyone was still in their uniforms – blouses, blazers, skirts, and holsters for their wands. Though the skirts weren’t required, very few girls didn’t wear them. Why wouldn’t they? They all had perfect tan legs that were devoid of the burns that covered Felicity’s thighs and shins from an accident in her first year.
Despite the fact classes were over, people were still in their uniforms. Students were expected to always uphold the standards of the most prestigious school in all of the country – the oldest, too. For the history of Broadstone reached back thousands of years. You were always required to wear your uniform, and it had to be perfect, down to every last stitch. When Felicity had gained a bursary scholarship to come here, her grandmother had spent three full weeks trying to teach Felicity how to maintain her uniform. It had certain magical enchantments in it – as did everything in this world. If those enhancements worked fine, then the uniform would appear pristine. If they malfunctioned, it would become disheveled over the day. You might start the morning looking fine, but by the end of classes, your blouse and blazer would hang off you like loose rags.
Felicity had honestly tried to learn how to upkeep her uniform, but she wasn’t good enough. It – like her self-esteem – had started crumpling the first day she’d put it on.
She tried to neaten her collar again and hide behind her hair as she walked past another troupe of girls. They were standing around, their wands in their hands as they practiced makeup spells.
There was meant to be some kind of party tonight.
Okay, who was Felicity kidding? It wasn’t going to be just some kind of party. It was the most anticipated entry on the social calendar for the year. It was the magical equivalent of homecoming.
Technically, Felicity would be going with Damien. That didn’t mean that Felicity would be the queen of the ball. To be honest, she didn’t want to be, anyway. She was sick of the attention.
She wanted to go back to the days when no one ever saw her. She would flit from class to class like a shadow.
Then Damien had noticed her one day. His deep green eyes had locked on hers and…. she’d been pulled away out of her drab world into one that sparkled but burnt.
Felicity rubbed her cheek one last time, let her hand fall, and curled her fingers into a determined fist.
She wasn’t going to let those girls get her down.
She headed back to her room.
She shared a room with other outcasts – though Felicity was at the bottom of the pack, even with them.
As one girl walked out, she didn’t even bother to hold the door open for Felicity. The magical locking spell that ensured only people coded to their dormitory room could access it malfunctioned, and the door smashed right into Felicity’s face.
She pushed back just in time before it could break her nose. It still hurt like hell.
Rubbing her face, she locked a hand on the handle, concentrated, and asked it to open.
Most other witches her age didn’t have to concentrate as much as she did. Once upon a time, Felicity had been good at magic. She really had. Otherwise she would never have gotten a bursary to this prestigious school. But getting into school and being able to deal with the stress of being here were two very different things. Almost immediately, her stellar grades had dropped off.
“But it will still land you a good job,” she whispered under her breath only once she’d confirmed that there was no one else in the room.
She stood there and stared around. There were four beds arrayed around the four corners of the room. They were in the cardinal directions. The room itself had been architecturally designed based on the Golden Mean.
Every single method to magnify magic had been used – both here and in the rest of the building.
Felicity scratched her arm, dabbed at her cheek once more, and reached her bed. She wanted to flop-face first onto it.
She didn’t get that opportunity.
The window just beside her bed was half open. The other girls hated it, but Felicity loved a breeze. It reminded her that out there, there was a bigger world and her wretched existence in here would end one day.
She swore she heard a scream filtering in on the wind.
Frowning hard, she pushed toward it, grabbed the edge of the windowsill, and shoved her head out.
At first, she convinced herself that she hadn’t heard a thing, and she went to push away. Then she heard that cry cutting through the air once more.
Her gaze immediately flicked over the grounds.
They were massive. They had to be. Broadstone Academy dealt with preschoolers right up to graduate researchers. The entirety of magical education was taught here. There were approximately 2000 students who went to the academy.
She let her gaze jolt across the sprawling green grounds that were hemmed in by massive old sandstone buildings. The buildings together formed a perfect square. Outside of that square was another circle of green, and beyond that, another square of academy buildings.
Circles and squares concentrated magic. They also concentrated sounds. She heard another echoing cry, and immediately, the skin along the back of her neck started to prickle.
She pushed further out of the window, grabbing it in one bony, white-knuckled hand. The wind caught her shoulder-length hair and beat it across her cheeks and neck.
As she focused her sight, finally, she saw a group of figures way out in the distance. Judging by how they moved and their flowing robes, they had to be teachers.
They were also running.
Fear bolted through Felicity, and she jerked back. “It couldn’t be another murder, could it?” she stammered.
“What are you talking about?” One of her roommates had just walked in. “Can you please close the window? It’s freezing out there.”
“I just heard a scream. And I saw teachers rushing off toward the gymnasium.”
Her roommate arched an eyebrow, then, without apologizing, jerked over, grabbed the open window off Felicity, and shoved her own head out. “I can’t see anything, idiot.”
Felicity didn’t react to her tone. If she started reacting to people treating her badly, she’d never get anything done. The whole school – from the students to the teachers – treated her like dirt they were just waiting to throw in the trash. She pointed off in the direction that she’d seen the teachers running.
At first, there was nothing, and her roommate let out a groan. “God, you’re an idiot—”
She stopped. Another keening cry split across the grounds.
Felicity might be making this up, but it sounded like it came from a man.
“God,” her roommate said, and there was almost a note of glee in her tone. “You don’t think it’s another murder, do you?”
Felicity couldn’t respond. Her skin was crawling. Her intuition was playing up, for what it was worth.
Once upon a time, Felicity had thought she’d had a pretty good sense of things. But if she had, she would never have come here to this nightmarish school.
Still, she couldn’t deny the specific feelings that bubbled through her gut and crawled up her spine. They told her something dark had just happened.
Her roommate continued to push all the way out of the window. When the door opened, and another roommate walked in, they both congregated around the window.
Felicity was shunted back.
Her palms became sweaty, and she opened her hands quickly and closed them.
Maybe to the rest of the people at Broadstone a murder would be seen as nothing more than a bit of school drama, but in the real world, they were horrifying, terrifying things.
Felicity’s own parents had been murdered.
As that memory struck her, she turned. She went to flop onto her bed, but she quickly changed her mind. She grabbed her jacket and walked out.
No one noticed.
By the time she reached the corridor, it was clear that other people had heard what was going on. They were congregating in one of the long hallways near a massive window that showed an unrivaled view of the grounds.
Josephine was there, and though Felicity could be making this up, she looked more gleeful than anyone else.
There had been approximately five murders in Broadstone’s history. Considering it was over two thousand years old, that was a testament to how protected this place was. Violent crime was common in the magical community. Though it was decidedly less common around the elite’s children and in one of the most protected buildings in the country, it still occurred even here.
Of those five murders that had been perpetrated over that thousand-year span, three of them had occurred this year.
Maybe it was part and parcel of the fact that Felicity had grown up in the real world before she’d joined the magical one, but she expected that to mean something. It shouldn’t just horrify people but shake them to the core. Clearly there was a serial killer on campus. But if you’d think that would bother these rich elites, you’d be wrong.
None of the three murders had affected anyone noteworthy.
One had been a bursary kid just like Felicity. She’d been in her first grade. She’d been all of 10 years old. Another had been a groundsman. The last had been a teacher.
Though the teacher had technically been well respected, that didn’t matter. He’d also been from a poor family.
And that’s why, as Felicity walked the halls, it was clear that the possibility of another murder was nothing more than entertainment. Why get het up about it if someone was only killing those less fortunate? Hell, to a lot of the students who attended Broadstone, it was poetic justice. Poor people had no place here. If someone was killing them to get rid of them, maybe the faculty would finally realize that bursary scholarships were a waste of time, as was hiring anyone who didn’t have the correct family credentials.
Though Felicity never got angry – ever – she found herself curling her hands into fists as she walked the halls.
Fortunately people were too distracted by what was going on to pay any attention to her.
She reached a set of magical lifts, hesitated, then pressed one knuckle into the call button.
She walked inside. Several girls walked out, and they were quickly ushered over by Josephine.
Felicity pressed her back against the metal wall of the lift and closed her eyes as the doors shut.
Her intuition was still playing up. This sense was climbing her back, and with every second, it was getting darker and darker.
By the time the lift opened, she had to shove her finger into her collar and pull it out. It felt like someone was chaining her up by the throat.
This prickling, niggling sense climbed her back. For whatever reason, it was marching down her arms. It played along the skin until it reached her wrists. And there it started to wrap around her, tighter and tighter.
Once she reached the main foyer, it was chaos. Teachers were running back and forth. She didn’t need to see their completely ashen expressions to know that something was going on. It was all in their body language and the fact that several of them had their wands out and they were fully charged.
It was no longer a question of if there’d been another murder – there had been. She heard as much as two teachers ran past. “The body is strung up. We have to get it down before anyone sees it.”
Felicity closed her eyes. She pressed them as tightly shut as she could. She let a few tears trail down her cold cheeks.
Whoever the next victim was, she’d do them the dignity of at least crying for their death. No one else around here would.
“I don’t understand. Why did they target him?” another teacher said, her voice pitching up high.
That niggling sense in Felicity’s gut turned a corner. A sharp one. Her intuition started to blare in her ears. Her vision even became a little foggy. That sensation of something wrapping around her wrists became 10 times worse.
“Just move. We have to get him down before anyone sees. If this gets out…” one teacher trailed off.
It felt like there was a shadow behind Felicity. As she took another weak step forward, that shadow only grew.
Felicity had always been alone. She couldn’t remember her parents – just their murders. She’d been a toddler at the time. The blood, the magic, the screams – they’d stayed with her. But all of her mother’s kindness and her father’s cheeky humor hadn’t. She’d only heard about it from her grandmother. And Nana Layla was now dead, too.
“We can’t let anyone take a photo. Put up a complete magical field,” one of the senior teachers snapped as he strode through the hall, his navy-blue robes twisting around him as magic coiled up his skin.
“If you put up a complete magical field, it will be harder to figure out what went on,” one of the saner teachers said.
“This cannot get out. One of our most prestigious students has been targeted. We cannot let any pictures leave the school. Do it,” he roared.
It was as if they just couldn’t see her. The teachers were striding around, but none of them seemed to care that she was there. Though that often happened to Felicity, and she knew there was no point putting her hand up during class, now it just didn’t feel right.
It was like she was an insignificant speck of dust in a massive galaxy – one that was being swept away as a new wave of dark intuition struck her.
… One of the most prestigious students had been attacked.
One of the most prestigious students….
The day Damien had started to pay attention to Felicity, everything had changed. He’d been like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise completely dark world. She could still remember when she’d tripped over and sprained her ankle right in front of him. She’d been walking along one of the beautiful old sandstone verandas. One of the girls had tripped her up. They’d left a string spell. Kind of like a garroting wire, but at ankle height, any witch worth her magic would’ve been able to detect it. Felicity hadn’t. She’d fallen face-first into Damien’s chest.
The laughter that had rocketed around the grounds could’ve deafened her.
But what came next had practically blinded her instead. She’d never had anything to do with Damien King. Why would she have? He was the undisputed king of the school. His father was the head of the Magical Enforcement Unit, and his mother was a decorated spell caster. His family was one of the oldest in the area. Oh yeah, and he was handsome. Truly handsome. That didn’t really mean much in the magical world. With enough magic and no conscience, you could change your baby’s face forever. It didn’t matter that it was technically illegal to use magic on your children. Nothing stopped the elites. They crafted their children’s personas and physiques from the day they were born.
But there’d been something different about Damien. Sure, he had a perfect jaw, stunning eyes, and cheekbones you could carve a steak on. But it was what was in his eyes that had counted. He had this… light.
Like an angel from heaven, he’d bestowed that light upon her the day she’d fallen into him. Rather than shove her off, he’d picked her up. And God, she could still remember the way his arms had collapsed around her back and legs. She’d even trembled. He’d just smiled as he’d taken her straight to the nurse’s office.
… From there, it had been a dream. Or a fairytale. He’d asked her out that very week.
Then the stares had started. And the comments. And the backstabbing and bullying. In the past, Felicity had been in the background – something to be ridiculed when she was in front of the elites, but otherwise something to be ignored.
She shuddered again. That sense of a shadow passing over her only grew. It made her skin crawl.
One of the teachers walking past shook his head, his cheeks paling so badly, it looked as if they’d been painted with undercoat. “There has to be some mistake. Has anyone checked that it’s not an illusion spell? No one would go after the most skilled student of the school.”
… The most skilled student of the school.
There was no one like Damien. His prowess for magic was completely freakish. Yeah, okay, so he came from some pretty powerful parents, but he topped every single class he took. It didn’t matter if it was athletics, dark defense, or human law. There was no one like him.
He was the undisputed top of Broadstone.
And he was now….
Her hands started to become itchy. One of the first things you learned as a witch was to control your magic around your emotions. You weren’t allowed to start school until you could. Fair enough. School was a stressful place – which had already been evidenced. If you started letting your skills blast out at every argument, there would be hell.
But now she forgot that most cardinal of lessons. Magic began to crackle around her wrists. It shunted up her arms and played over her back. It pressed into her left shoulder, to be precise. It was almost as if it was creating the outline of a hand.
Shivering, her whole body cold, she reached forward and tried to grab the sleeve of a passing teacher. “Excuse me—”
The guy just strode off.
So she tried to get in front of another teacher. They just walked around her.
It was like she was invisible.
“Excuse me,” she said louder.
No one paid any attention to her.
“Who’s been killed? Who’s been killed?” she stammered.
No one answered.
Felicity grabbed her arms and locked them around her middle. She started to shake from her toes to the top of her head. “Who’s dead?” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
People turned around, but then they turned right back. No one even paused to tell her to get out of here.
Then the doors opened.
Two teachers walked in. Between them was a student.
A male student. A dead student.
He was covered in blood and marked with dark symbols, and even from here, she could tell that he was as cold as the heart of a glacier. But nothing, nothing could be as cold as her heart right now.
Felicity fell to her knees, she clutched her hands over her face, and she cried.
This, right here, would be the day that changed her life for good. Or rather, for bad.
They say of the dark magical arts that the darkest magic of all comes from revenge. The seed of vengeance in human hearts contains by far the greatest power, because it is the one behavior that is truly destructive. It will see you burn through every bridge, crush every friendship, and rip apart every family. It will see you strangle your own life, if only you can in turn strangle your enemy.
What happened next happened quickly. The school became chaotic. Parents came and picked up their children – or at least those that had parents. The media came, despite the faculty’s best efforts to keep them out.
And Felicity cried. But no one heard her. No one saw her. No one cared. It was like she’d become a shadow at the edge of everyone else’s existence.
When the media came, asking for the students’ stories, no one wanted to speak to her.
When the faculty did the rounds, trying to find out what students knew, no one bothered to knock on her door.
And all the while, Felicity’s heart crumbled further.
Once upon a time, Felicity had been innocent. She’d known very little about the magical world – just what her grandmother had told her, and her grandmother had always filtered what she’d shared. Perhaps Nana Layla had thought that she’d been doing Felicity a favor. Anything but. The blinkers had been ripped off Felicity’s eyes when she’d joined the academy.
She now knew just how dark and twisted this world could be. But the next few days took her to a place even she hadn’t been able to imagine. She became a blur of tears. A blur of self-recrimination. And a blur of repeating, dark thoughts.
If the faculty had cared more about the murders, they could’ve stopped this. If they’d given a shit about the fact that poor people had been targeted, they could have invited the police in earlier and caught the perpetrator.
But they hadn’t. Because no one ultimately cared if someone like her died. If they had, they would’ve stopped someone like Damien from dying instead.
Felicity sat on the edge of her bed. The window was wide open. Her roommates were out. They were attending a wake for Damien. She hadn’t been invited.
It was raining, just pounding down. It was like God was punishing the land. A wind swept in through the open window, buffeting everything it could. It was like greedy hands clutching at everything in sight. It sent her hair tumbling around her face. It kept striking her cheeks. Every blow felt more powerful than tears made from steel.
Her hands were clutched in her lap. Her fingers were twisted all the way in.
Why the hell had this happened to her? Why the hell were the things she cared about always taken away?
Why the hell did this twisted magical world exist?
She balled up her hands even harder, and she struck them against the sides of her bed.
A few magical crackles spilled around her skin.
She’d had trouble controlling her emotions ever since the murder. If she kept going like this, she’d get kicked out of the academy.
She didn’t care. She twisted her knuckles all the way in until it felt like they would pop out of her hands like projectiles. Then she struck her bed again and again.
She squeezed her eyes closed. But she didn’t want to sit there crying forever. As the wind howled outside, it felt like her anger cried even more violently inside her heart.
It became too much. She thrust up.
She started to walk around the room.
She stared at her roommates’ beds. They were perfect. There wasn’t a rumple in the sheets or bed covers – just like with their owners.
They might have been scholarship kids, but they’d never had to deal with what Felicity was going through.
Once upon a time, her grandmother had told her that she wasn’t unlucky. Okay, so not everybody lost their parents in a violent attack at the age of two. But Felicity shouldn’t take that as evidence that she was cursed. Life just had twists and turns. You had to learn its dance. If you didn’t, no matter how unfortunate or fortunate you were, you would fall into the waiting trap of anger. Nobody, despite appearances, had a perfect life. If you followed the path of rage, it would happily ruin a beggar or a king.
Nana Layla hadn’t believed in revenge. She’d only believed in turning the other cheek and moving on.
But now she was dead. So there was no one to pull Felicity back.
She curled her hands into fists. She sunk her fingernails all the way into her tender flesh. It felt like she wanted to wrench it from her bones.
She screamed. Thrusting her head forward and opening her mouth, she let magic spill over her, and she screamed again. The anger fed into her power until it blazed around her body.
It was a stronger display than any she’d ever managed in class.
She screamed once more. Then she started hitting things.
She couldn’t stop.
It wasn’t fair. None of this stupid damn mess was fair.
She walked over to Genevieve’s bed. There was no one crueler than Genevieve, maybe save for Josephine. After Damien’s death, Genevieve had all but blamed Felicity. “If he hadn’t taken pity on you, he probably wouldn’t have been targeted. How does it feel to have your boyfriend’s blood on your hands?”
“Shut up,” Felicity screamed at the memory. White-hot licks of magic traced up her face then gathered speed until they raced down her arms. She pounded her fist into Genevieve’s bed.
The blow wasn’t strong enough to completely destroy it. Even with anger feeding Felicity’s magic, she still wasn’t that strong. But at least it started a fire. It rose and curled over Genevieve’s bed cover. It reached the wood. It started to bubble the paint on the wall behind.
Felicity couldn’t stop.
She was gonna get kicked out now. Hell, she’d probably get sued, and Genevieve’s family would take the very last things that Felicity owned. So why stop now? She turned on the rest of the room. She started to trash everything her roommates owned. Then she turned around and destroyed her own damn bed.
It wasn’t until she began to take her anger out on the door that an alarm split the air.
By that stage her face was red, the skin along her knuckles was burning from too much power, and her eyes were wide, glimmering with tears and soul-crushing rage.
None of this was fair. Screw this world and everything it had ever done to her. And screw every last soul who’d had anything to do with Damien’s death.
As Felicity stood there, rocking back and forth on the spot, her rage never ebbing but always growing, she heard that alarm being picked up and played across the school grounds. Soon enough, she heard the pounding sound of footfall.
She stood there and breathed. Her hair was a mess as it hung down in front of her face. It sat limply against her sweat-covered brow.
Her skin still burnt from the fire spell that raged up her arms. She had to stop, but she couldn’t.
She just couldn’t deal with this.
Someone started to hammer on the door. “What’s going on in there?”
What was going on in here was that Felicity was losing it.
She squeezed her eyes closed, threw a hand out toward the door, and activated its internal magical lock.
She took one more glance at the door, then let her gaze trace across the burning room, then over to the open window. She stared at the dark, rain-soaked lawns and buildings. She wanted to tear this place down, brick by brick. She wanted to make them pay for what they’d done. Sure, Nana Layla had always told her that there was no power in revenge, but she’d been missing something. If you just sat there and smiled at life’s misfortunes, you never changed anything for anyone else.
There would be other girls like Felicity. This academy seemed primed to create them. No, this whole magic world did. In order for the elites to rule, they had to have other people to feel more powerful than.
Nothing would change.
Unless someone tore it down.
That hammering became a hell of a lot more insistent. “Stand back, we’re going to destroy the door,” someone snarled.
She imagined they only bothered to tell her to stand back because there was a rule that required it, not because they cared about her.
If Felicity had died instead of Damien, there would have been no wake. There would’ve been no media. There would’ve been nothing – no one would have cared.
Magic pounded into the door. She could see it shuddering.
She stared at it.
She’d be going to jail for this.
But what was the point of going to jail? It would give the kids at the academy something to laugh about. She’d become a sad story – nothing more.
Meanwhile, she would rot in magical prison, and she would rot, and she would rot.
She pumped her hands into fists. She stared at the window.
She could run, but there was no real point. There wouldn’t be anywhere for her to go. Everybody would know it was her who’d trashed the room.
Running was better than rotting, though, right?
She turned on her foot. She thrust toward the open window.
She reached it and threw herself out just as the door was blasted off its hinges. They used so much magic to disable the lock that it smashed into the wall. If she’d been standing there, she would’ve died. Hell, she would have been pulverized into magical dust.
As she threw herself out of the window, rain and wind lashed her. They interacted with her magic, making it crackle and spark around her t-shirt and jeans as she fell down the side of the building.
She squeezed her eyes closed, cast a quick spell with her fingers, and let magic blast over her skin as she smashed into the sodden grounds.
Her spell was enough to ensure that she didn’t die, but it wasn’t enough to save her ankle. It snapped with a sickening crack.
She let out a scream. At that exact moment, lightning flashed overhead and the ensuing thunder obscured it.
Suddenly, she saw the perfect image of Damien’s smiling face – the way he’d looked at her after she’d fallen into his arms the first time.
He’d been there to pick her up. There was no one to pick her up anymore.
So Felicity did it for herself. With a groan, she pushed to her feet.
Her ankle wobbled badly. Gritting her teeth, she ignored it. She thrust into the dark grounds. The rain only became all the more violent.
It was such a powerful storm and there was so much lightning that it started to disrupt certain magical charms that kept the academy protected.
It would also play havoc with their magical sensors.
… In other words, Felicity was in luck. For the first time in her damn life, something was actually going her way.
Staggering, she managed to rip off a section of her T-shirt, spell it with a pretty rudimentary magical enchantment, and tie it loosely around her ankle. It quickly sucked in, squeezing tightly against her skin.
It dulled the pain. It could do nothing for the break. Running on it would only make it worse. But she had no option.
She reached the half-open stone outside corridor that led around the side of the building. She ran through it, her bare feet transferring sweat, grass, and blood with every footstep.
When a door opened further down and several teachers spilled out, she cursed and thrust into the grounds.
Lightning continued to rage overhead, and thunder bellowed through the clouds.
The storm lashed the grounds.
Felicity had always been a shadow. Until Damien had shone light on her, that was. Now he was gone, maybe she’d slipped back into the darkness again, because she managed the impossible. She made it right across Academy grounds to the secondary building without being captured.
Teachers kept spilling out of doors looking for her, but she managed to give them the slip.
Pain ate up her leg. It sank hard into her knee. She kept trying to recast the magical enchantment on her bandage, but it was becoming weaker with every frantic step.
She came to a stop suddenly as she heard teachers ahead. She pressed her back up against a section of an old sandstone wall, squeezed her eyes closed, and tried not to think about what she’d done and what she was doing.
She heard several teachers. They were in the room behind. She pushed down and shrunk away from a nearby window as her chest froze, her breath forming an immovable cork in her throat.
She heard their hurried, angry voices. There was a door to her left, and they neared it. If she ran now, the teachers up ahead would catch her. If she didn’t run, she’d get captured anyway.
Come on, come on, luck, just hold out a little longer. Just a little longer, she begged.
Another few strikes of lightning blasted across the grounds. Suddenly, one struck the main building.
Even from here, she could hear the cacophony of it interacting with the magical seals that protected the old place. A boom echoed out over the grounds, and the wall she was pressed up against shook.
The teachers who’d been ready to open the door and catch her screamed in surprise, and they ran in the opposite direction back into the building.
Felicity opened her eyes, let her lips fall apart, and gasped.
Spying an opportunity, she thrust off the wall and threw herself across the grass into the darkness beyond.
She made it around the second ring of sandstone buildings.
There was a thick forest around Broadstone Academy. It protected it from the city beyond.
It was technically located right in the middle of town. That forest was an enchantment that ensured people couldn’t just come and go as they pleased.
It was a damn dangerous place. But somehow, Felicity managed to get through.
Her luck held all the way until she reached a nondescript red door right on the edge of the trees.
Crying her last tear, she turned over her shoulder, stared through the forest, shook her head, and opened the door.
She was out.
Layla had sent her to the academy in order to give her a better life.
Now Felicity’s life could not be worse.
She staggered out of the door and exited into a nondescript laneway.
She knew she had to run. It wouldn’t take long for the teachers to deal with the damage to the central building and come after her.
Though she imagined none of them would’ve expected her to make it through the forest, they would check the various exit points that led from it anyway.
The urgent need to run didn’t stop her from staggering over to a nearby rain-lashed wall and pressing her cheek against it. Her eyes were still open. They came perilously close to the ragged brick. She stared at it as water raced down the murky surface. Several trickles pooled over her nose, pushed against her lip, and pressed into her mouth.
It tasted like dirt and soot.
She didn’t care. She continued to stare at the wall.
There was another strike of lightning further out into the city.
Though Broadstone was magically located in the middle of the city, it didn’t have its own weather patterns. What happened to Casa City, happened to Broadstone.
It felt like the storm of the century was raging overhead. As forks of lightning split the sky above her, she was forced to jerk away from the wall. She stared at the sky fleetingly. Then she pulled her head down. She ran her trembling fingers over her cheeks.
She ignored her ankle, though it was the hardest thing in the world to do.
She pushed forward.
… There was nowhere for her to go.
She couldn’t go back to her grandma’s house, despite the fact she now owned it – though the tiny two-bedroom house on the outskirts of town was worth nothing.
The faculty would come looking for her. No, who was she kidding? They would’ve handed her case over to the Magical Enforcement Unit by now.
Felicity was going to be hunted.
She… she should’ve thought this through. Dammit, she should’ve held onto her anger. She should’ve done what her grandmother had always taught her.
Just as she squeezed her eyes closed and realized how screwed she was, she shook her head. “No, stuff that. Everything gets taken from me, and I’m not even allowed to be angry?” she screamed at no one, thankful that another strike of lightning blasted out and thunder obscured her voice. “They get everything, all the wealth, all the privilege, all the power, and I don’t even get to be angry? Screw that,” she screamed. Her pitching bellow could have broken the walls around her.
She staggered out of the laneway.
She knew her cheeks would be red with rage, despite the fact that the rest of her was cold and sopping wet.
She kept a hand clenched into a fist. She’d never made its like before. It was as if her knuckles had been permanently soldered onto her palms.
She had nowhere to go. She wasn’t about to turn around and give up, though.
The images that had flashed through her mind when she’d been trashing her room blasted back into her now. None of this would change. If she always put her head down and walked away from a fight, nothing would ever frigging change.
This – what was happening to her right now – would happen again to some other girl.
Unless Felicity did something.
“There’s nothing you can do, you idiot. You don’t have any power, and there’s nowhere for you to go. How the hell are you gonna get revenge?”
On the term revenge, another strike of lightning blasted overhead. It was almost as if it was an exclamation mark as the universe agreed with how screwed she was.
She lifted her hand, collapsed her face against it, and curled her fingernails in. She dragged them hard down her skin. They were jagged enough that they cut her. Did she care? No. What was there left to care about?
She was staggering down the street. Fortunately because of the rain, no one was out. There were a few passing motorists, and their headlights lit up the sodden streets. But no one paid attention to her.
She balled a hand into a fist and struck it against the wall. She wanted nothing more than to cast magic on the thing and trash it like she had Genevieve’s bed. Something held her back.
Practicing magic out here would alert the Magical Enforcement Unit.
She couldn’t go down yet.
“You’re dead,” her better reason caught up with her. “There’s no damn place you can go. You’ll already be a wanted criminal.”
The rain lashed her harder. It seemed specifically programmed to take away the rest of her fight. This cold, aching energy pressed through her chest. If she’d been paying attention, she would’ve realized it was centering on her left wrist.
She couldn’t heed that. All her focus was locked on her broken ankle. It was only sheer grit and magic that was allowing her to move on it.
Both of those would soon disappear.
She needed somewhere to go, and she had to go there now.
Far off through the city, she heard an alarm. She could have assumed that it was just a police siren. The itching intuition that suddenly engulfed her skin like fire told her it was the enforcement unit.
She pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, closed her eyes, and almost retched.
“Dammit. What the hell do I do? I’m a wanted criminal—”
A thought struck her.
Felicity had always been a good girl. That’s what happened when you hung around in the shadows and had to live your life like a minnow constantly getting out of the way of sharks.
More than that, though, Layla had always taught her to be an upstanding citizen.
But Layla clearly hadn’t taught Felicity very well, because now, in her greatest time of need, rather than going to the authorities to beg for leniency, only one thought struck her.
There were means to get what you wanted in this city. Just as it had one of the most important magical academies in the country, it also had a lively underground of dark magic. They came hand-in-hand. Wherever power concentrated, so did its shadow.
There was a powerful, dark magical underworld in Casa City. If some of the rumors she’d heard at school were anything to go by, there was one dark mob more powerful than any other.
It was run by a demon. And demons could offer humans revenge. It was one of the first things you learned about them in magical defense class.
Demons, unlike humans, had much readier access to magic. They were far closer to it. They didn’t need wands and fancy spells to cast. To them, magic was like strength. All they had to do was flex their mind, and it came to their assistance.
They also fed off it.
Specifically, they fed off dark desires.
Humans, in part, generated magic through strong emotions. That’s why you had to learn to control them before you started classes. But there were other ways to learn and practice magic if you didn’t feel like wasting your life learning the rigors of the Academy.
If you had no morals – or nowhere else to go – you could just offer yourself up to a demon and allow them to feed off your emotions and magic, and they would give you the power you required.
As all these thoughts struck Felicity, she came to a stop. She pressed her hand against the wall. Her fingers slid down it.
She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, it was still raining. Hell, the storm was lashing the streets even harder.
She tilted her head back. She heard that alarm.
“No, Felicity, you can’t do this. It’s madness. You can’t…” she couldn’t even say it.
But the alarms kept blaring out over the city. She swore they were coming closer.
“What other choice do you have?” she asked in a crippled voice that sounded as if someone had their hands around her throat.
If she’d been with it enough to notice her body, other than her broken ankle, she would have realized that the sense of a hand pressing against her left shoulder was back. More than that, the feeling of something racing around her wrists was only becoming more powerful, all at the prospect of throwing her hat in with a demon.
She shook her head. It was such a hard move, she could have damaged her neck. “You can’t join with a demon,” she said, and for the first time in a while, real tears touched her cheeks. It was a surprise she could still cry them. It felt like her anger had clogged her tear ducts more effectively than someone throwing a rock into a jet turbine.
“What choice do you have?” she hissed at herself. “You want revenge – then you’ll need the power to take down the academy. And there’s only one way to get it.”
Her hand was pressed against the wall. Her grip was desperate as if she was holding onto it for dear life, as if it was the only thing keeping her back from Hell.
But it couldn’t keep her back forever.
She opened her eyes.
Rained dribbled off her face.
She closed her eyes.
She thought of Damien.
So she pushed off the wall.
Felicity was too much of a goody-two-shoes to know where the dark mob hung out, but even she’d heard rumors over the years. When she’d been holed up in the bathroom one day crying, she’d overheard a conversation about one of the bars in town.
It was aptly called The Devil Man.
One of the girls had been chatting about it being owned by a demon. But not just any demon – the head of the most powerful magical mob in the city.
Felicity didn’t even bother to shake her head again as she staggered through the darkened streets.
With every step she took, she felt this growing sense of anticipation.
It was the sense you got when you could no longer turn from something, no matter how hard you tried. It was the sense you got when your life, which had once been open, had been carved like flesh until there was only one way forward.
The storm continued to rage. Her ankle continued to throb with aching pain. She ignored both. With every staggering step, she made her way closer and closer.
The alarms which she was sure signaled the enforcement unit and not the police started to drift into the background. They focused on where she’d come from. No one would be suspecting where she was going.
As Felicity made her way to The Devil Man club, she swore she could see her life starting to play out in front of her eyes.
No, what she’d had over the last few years couldn’t be defined as a life. Existence was a much better term. Slime molds existed – so did barren rocky wastelands. Real people lived.
She squeezed her eyes closed and tried to push the thoughts away, but they wouldn’t go. It was like her mind was desperately trying to point out that she still had something to live for.
You see, demons didn’t assist you for free. They got to pick the price of helping you.
If you wanted a lot of power, they didn’t just take some of your magic – they ate you. That wasn’t to say they chopped off your arm and threw it in their mouths every time they cast a spell for you. It was to say that they wrapped up their existence in your existence and fed off the energy of your soul like they’d become a part of your own damn body.
The more you cast their magic, the closer you came to them. And the closer you came to them, the more you did what they wanted.
All power comes at a price, after all.
Felicity closed her eyes just as she reached the right street that led to The Devil Man club.
She cried her last few tears.
Yeah, so all power came at a price, but why was it that she had to pay a much dearer price than the elites? Because they had decided it would be that way. And it would keep happening until someone stopped them.
She opened her eyes.
She pushed off the wall she’d been holding onto for support. She staggered down the street.
She’d only come to this street once. She’d driven through it in a taxi. She still remembered the experience, because this niggling, horrifying sensation had taken hold of her. That had been before she’d known that The Devil Man was owned by a demon.
As a bitter smile spread her lips at her own twisted fate, she wondered if her past self had somehow known what she would one day do.
“There’s no other way,” she whispered as if she was cooing a child – as if she was trying to reach back into that memory to make her past self understand this decision. “There’s no other way to make this end.”
Felicity reached the line that headed into the club.
She was in a torn T-shirt and jeans. The rest of the partygoers around her were in their finest.
She would’ve assumed that a club like this would attract all sorts – from addicts, to criminals, to the elites who just wanted a thrill on the dark side of town.
They were all too well dressed for that theory to be right. She swore she even saw some faces she recognized from the graduate section of the academy.
She kept her head down. And though it was hard as hell, she kept her magic to herself. She just needed to get into the establishment and find the demon. It didn’t matter that she didn’t even know his name.
One of the things Felicity had been teased about the most was her innocence. She just knew so little about this world. It didn’t matter that she’d been trying ever since she’d joined the academy to figure everything out. There was still so much to learn.
Her gut twisted with fear as the line became shorter. She caught sight of two burly bouncers. Her back itched as her gaze traced along the outlines of their bodies. They had muscles. Serious muscles that could only be magical in origin.
Hell, she swore she could sense their power from here.
A kid who clearly was too young to join the club but who was clearly well enough off that he thought that wouldn’t matter walked up to them, chucked a few dollar bills at them, and turned toward the door. One of the bouncers stepped in and punched him right in the gut.
Felicity jolted and tried not to scream.
Though she’d never received a hit like that, she’d seen enough in magical defense class. It was designed to cripple your opponent and send them into paroxysms of pain. Sure enough, the kid groaned as he fell to the ground.
The other bouncer leaned in, threw the kid over his shoulder, walked around to the side of the building, and dumped him in an alley.
Shit, you can’t do this. You’re going to get found out. Dammit, she screamed at herself.
The line got shorter until she finally faced the bouncers.
They took one look at her outfit and stepped forward, clearly ready to kick her out.
“No, please. I have to get inside. I have to—” Her gaze jerked over to the door as it opened of its own accord.
There was no one there. The lock had just released on its own.
Both the bouncers looked at each other, and certain smiles pressed across their lips. They nodded at her and gestured her inside.
… What? What had just happened?
Felicity knew she couldn’t just stand there and stare, questioning her good luck. She forced herself inside.
No one commented on her broken ankle, even though one of the bouncers let his gaze slide down her leg and lock on it. She wasn’t even wearing shoes. Though she hadn’t been aware of it before, she was trailing blood from where she’d smashed her feet up after running through the forest.
That was irrelevant. Everything was irrelevant.
The club was not.
She walked down a dark corridor past a couple leaning up against one of the only empty patches of wall. They kissed each other, their hot lips sliding over one another’s as a few crackles of magic danced along their skin.
If Felicity hadn’t known that this club was owned by a demon, she would have become dumbstruck by that public display of magic. Instead, she stared at them as she walked past.
The guy’s hand was locked on the woman’s middle back, his fingers pressing in in a certain way that reminded her of Damien.
And that… that just reminded her of why she was here.
Felicity let her gaze race over the crowd. At the far end of the room, she saw a sweeping staircase that led up to a single door. There was a bouncer outside of it.
That had to lead to the mob kingpin, didn’t it? There were other staircases, but they led up to a mezzanine level, and above that, to another one that was clearly meant for special guests. But none of the other staircases had bouncers.
She made her way across the dance floor. It was hazardous. People kept bumping into her, and one woman danced right over her foot, the lady’s heel indenting Felicity’s bare flesh and making it bleed.
She cursed, but she didn’t stop moving forward. She knew that if she stopped, her better judgment would catch up with her, and she’d leave. That would just lead her directly into the hands of the enforcement unit.
Layla had always told Felicity that she had options. She was talented. She was kind. The world would respond to her good heart. If she just kept her head down at the academy and she concentrated, good things would happen to her.
Layla could not have been further off the mark.
Felicity reached the base of the stairs that led up to the kingpin’s office.
She locked a hand on the railing. It felt like her stomach was on a roller coaster. With every second, it took new twists and turns. It gathered speed with every step. She managed five stairs before stopping.
The bouncer who was standing in front of the door, his hands clasped professionally in front of him, locked his gaze on her. It didn’t matter that he was wearing dark shades inside – she could tell that from the way he angled his head down he had her in his sights.
“Just do it,” she whispered under her breath. She closed her eyes. She climbed the stairs. With her eyes still closed, she came to a stop in front of him. “I’m… I’m here to see the demon. I’m here… to cut a deal.”
There, the words were out. There was no backing off now.
She expected the bouncer to kick her out anyway. She didn’t imagine important demons just made deals with anyone. The guy didn’t. He turned, locked his hand on the door handle, cast a quick spell, and let it open.
Felicity stopped right there on the last stair.
Her better reason caught up with her. It told her she couldn’t do this. She couldn’t throw her life away for revenge.
It was far too late for that. “Come in,” a gravelly voice rang out.
That voice did things to Felicity. Though she’d never heard it before, it felt like she’d been hearing it her whole life. Maybe it came from her darkest dreams – her worst nightmares. Maybe it came from some other place, but it felt like Hell incarnate.
She swore it hooked itself around her stomach and dragged her in. She felt compelled in a way she never had before. And it was enough to see her stagger up that last step and through the door.
The office was opulent, large, and decorated to show that money was no object.
It was cut on two levels. The level she was standing on had a couch, several chairs, and a beaten-up coffee table that didn’t match the decor. Above that, up too short steps, was a desk. It was directed toward a large window that showed an uninteresting view of the alley beyond.
There was a chair. It was high backed, but that didn’t stop her from seeing the man sitting in it. He had to be tall and cut one hell of a figure, because she could see the outline of his shoulder muscles rippling as the light from the window played along his body.
The door creaked closed.
She jolted. She went to turn and throw herself through it, but it was too late for that.
“Come face me,” the demon said.
Felicity couldn’t describe what her stomach was doing anymore. It felt like she had swallowed a shivering bird.
“I… I don’t know why I’m here. I should go,” she tried. She turned and threw herself at the door. She locked a hand on it, but it was useless. As her fingers slid over the metal, she could tell that it had been fastened with magic she would never have the strength to break.
She staggered back from it. She took in a shaking breath.
“Come face me,” the man said.
No, sorry, demon. She hadn’t seen his face, but that didn’t matter. She could feel it now. The entire room was filled with this dark, pulsing magic.
It reminded her of the throbbing dance floor outside and the couple she’d seen kissing.
There was something truly penetrating about its power.
When Felicity didn’t move, the man pushed his chair back. It rolled on its casters, but he did not turn. “Come face me,” he said once more.
“No. I’ve changed my mind. I want to leave.”
“And where will you go, Felicity Smith?”
Her stomach didn’t jolt at the fact he knew her name. He was a demon; knowing the names of your targets came with the territory. But her gut did jolt at the way he said her name. There was almost a kind edge to his voice. There wasn’t the controlling, violent anger she expected. She’d never met a demon, but she’d heard how they spoke.
“I… I can’t do this. I shouldn’t have come here.”
“The Magical Enforcement Unit is currently looking for you. They’re scanning the entire city.” He inclined his head to the side, and though she still couldn’t see his face, she knew he was now focusing all of his attention through the window. He was only on the second floor, and the buildings around this club were a lot taller. But from the way he concentrated as he stared through the window, it was like he was watching the entire city.
At his admission, her stomach sank. It felt like someone started pounding on her heart. With a shaking hand, she rubbed her sternum. “How do you know that?”
“Because I’m a demon,” he admitted.
She knew he was a demon. Hello, she’d just surmised enough from his energy. But him admitting it was something else.
She shrunk back. She pressed her sweaty hands against the door. When she’d ripped off a section of her T-shirt to deal with her broken ankle, she’d ripped off the bottom half. As her cold back pressed against the metal and wood, she became even colder by the second.
“I know why you’re here. So come face me, and we will make your deal.”
She shook her head wildly. “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I shouldn’t be here. I need to leave. I—”
“Have nowhere to go. The Magical Enforcement Unit know who you are. They will now look for you until they find you or your corpse.”
She recoiled at the mention of her corpse. She shook her head one last time. Then the move just kind of stopped halfway through. It was like her neck gave up.
She took a shuddering breath again.
“You seek revenge,” he said.
She screwed her eyes closed. She cried the tears that she should have been crying the whole time.
She’d used her anger to hide her sorrow, but dammit, the bitter sadness was still there. She didn’t care that she lost it in front of a demon. She couldn’t stop herself.
“You require power to seek revenge,” he continued. “I can give it to you. If the deal is right,” his voice became quiet as he all but whispered that.
Felicity thought that her tears would wash away her anger completely. But as her back started to shake and her throat became raw, it just made the anger worse.
She remembered everything that had happened to her, from trashing the room to being chased.
With every recollection, her anger kept growing.
Her anger was the only thing that had seen her run rather than hide. Without it, she’d still be there at the academy. And who knew, she’d probably end up being the next victim of the serial killer. Even if she wasn’t, how would her life end?
Her grandmother had sent her there to give her better options. All that had done was narrow them down to nothingness. Even if Felicity had managed to keep her head down and she’d graduated, it wouldn’t have given her the chances her grandmother had envisioned. Just the opposite. All of the elites would know her, and none of them would employ her. She’d have to live her life in the shadows, just like Layla had.
And that, that wasn’t fair.
Though he still wasn’t facing her, for the strangest reason, she got the impression that the demon suddenly smiled. “You’re here for revenge. Remember that. Now come face me.”
Felicity pushed off the door.
She didn’t know how she did it. Her stomach was still curdling with fear.
The very act of being in this room with a demon was one of the most terrifying things she’d ever done. But she somehow pushed past that terror. She took one shaking step then another.
She reached his chair.
She stared down at his shoulders. She swore they were memorable somehow.
Damien hadn’t had a particularly big build, but maybe that’s what she was remembering anyway. It wasn’t as if she’d ever been in any other man’s arms.
With one more breath, Felicity did it. She walked around the desk. She kept her eyes closed, and she opened them.
And there was the demon.
He was handsome. Devilishly so. And the emphasis had to be on the word devilishly.
Humans might pretend that it wasn’t a good idea to use magic to change their natural appearances. Demons didn’t care. They did what they needed to get what they wanted.
He had a broad jaw, and it was covered in dark stubble. It matched his short, rakish black hair. It did not match his eyes. They were a light blue, and yet, somehow, it was one that was filled with shadows that were not playing through the room but instead only seemed to be caught in his gaze.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it, Felicity?” He leaned forward and pressed his hands against the desk. He clasped them together, angled his head over to the view, then looked back at her. “I know what you seek.”
“Revenge,” she spluttered, her voice shaking.
“You will require power.”
Her stomach sank, but she still didn’t back away. If anything, she got closer. Her feet followed her gaze, and her eyes traced his appearance. They got stuck on his jaw and shifted up his sharp cheekbones only to become obsessed with his eyes.
They threatened to pull her in.
Because… he really was a demon.
“You will require a lot of power. So the deal we must make,” he opened his hands, and for whatever reason, it sounded like something was unlocking, “will require a lot of power in return.”
Her stomach lurched. She’d described it as being on a roller coaster before. Now it felt as if it was being shot off into outer space.
She had no idea how she managed to stand there without jolting back as he pushed away from his chair and walked up to her. He stayed about a meter away, but it didn’t feel like that to her body. The promise of his presence was like arms around her pulling her in.
Everything about him, from his gaze, to his smile, to his power pulled her closer.
“You must gain power,” he said as he considered his fingers then let his gaze slice over to her, “if you wish for revenge against one of the most powerful institutions in the magical world.”
She tore her attention off him and remembered why she was here. “Can you give it to me?” she stammered.
He smiled. “Yes.”
Felicity hadn’t thought this equation through. She’d come here because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. At the back of her head, if she’d truly thought this through, she would’ve realized that there was nothing that would be able to give her the power to take Broadstone down. It was protected by more than its history. The most powerful magical families had its back.
But she couldn’t deny the smile pressing across the demon’s lips.
She took another step closer to him.
She was like a fish being reeled in. And you know what happens to fish? They get killed and eaten.
He smiled. She swore that until her last dying breath, she would remember that smile, because it became burnt into her very bones.
“Accept my hand,” he said as he stretched it out to her.
He hadn’t yet laid down the terms of their deal. She had to stop her wretched fingers from falling into his anyway. As she stared at his palm, even from here, she swore she could feel the heat and power of his promise.
She pressed her lips together and swallowed. “What… what do you want from me?”
“You mean what will the nature of this deal be?”
“Yes. Lay down the terms.”
“I want you,” he said.
He hadn’t touched her. His hand was still held out, but that was the closest they’d gotten. With his free hand, he now reached for her face.
She could have and should have jolted back. She didn’t. She stared at his fingers, and as crazy as it sounded, she had to stop herself from moving toward them, not away.
He didn’t suddenly grasp a few strands of her hair and pull them out of her eyes. Nor did he trail that broad thumb down her cheek. He grabbed a bedraggled leaf instead and discarded it to the side.
Then he looked at her with all his might, and that was considerable indeed considering he was a demon. “I want you, because I have been promised you already.”
She had a double-take. “What? We haven’t made a deal yet—”
“I do not make deals with just anybody,” he said. His left hand was still reached out to her. It was completely steady, suggesting that even if the entire building succumbed to an earthquake, it would not shift. “Maybe lesser demons do, but not me.”
Her gut lurched. She didn’t even know who this demon was. Before her lips could wobble open and she could ask his name, she went back to one word. Promise.
She shook her head in a jerky movement. “I just got here. How could I promise myself—”
“I was promised you by someone else. And now, it’s time to take what is rightfully mine.”
The words rightfully mine were like bricks that had been smashed either side of her face. She just managed to open her lips. “Yours? I don’t understand. Who made a deal with you? If not me—”
“What?” She couldn’t force that word out fast enough.
“Your grandmother promised you to me. And now it is time for her to pay the terms of her deal despite the fact she has passed.”
Felicity couldn’t move.
… She’d come here on her own steam, hadn’t she? If she hadn’t thought about that conversation she’d overheard by chance in the bathroom, she wouldn’t have even known about this place.
… Wait, had she come here on her own? Hadn’t something helped her? The storm.
She shook her head. “This doesn’t make any sense. How—”
“Your grandmother required power for something. I gave it to her. In return, she gave me you.”
Felicity’s stomach clenched. It felt like someone had clamped her intestines together with the most powerful magnets there were. “My grandmother would never do such a thing—”
“She did. Do you doubt that I already have a contract against you, human?”
The way he said human was like a slap. He proved to her that he wasn’t playing games.
She shuddered back. It was the first time she’d actually moved away from him and broken through the compelling spell that seemed to lock her to his side.
As her stomach lurched again, she became cold.
This… it couldn’t be happening, right? She couldn’t have already been promised to a demon.
“Though you have potential, you currently have limited magical skills, Felicity. How do you think it is that you got out of the most secure magical building in the city?”
She jolted her head to the side. It was like he’d just punched her. “I… I got lucky.”
“Luck like that doesn’t exist. I helped you escape. Because I need you. You were promised to me.”
She squeezed her eyes closed. “You just promised me that you would give me the power to get revenge on Broadstone. None of this makes any sense—”
“I am a man of my word,” he said. He took a step toward her. He didn’t come any closer than he had been before. He was just closing the distance that had kept them separate when she’d jerked back.
She could see his hand. It didn’t matter that her eyes weren’t open. It was there, and it was speaking to her.
She took a shuddering breath. She shook her head, but she got halfway through the move when her muscles gave up again. Wincing, she winked one eye open. And there was his hand, right there in front of her. All she had to do was take it.
She couldn’t. She backed off again until she pressed her shuddering shoulders against the cold glass window behind her.
He took several seconds, then he pushed forward. Again he only came as close as he had been before.
That hand… it didn’t move a muscle.
“Your grandmother required power, so I gave it to her. In return, she gave me you. But that does not mean that I cannot make a separate deal with you.”
Felicity couldn’t take it. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but somehow she didn’t sob. It was as if her brain was letting go of pressure before it popped. But inside… inside, she couldn’t cry anymore.
All she could do was stare at his hand.
Did her grandmother’s actions change anything? She still had nowhere to go. The only way out was still those broad, strong fingers and that inviting palm.
She flicked her gaze from them up to his eyes. They seemed to bore a hole right through the center of her skull. It was as if he could stare through her to the city beyond.
“The Magical Enforcement Unit will be after you. They won’t back down. You’ve trashed their school. You also managed to escape. That will cast suspicion on you, Felicity.”
“They are looking for someone to blame for the murder of Damien King.”
The way he said Damien King was like someone squeezing her heart with every syllable. She clutched her sternum, dragged her fingers over her already scrappy T-shirt, and buckled forward.
That brought her perilously close to his hand. Again, he did not move it. “Take the hand, and I will give you the power to stay out of the enforcement unit’s clutches. And in time,” his voice bottomed out, “you will gain the skills to do as you seek.”
“… In time?”
“Even I do not have the power to take on Broadstone Academy in one fell swoop. Even if I did,” he let his gaze trace up and down her, but it wasn’t a lecherous move, “you do not have the power to use it.”
“You’re unskilled and untrained. I don’t know what they teach at that academy, but it isn’t real magic.”
The way he said magic… oh God, it shook through her like his fingers were trailing across her stomach.
There was nowhere to back off to. So she just looked at him. Right at him.
She’d described his gaze as a drill boring through her skull before. Now she wasn’t so certain. It felt more like an extension of his outstretched hand.
“How… how will this work?” she whispered. “If my grandmother,” she could barely push that word out, “already promised me to you, then why would you make a separate deal with me?”
“Because I can.”
She managed to look at him, but she couldn’t maintain eye contact, and she quickly jerked her head away. “Demons only make deals if they get something in return.”
He laughed. “I guess you can conclude that I will benefit from this. All that matters to you, however, is that I’m willing to make two deals. Your grandmother gave you to me,” his voice became gravelly on the word you, “so you must now come to my side. But,” his lips carved that word out of the air, “I will make a separate deal.”
“With what?” Her fingers dragged over her T-shirt again. “If my grandmother… already gave me to you, what exactly do I have to make a deal with?”
“Your body and your magic will be mine based on your grandmother’s deal. But,” it sounded like his voice sliced through the air with that word, “your mind must stay open.”
Her nose scrunched up, and she could barely unstick her lips from her teeth. “What?” She’d never been a stellar student in magic defense class, but she understood how demons thought. The only thing they were interested in was your magic – not your mind.
“You must keep an open mind.”
“Open mind? What are you talking about?”
He laughed. There was something strangely distant about it. Not distant in terms of proximity, but in terms of time. It was as if he’d been giving that particular laugh for so long now. It wasn’t arrogant, so much as lost.
She would never have thought a demon could be lost. But just as soon as it started, the laugh ended abruptly. He pressed forward. Now his hand was right there, just a few centimeters from her chest. All she had to do was bring her fingers up and place them in his.
She closed her eyes, jerked her jaw from left to right, then squeezed her eyes even tighter shut. “Why do you want me to keep an open mind?”
“You weren’t taught much in that school of yours, were you?”
“We were taught that demons are after emotion, because emotion leads to magic.”
“Well then, you won’t care if you have to keep an open mind, will you? Because you don’t understand what it’s used for.”
She hated the specific pitch his voice achieved on the words used for. Again it made her feel as if his fingers were running over her stomach. This time, they traced up her hip, over her back, and across her neck.
She shivered. “How exactly do I keep an open mind?”
“I think you are more than smart enough to understand that concept.”
“Clearly it’s some kind of magical thing. What do I do? Do I allow you access to my thoughts?” She recoiled. She hadn’t heard of psychic demons, but that didn’t mean much. Though she’d always fought the allegation that she was innocent, one look in his eyes proved she really did know nothing about this magical world.
“Every time you come to a conclusion, question it,” he said.
She frowned. “What?”
“Every time you think you know what’s going on, question it.”
“I don’t understand. Demons are after emotion – power. This makes no sense—”
“Every time you think you know your enemy,” his voice bottomed all the way out, “question that conclusion.”
Her lips were open, and she was ready to keep pointing out that she had no clue what was going on, but she froze. She looked at him. She closed her mouth.
“Your grandmother gave me your body,” he stated flatly.
She could not recoil.
“And I intend to use you as one of my workers,” he finished quickly. “You will do as I say to pay for your grandmother’s debt. But in turn for the power to destroy Broadstone Academy, I want your mind.” He pushed his fingers just a fraction closer.
She couldn’t take it anymore. She pushed forward. She let her hand hover over his. She couldn’t describe how much she just wanted to let her fingers fall. It wasn’t just curiosity that made her want to do it. This deep burning desire picked up in her gut. It felt like a flame.
She watched his eyes widen as her fingers stopped just a centimeter above his. “So all I have to do is keep an open mind, and you’ll give me the power to destroy Broadstone? What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch. Just keep your mind open. Every time you think you know your enemy, ignore your conclusion and look further.”
Her frown deepened. “You’re looking for somebody, aren’t you?”
The slightest smile spread across his lips.
“You want me to find something, don’t you? That’s why you want me to keep an open mind.”
“Who are you looking for?” She’d never looked him in the eye as directly as she did now. Somehow, despite the situation, in his presence she was becoming stronger, not weaker.
“Time will tell. All you must do,” he let one finger curl up and slide over her palm as if he was inviting it to drop, “is do as I say for your grandmother’s sake—”
“And think as you want for my sake?” she concluded.
He shook his head. “I told you, you need to keep an open mind. I don’t want to control your thoughts.”
He let his finger drop. The exact path it had taken as it’d traced over her palm felt as if it had been written into her heart.
She couldn’t take it anymore. She had no other option. As if to cement that fact, she swore she heard alarms further out into the city. It would be the enforcement unit.
Felicity swore she saw her past flash in front of her mind. When she squeezed her eyes even harder closed, it didn’t change.
Things only changed when she opened her eyes and stared into the demon’s gaze.
She saw her future opening up.
She let her hand drop.
She accepted the offer.
He curled his hand around hers and held it tightly. He pressed forward and pushed his mouth against her ear. “I am the demon Lucifer, and you, Felicity Smith, are now my shadow.”
Three years later
“And you, Felicity Smith, are now my shadow,” Felicity said in a singsong voice as she tapped the bathroom mirror in front of her. She frowned at her appearance.
She usually didn’t give a hoot about what she looked like. Who cared? It was a spell, anyway. A spell she’d been wearing the last three years as she’d tirelessly worked for Lucifer.
He’d handcrafted the spell himself. That would probably account for the fact that Felicity always felt his hands were on her, even when they weren’t.
And before you got any racy ideas, no, she had not fallen head over heels for her master in the past three years. It was just… complicated.
She tapped the mirror again, a few latent charges of magic spreading out from the move. Then she hooked her long brown hair behind her ear.
She turned her neck from side to side and frowned. “You look normal. Which is good,” she said with a shrug. “We can’t have you sticking out like a sore thumb, can we?”
She finally turned from the mirror, opened the door, and walked out.
She strode out into a busy shopping mall.
The bathroom wasn’t located in the shopping mall; it was one of the numerous rooms in The Devil Man. If anyone had been paying attention, it would’ve looked as if she’d just walked out of a service cupboard when in reality, she’d magically ported here.
She shoved her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket, and her heels clicked along the cheap polished concrete floor as she fell into step behind a group of school kids.
She caught sight of her reflection in a shiny shop window. If she stared at it from just the right angle, she could almost see the old her underneath.
The old Felicity, with her ebony hair that occasionally glimmered with a few flecks of indigo. The old Felicity, with her crumpled smile, her watery gaze, and her downtrodden expression.
The old Felicity who hadn’t been seen in three years and was as good as dead and buried.
Felicity let out a half-laugh, half groan as she sped up, her heels clicking even louder.
Right ahead of her in the crowd, she could sense magic. It darted along her tongue, played up into her jaw, and tickled down her neck. It made it feel as if she’d just swallowed some fizzy popping candy and it was busy playing havoc in her throat.
She pushed her hands harder into her pockets. She curled her fingers up and trailed them over her wrists.
There she had two tattoos – one around her left wrist and one around her right. An ordinary person would just see them as plain ink. A magical individual wouldn’t even see them at all unless they were permitted to.
No one, neither ordinary nor extraordinary, would have any clue what they were.
The left tattoo was the contract that bound Felicity to Lucifer because of her grandmother’s deal. The right was the deal she’d made with Lucifer on her own.
Grandmother. Crap, she hated thinking about that woman.
Over the last three years, any semblance of love she’d ever had for Layla had been burnt up. She’d given Felicity to a demon, all while trying to teach her to turn the other cheek.
Though Felicity had asked numerous times what kind of deal Layla had made with Lucifer, he’d never let on. And he would never reveal it. It was confidential. But Felicity didn’t need to use her imagination to figure it out. Demons – especially of his caliber – primarily dealt with revenge. That meant Layla had sold Felicity out for the one emotion she’d never let Felicity feel. Rage.
“Put it the hell out of your head,” Felicity muttered to herself. “Now lock onto your target, faithful dog,” she growled.
She called herself faithful dog. Lucifer never did. He strictly called her Felicity, and the way he said it… the exact way his tongue pressed against his teeth and those syllables rolled off his lips always made her pelvis tingle. The pleasant sensation took away some of the burden of working with him.
But not all of it.
She pushed faster through the crowd.
She cut her gaze to the left, and she saw an older lady shopping for books on one of those plastic stands that have no business being in a busy lobby. They just get in the way and practically beg people to steal them.
Felicity locked her gaze on the back of the lady’s head then let it trail down to the two-dollar bargain-basement romance read she was browsing through.
“Witch,” Felicity whispered under her breath.
Once upon a time, before joining Lucifer, Felicity hadn’t had the capacity to glance at someone once and decide if they were magical. Now, that skill was ingrained. As were a whole host of others.
Speaking of which, her intuition suddenly ran wild. The guy she was tracking was about to do a runner.
Felicity acted on instinct. She darted in, snatched up one of the crappy two-dollar books from the stand, and started to run.
She hadn’t just decided to make her life more complicated by adding shoplifting to the mix of her crimes.
She needed a distraction.
“Hey,” the witch spluttered as Felicity shoved her in the shoulder and shunted past.
Felicity made a calculated move as she did. She sent a control spell twisting through her shoulder. It punched into the woman, pushed past any magical defenses she might have, and eagerly sank into her flesh without the witch noticing once.
The spell would ensure the woman freaked out and made just the right kind of scene.
“Shoplifter, shoplifter,” the lady screamed frantically as she tumbled into that flimsy plastic stand and books hailed around her like fat droplets of rain.
Felicity got the attention she required, and several beefy looking idiots tried to get in her way. She just ducked past them.
By the time she made it out of the massive doors onto the street beyond, an alarm was blaring and she could hear security assembling.
She saw two potbellied security guards barreling out of a door to her left and heading her way. Really? All for a two-dollar book? Yeah, really, all for a two-dollar book, she answered her own question with a snide thought.
It wasn’t just the elite magical world that decided that a poor person’s crimes were worse than a rich person’s. That particular attitude infected this entire city. But whatever. Now was not the time to focus on her favorite topic of inequality. Now was the time to use this distraction to catch her mark.
For the past three years, she had been dutifully tracking down every single target Lucifer had given her. In the first few days after she’d joined him, it had been horrifying.
She swore it had been a crucible for her old personality. All of the meekness, all the fear, all of the desire to keep her head down and just survive with a forced smile – it had all been burnt away.
The first mission she’d ever gone on had seen her run a man down across the city’s rooftops until the guy had thrown himself right off one of the roofs and smashed himself silly on the pavement below. He hadn’t died. He hadn’t been that lucky. She’d dragged him back to Lucifer. And Lucifer had gotten revenge. She didn’t know who for. She didn’t get to know those details. Other unlucky souls like her came to him every day making deals for revenge. If they had something he wanted, he would cut a deal.
Maybe the guy who’d thrown himself off the roof rather than face Lucifer hadn’t done anything. Maybe he’d done something heinously bad that had justified whatever the hell kind of revenge Lucifer had gotten on him later. It didn’t matter.
All that mattered was Broadstone Academy.
She let that particular refrain beat in her head. It always did when she was on a job.
Three years ago, she might have panicked on every mission. She might’ve gone to sleep crying as she’d learned to deal with this world. But Felicity had grown. Not just emotionally, but in power.
She’d quickly realized that everything she’d learned at Broadstone Academy had been dross. If you really wanted to learn how to use magic, you had to work for a demon.
She practiced a seriously hard spell that would have seen a certain Josephine Lay’s jaw drop all the way off as Felicity ran around down the side of the building. Simply by whipping her hand to the side and opening her fingers wide, she created a copy of herself.
She didn’t need a wand. Lucifer wouldn’t let his employees practice with them. They had to cast with their bodies, even though it was much harder.
Her clone spell immediately branched off and started running in the opposite direction.
Felicity reached a door, kicked it open with a magical-encased foot, and threw herself in. She pressed it closed but not all the way shut, and she waited to hear the security guards running after her clone.
It wouldn’t last forever. Maybe the clone would get a block or two before dissipating in a cascade of sparks, but it would give her the distraction she needed. If she was half the witch she’d become, she would’ve left it at that. But as she pushed out of the door, she closed her eyes and maintained a solid mental connection with her clone. When it disappeared, she’d need to ensure it didn’t do so publicly.
Felicity no longer feared retribution from the enforcement unit for practicing in front of humans. But they were nothing compared to Lucifer. If she broke the cardinal rule and started casting in front of a nobody, she would have to put up with the particular way he looked at her whenever she stuffed up.
He would also deny her contact for several days. And that, that was way worse.
Earlier when Felicity had made the comment about his hands being all over her, it hadn’t just been wishful thinking.
It was part of the deal.
No, she wasn’t talking about romance. When she tracked down targets and overcame them, she didn’t always hand them on to Lucifer. If they were smalltime magical revenge contracts, then she dealt with them herself. That didn’t mean she killed them. The smalltime ones were usually just petty magicians. What she did was take their magic.
When she consumed it, it would become locked in her body. The only person who could remove it was Lucifer. And to remove it… they had to get close. But they did not have to get physical.
He would have to hold her hand. Maybe if he was doing something, she would just loop an arm around his back so he could get on with his work without interruption. If she was really tired, and a mission had gone awry, leaving her injured, she’d sometimes lie down on that couch in his office with her head in his lap.
If Felicity had ever thought back at Broadstone Academy that one day she would wind up in a demon’s lap, she would have freaked.
She didn’t bat an eyelid now.
“Come on,” she whispered to herself, timing this perfectly. Sure enough, just as she pushed out of the door, she saw her mark.
He’d taken advantage of the exact distraction she’d created to cast a confusion spell on the remaining crowd.
The guy, one Sidney Winters, was a petty magical criminal whose life had just nosedived due to bad debt. Rather than find an honest way to pay it off, he’d accepted a contract to kidnap a kid.
Right now, he was going after a six-year-old girl with her nanny.
Felicity silently walked out of the door, her hands still in her pockets.
She could cast real magic these days that would’ve made her teachers back at the academy curl their toes. But if a mission dictated it, she could use something seriously special – Lucifer’s magic. It was usually kept back from her by her tattoos. If she required it, all she had to do was bring one of her tattoos up and press her lips against it. That would allow it to transform from the plain circular markings around her wrists into impossibly strong demon talismans.
She’d only had to call on one seal once. The exhilaration of the magical ride she’d gone on afterward had been like tripping on acid.
She shuddered to think what would happen if she ever had to open both her seals.
“Eyes on the prize,” she muttered to herself without letting her voice echo out. She fell into step behind her mark.
He was casting low-grade confusion magic, ensuring that as he stalked that six-year-old girl into the park across the street, no one could see him.
Felicity could. Her gaze burnt into the back of his neck as she fell into step right behind him.
She could feel his dark desires from here. She wouldn’t have had to know that he’d been hired by a disgruntled employee who worked for that little girl’s mother. Nor would Felicity have to know that this asshole had a van parked in a nearby underground car park with two reels of electrical tape, a camera, and a map.
All she had to do was feel his dark desires.
Felicity was no longer a good woman.
When you worked for the demon Lucifer, any semblance of being moral was the very first thing you lost. Yeah, so Lucifer tracked down crims and bad people. But not necessarily. Sometimes he allowed perfectly evil souls to get revenge on good people.
It all depended on what deal was struck with him.
At least this time Felicity felt like she was doing something worthwhile.
When she’d created that distraction earlier, she’d done so to ensure all eyeballs had followed her clone – including the cop car that had been parked around the side of the street. As its siren picked up and wailed over the park, she didn’t even bother to dart her gaze over to it. It turned a quick left and hooked around the block to chase her clone who was now running its little artificial magic heart out in the opposite direction.
Sidney picked up the pace. He shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled something out. It looked like a ball. It wasn’t. It was brightly colored, sure, and it even had polkadots on it.
It was a magical net. It would be coded to one person – that little girl. The second she picked it up, it would send a magical jolt through her nervous system that would start to control her.
She’d have a fit, and in the chaos that ensued as her nanny looked for someone to help, all Sidney would have to do was sweep in, pluck the girl up, and carry out the rest of his mission.
Not if Felicity had anything to do with it.
She heard the guy’s rigid muscles creak as he strode through the massive stone entrance that led into the park.
The little girl was right there, hand-in-hand with her nanny as they sat on a park bench that looked out over the lake.
“Almost there,” Sidney whispered to himself.
“Yeah, almost there,” Felicity whispered back. She was right behind him, but he couldn’t feel her, and he couldn’t hear her.
He strode right up to the edge of the lake. He narrowed in on the back of the little girl’s park bench. She was swinging her legs in and out, and the sound of them banging against the wooden bench was like a drum. No, it was like a countdown.
Despite how much Felicity wanted to act, she had to wait.
It all depended on what kind of mission she was on. Not all revenge was straightforward. Sometimes she had to trap her targets in the act of their crime before she could stop them. Especially when they were magical targets.
She had to wait until this guy actually started kidnapping the kid before she could get involved. It would ensure his emotions – and therefore his magic – was at its height. It would make it all the easier to take.
As her stomach twitched, for whatever reason, she started to think of the murders at Broadstone. She hadn’t thought of them for ages, even though she was the prime suspect. Lucifer had been right. Considering the circumstances surrounding how Felicity had escaped, and the fact she had impossibly managed to get out of the most secure building in the city, despite her lack of skills, it had ignited everyone’s suspicions.
It hadn’t been that much of a leap to conclude that she’d been the murderer. Yeah, who cared that in the years she’d been at the academy that she’d never shown anywhere near the skills required to do what they were saying. All that mattered was that she was poor and she fit the narrative.
She’d killed Damien because she’d been jealous.
As Felicity stood there, images of the academy assailed her. It was like she could remember the ghost of the damn thing and it was here to haunt her, pointing out just how far she’d fallen.
She curled a hand into a fist. Fine, if she’d fallen, she was ready to fall in full.
Sidney paused for five more seconds, obviously waiting for some cue, then he thrust forward.
Felicity could feel his magic. It was a violent wave of hatred, greed, and desperation all wrapped up in power that tingled invisibly across his skin. Sure, he was casting confusion magic, but making ordinary mundanes around you muddled so they couldn’t see what you were doing was a pretty easy spell. The more you started doing weird stuff, however, the harder it got to hide it. If Sidney began to cast truly visible magic, he wouldn’t have the power to conceal it.
Sidney went to throw that apparently cute polkadot ball at the kid. He wouldn’t get the chance. Felicity spread her fingers to the side, curled them in a specific motion, and pulled. As she did, she connected to the airflows eddying around her. They trailed and trickled across her skin as if she’d just walked into a gentle surf for it to become a typhoon only a second later.
The air currents charged around her, grabbed Sidney’s ankles, and pulled. He fell flat on his face. He’d already deployed his bomb, but rather than throw it at its intended target, it fell right on the poor bastard’s chest.
Magic started to disperse everywhere. As she took a step up to it, she curled one hand into a fist and started to rhythmically tap her fingers against the base of her palm. While Sidney’s confusion spell had been weak, hers was as strong as they got. Even if a fully functional magician walked right up to her, unless they got down on their knees and started patting Sidney down for charges of magic, they wouldn’t know what was going on. All the while, the six-year-old kid and her nanny had no clue. They were just half a meter away, but they were blissfully unaware as the kid snacked on an ice cream and the nanny talked to the mom on her mobile.
“Yeah, Susie is fine. No,” she reached over and patted the kid on the head, running her fingers down Susie’s already ice-cream covered locks, “there’s been no trouble. Why?”
“Because your charge almost got kidnapped,” Felicity said conversationally as she reached forward, hesitated, then plucked up the neural ball. As soon as her fingers locked around it, she felt a slight tingle. Yes, that was it. Just a slight itch. It was still discharging its spell. It was enough that Sidney’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he looked like he was having the equivalent of a magical grand mal, but unlike with this criminal bastard, Felicity had the capacity to withstand the ball’s strong magic.
She brought the ball up, turned it around once, shrugged, then shoved it into her pocket. She didn’t even bother to stop it from casting its spell. As it slid into her pocket, it encountered a space-warping enchantment that allowed the 20-centimeter ball to fit snugly into her skinny jeans. It brought it right up close and personal with her leg. The closer one of those magic bombs was to flesh, the more it discharged its neural affecting spell directly into its target.
Again, Felicity barely noticed. It was like she’d just shoved a few ants down her pocket, but that was it.
She wiped her hands on her pants, leaned down, and patted Sidney on his pale, pale face. She brought her own face close, her teeth clenching in a move that technically had all the hallmarks of a smile but without any of the good humor. The only emotion she conveyed was threat.
She could tell that he was still conscious. As she tapped him on his pale white, pasty skin, his eyes stopped rolling into the back of his head. She didn’t stop the neural locking spell completely. She just wanted to get his attention.
“And how are we, Sidney? Are we having a good day?” she asked in a fake, singsong, conversational tone as if they met up like this all the time with him on his back while drool slid down his face and her with her knee pinning his chest.
He gave a stammering, curdling gasp that made it sound as if he was on the edge of death. Fat chance. Frankly, it would be better for him if he were, but he wasn’t about to get that lucky.
“You pissed off the wrong person, Sidney,” she continued as she ground her knee harder into his chest. She inclined her head to the side. Her long auburn hair trailed over her back and neck, a few strands sliding onto his chest. They started to crackle with magic. It wasn’t his. It was very much hers. “I will tell you what I’m gonna do,” she said, never measuring her tone, despite the fact Susie and her nanny were still right there enjoying the unusual sunny autumn day. “I’m gonna take you back to your van,” she said, her voice dropping down low on the word van. “I’m gonna tie you up with your own electrical tape. You bought two reels,” she pointed out conversationally. “Which is good.” Her gaze slid over his large middle-aged form. “And you’ve got a map. Which is also good. That way I can program your van to drive you to your destination. But before I let you go,” she brought her mouth right up close against the side of his face, “I’m going to steal your magic. You’ve come to the attention of the demon Lucifer.” Though she never usually took pleasure in saying that, she did this time. It was hard as hell not to smile vindictively. “And he wants his revenge. Sidney, you will never practice magic again.”
Though Sidney had shown precisely no pluck thus far, at that promise, he tried to buck against the spell. His head managed to rise a few mere centimeters, then the spell’s effects took over again, and he fell back. He had to channel all of his desperation into his eyes, and it worked. They opened so wide, all she’d have to do was insert a finger either side and pop them right out as if she was just picking fruit from a gooseberry bush.
Felicity patted his chest once more with a dull thump as she got to her feet.
She instinctively cast her gaze over her shoulder, looking for witnesses. There were none. There would never be any witnesses. Once upon a time back at the academy, Felicity had learned about confusion spells. She’d been crap at casting them. One of the girls in her class, Genevieve – her old roommate – had been exceptional. The best, in fact. But the kind of confusion spell she’d been able to create was akin to the one that Sidney had produced. Yeah, okay, good enough for confusing mundanes, but If you actually wanted to hide your activities from somebody magical, you needed real magic.
Felicity’s spell was a cut above. As she’d already said, it would take extreme proximity and strong magic to be able to pierce through the veil she’d pulled over the scene.
Still, Lucifer was a demanding man. Sorry, not a man. He wore a suit, he had that handsome jaw, and he even had this distracting cologne that somehow smelt like coffee, citrus, and pure power at the same time, but he very much only had the appearance of a human.
If you got close enough to him – if you touched him, which she did on a daily basis – the first thing you would notice was that his skin felt like a trapped star. It was the same with the rest of his body – okay, not that she’d touched the whole thing – it all felt as if you were holding onto pure electricity in a condensed form.
She shivered just thinking about it. Then she finally did what she’d come here to do. She leaned down, grabbed Sidney up in one easy heft, and threw him over her shoulder. She was not kind. His sternum smashed up against her bony shoulder, and he let out a guttural wheeze.
She patted him on his back as she turned smoothly and walked away. “Don’t worry, Sidney. It wasn’t like you used your magic for good,” she chuckled.
“And… what about you?” he managed.
She walked several steps. She stopped. She slowly flicked her gaze to the side, latched a hand on the back of his head, and twisted it so she could stare into his eyes. “Are you finally showing that you’re not a pushover, Sidney? Are you finally managing to push past your own neural block?” She ticked her jaw to the right, then slipped it to the left. “Guess I better increase the power of the spell.”
“Demon witch,” he spat. There was real vitriol behind those words. Most of all, there was fear. You could see it in his wide-open eyes. They were like a path right down to the primal terror humans felt when they had to contend with real predators.
All of it was directed at her.
Sometimes in her occasionally lucid moments, Felicity would realize what she’d become. She’d forget her mission for revenge, and she’d see herself from an objective point of view.
Yeah, it was noble to want to break Broadstone and the elite’s grip on the magical world. It was good to want to make them pay for their crimes. But did the means really justify the end?
She became cold. It didn’t last.
She patted him on his head. She brought her snarling lips close. “Yeah, that’s right,” she hissed. “I’m a demon’s witch. In fact, I’m one of the strongest.” She took pleasure in saying that. “So there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop me from taking your magic.” She curled her finger, let a charge of magic race across it, and trailed it down the back of his head.
His body jolted twice, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head – this time for good.
Felicity pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She closed her eyes for a few seconds. Then she pushed off, and in doing so, she pushed away his comments.
Yes, she was a demon’s witch. And yes, if she looked deep down, she could appreciate how far she’d fallen. But she’d never had a choice in the matter. Even if Felicity had decided to stick it out at Broadstone Academy and she’d tried her darndest, she would always have ended up in Lucifer’s hands. Her grandmother had ensured that.
“So it’s best to make the most out of what you’ve got, ha?” she pointed out in a voice that was meant to be droll but that was just a fraction too tight.
“Yeah, Master’s dog,” she answered her own question. “It’s best to make the most of what you’ve got.” With that, she stared darkly at the horizon, turned, and walked off.
Felicity made it back to the underground car park in good time. She was motivated to get this done and get the hell out of here. Though she tried to push away Sidney’s words, they were still playing on her mind. Her mood had turned sour.
Whenever it turned sour, she only thought of one thing. “How much longer is this training going to take?” she muttered to herself, the confusion spell still in place. She could start to scream at the top of her lungs, but that wouldn’t make any damn difference. None of the people walking through this car park would be able to hear, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to see as she walked toward the unmarked van with the comatose Sidney over her shoulder like unwanted luggage.
“You keep promising me that I’m getting stronger, that soon I’ll be able to take on Broadstone. But just how much longer is this gonna take?” she continued having a ferocious, one-sided conversation with Lucifer in her mind.
She often had this particular conversation with him in real life. It didn’t change anything. He would always look at her with a slightly patient expression crumpling his handsome features. “It’s really up to you, Felicity. It depends on when you become strong enough.” He would always emphasize you with his lips pressed together and his voice dipping down low like hands trying to scoop something off the floor.
Whenever he used that particular voice on her, it didn’t make her pelvis tingle. It just made her hands clench into fists.
“It’s up to you, Felicity,” she parroted, not even bothering to try to get the exact tone he could achieve. “Everything is damn well up to you.” She reached the back of the van.
Even without strong magic, Felicity was a hell of a lot more capable than she had once been. Lucifer didn’t just believe in training one’s magic. He was all about physical prowess. According to him, you couldn’t truly practice magic without your body. He was right, in part. Even if you had a wand, if you chose to forgo body magic, you would be screwed the second you lost that wand or it broke.
But Lucifer went further. According to him, you had to perfectly understand the power of your every breath. You had to tune in to your heartbeat. You had to know precisely how long it would take and how much power you would require to clench your hand into the strongest of fists.
Ordinary witches and magicians might be able to ignore that stuff, whip their wand out of their pocket, and just stupidly stammer some Latin incantation to get their spell done, but a demon’s witch had to understand the physical on the deepest level.
All that meant that even without magic, Felicity would be able to carry Sidney over to the van and dump him inside anyway. Part and parcel of learning about your body was understanding how to use it. She trained every day.
If she didn’t have a disguised body, underneath, she’d probably have one hell of an athletic figure by now.
“Who cares?” she muttered to herself. “It’s not like you can use your figure, anyway.”
She didn’t let her mind tick back to Lucifer and his powerful touch. She focused on what she had to do. Though the van was locked, that meant nothing to a well-placed spell. She opened her hand, slid it down the handle, heard something disengage, and wrenched it open without pause.
“Now what do we have here?” she muttered, even though she knew precisely what was here as she’d already located this van remotely and scanned its contents. “Gaffer tape – just what we need,” she muttered.
Unceremoniously, she dumped Sidney down. There was a dull thump as his back pounded against the dirty van interior. It was full of dust, paint flecks, and something she couldn’t identify. On closer inspection, it was blood. Blood that, rather than being scrubbed and washed away, had just been allowed to dry until it was brown and indistinguishable from old mud. She arched an eyebrow. “Exceptionally professional,” she said as she wiped a few flecks onto her pants then grabbed Sidney by his ankles, turned him around, and pulled him all the way into the van.
She unwound several sections of electrical tape, put the reel into her mouth, ripped off a long piece, and tied up his hands. She didn’t concentrate on his mouth. What was he going to do? Scream? Big deal. Her confusion spell would catch that.
Though she wanted to believe she was 10 times more powerful than him, she had to accept the fact that he’d already managed to fight against the neural control spell. If he got desperate enough, and he was about to get real desperate, he might start practicing magic with his bare hands.
Hence the gaffer tape.
She was fastidious in tying him up. She didn’t just bunch his wrists together and tape them. Hell no. She secured his fingers, then she taped them to his palms, binding them up into cramped fists that would no doubt give him hellish pain when he woke. Then she taped his wrists together.
When she was done, she checked everything with a professional frown marking her lips. She nodded. “All done.” She leaned back. She grabbed the van door and closed it.
She rounded on him.
He wasn’t completely unconscious. It would be harder to cast the spell she was about to, but she wanted him to see what was about to happen to him.
Though Felicity would never have been able to imagine this, she now had a vengeful side.
Unexpected, ha? Not really. Working for a demon would let the dark side out of any girl. As would focusing her existence on the need for revenge.
She slapped him. At first, she just used her hand. When that didn’t work, she let magic charge over her wrist and sink into her fingers. She hit him like she wanted to remove his jaw.
He grunted. After a few blinking, bleary seconds, his gaze fixed on her. He tried to buck back. She just pressed forward. Fortunately this van’s tray was large. It was more than big enough for her to scoot in and lock her knee against his chest. She wasn’t just pinning him physically. She let the oppressive weight of her magic lock him down.
Then she smiled.
If she’d seen the exact smile she was shooting Sidney back when she’d just been a weak, little student, she would’ve screamed and run a mile.
“What… what do you want?” he stammered. He had to concentrate to push his words out. His lips weren’t playing nice. It would feel like he’d just been to the dentist, and the doc had used way too much anesthetic on his mouth.
Whatever, Felicity didn’t need him to be eloquent. “Do you have a faulty memory, Sidney? I already promised that I was going to remove your power and dump you in your van. It’ll take,” she shrugged, “maybe a couple of hours for you to wake. Then you can drive home,” she slapped him lightly on the cheeks, “and leave Casa City. Lucifer might have had his revenge, but I can guarantee you’re the kind of shady shithead to have more than one enemy. If I were you, Sidney, I would pack up and leave town. I would take your little black heart the hell out of here before it can be crushed by all the people you’ve pissed off over the years. Lucifer,” her voice dropped, “will only be the start.”
He couldn’t really stiffen. She hadn’t completely broken through the neural control spell yet. His muscles were still like jelly. But his face worked fine, and that was a study in human fear.
She just shrugged off his panic. “Now, from memory, this is where you start trying to negotiate with me. You tell me that you’ll give me anything, anything at all,” her voice kicked up in fake fear, “if only I let you go.”
He opened his lips as if sensing an opportunity, then she brought her finger forward and waved it back and forth in front of his nose.
“That’s not gonna work, Sidney. Because you’re right. I am a demon’s witch,” she took pleasure in saying that. “And there isn’t a thing I can do against my master. And he wants your magic gone.”
“There’s got to be something – something I can do for you. There’s got to be something you want. Anything. Don’t take my magic, please. I don’t deserve that.”
“Out of interest, what were you going to do with the kid? Wait, not your business? Just deliver her, take the money, and run? I took the liberty of looking into the asshole who wanted her kidnapped. Real unsavory, insane bastard – the kind who wouldn’t blink at killing a kid. Now,” her voice bottomed out, “in this world if you turn a blind eye to a crime someone else is going to commit, you’re guilty of being an accessory,” she said. “But if you help them commit that crime,” her voice hit this note that made it sound as if she could crush the world in two and that she’d start with Sidney as an appetizer, “that’s unforgivable.”
He bucked – or as much as he could. He was getting stronger – she’d give him that. But there was still nothing he could do against her knee as it pinned his chest.
“There’s gotta be something,” he stammered, saliva slicking his chin and sliding down the side of his face. It could join the unsavory mix of body fluids that already apparently coated the back of this van. “Demons make deals. I must have something he wants.”
Felicity leaned back. She patted his chest as she removed her knee. Her force would still be pinning him. The ability to transfer the weight of her body was one of the first lessons Lucifer had taught her. Funny, considering that specific spell was only taught in graduate school at the academy. “Lucifer is a picky lad. There’s only so much he wants. And trust me,” her eyes flashed as she looked him up and down, “there’s nothing you’ve got that he needs.”
It was his turn to look her up and down. It was a frantic move, but it didn’t hide his disdain. “And what exactly have you got, bitch?”
She didn’t strike out on the word bitch. She just pressed her lips together and smiled darkly. “You know, for the life of me, I don’t know. Though Lucifer clearly sees something in me. That’s why I’m here,” she patted her chest, “and you’re there.” She patted his chest. Now, time to end this.” She brought her hands out and held them in front of herself. She would’ve looked like a surgeon who’d just scrubbed up and was waiting for a nurse to put gloves on her.
In a way, she was. She was about to partially activate her seals. Not fully. As she’d said before, she’d only ever done that to one of her seals once. What she was doing now was something that was every-day run-of-the-mill. When she encountered a smalltime petty magical criminal target that Lucifer wanted her to deal with, she had to rely on Lucifer’s magic remotely to take said target’s magic.
Felicity, no matter what she did and how much she trained, would never have the strength to do that. To do so, she would require forbidden powers. To get them, she would have to become a demon, and that was not on the cards.
Who cared, anyway? She had ready access to Lucifer’s power when she wanted it.
As she concentrated and muttered a few specific words under her breath, she connected to Lucifer. It wasn’t as heady an experience as actually touching him, but it came close, and it was far more all-encompassing. It was like he suddenly wrapped his arms around every single centimeter of her.
She let out the faintest gasp. She controlled it, hoping that Sidney wouldn’t be able to hear it or see her exact expression of relief. He would be way too focused on the fact that his magic was about to go forevermore.
Sure enough, he started to buck wildly. “You can’t do this to me. You can’t do this to me,” he screamed. “I have friends in high places,” he practically squealed now.
“Do you? Are they higher than Lucifer?”
“I know the head of the Magical Enforcement Unit. He’s got my back.”
Felicity couldn’t count the number of times crims had started to squeal when they realized the gig was up. When it became apparent that she would and could take their power, they would offer her anything, from yachts, to savings, to their own damn children if they were twisted enough.
But this was the first time she’d ever heard a threat like that. She tried not to react, she tried to focus on her spell, but she couldn’t stop one of her eyebrows from twitching.
He saw. He tried to fight against the restraint spell to get as close to her as he could. “That’s right, I am friends with the head of the Magical Enforcement Unit.”
“And who is that now?” Felicity said, trying to act uninterested in the hopes it would wipe away the tension that had grabbed her the second he’d mentioned that. “I’m not up with magical affairs anymore. Doesn’t really bother me. I work for the dark side of town.”
“Stephen Lay,” Sidney spat.
Her brow dug hard over her eyes. “Last time I checked, the head of the Magical Enforcement Unit was Patrick King.” She tried – she goddamn tried to control her voice as she said King, but she couldn’t, and it fluctuated with just the same fear, sorrow, and goading loneliness it always did whenever she thought of Damien.
She shouldn’t have displayed such emotion in front of Sidney. The skin around his eyes tightened as if someone had scrunched up melting plastic wrap. “I’m friends with Lay. I also know Patrick,” he said, his voice dipping down low.
“That’s great. I’m very proud of you. Perhaps they can come and console you when they find that you haven’t got any magic. Now—” she began to reach a hand forward.
He bucked back again, his eyes even wilder. “I’ve gone on missions for him. He knows how useful I am. He’s not going to let someone like me go.”
Though Felicity tried not to, she still frowned. She had to end this right now. It was damn clear that he was just trying to buy himself more time. Maybe he thought that the longer Felicity kept him in this state, the weaker she’d become. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Felicity could do this all week.
Or maybe, a mutinous voice said at the back of her head, he really did know Stephen.
Again she should have controlled her expression.
His gaze locked onto it with the equivalent of trembling fingers.
“I’ll get my magic back, bitch, and I’ll come for you,” he spat.
She pushed her tongue against her teeth. It was a deliberate, obvious move. It was like she was trying to intimidate an actor on stage for all the audience to see. Everything was over the top.
But not all of it was an act. She didn’t like the look in his eyes. She’d done this enough times to realize that most no-hopers only ever stared back at you with total fear. Sidney was afraid, sure, but there was a great deal of vicious anger behind that fear. He’d only be displaying that if he thought he still had a chance.
“Do you really think Lay and Patrick King,” she tried with all her might to keep her voice steady this time, “are going to waste the considerable magic,” her voice ticked up on the word considerable, “it would take to give you your magic back? I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through such a process, but not only is it exceptionally painful, it is exceptionally hard. It requires a hell of a lot of power. Do you honestly think,” her voice shook on the word honestly, “that Patrick King, one of the most decorated magicians in the magical community, is going to do something like that for you?” She ground her finger into his chest. “The rituals required to bring a person’s magic back are some of the darkest in the books. And you think Patrick—”
“He’s done it before, and he will do it again.”
Felicity simply knelt there for several seconds. She’d already accessed Lucifer’s seals. This was where she needed to concentrate and strip Sidney of his magic, knock him out, and finish this. She couldn’t. She was frozen to the spot – all at the look in his eyes.
He didn’t appear to be lying. But he had to be.
Felicity had never met Damien’s parents. She’d heard about them, though. Damien had loved them. And what wasn’t there to love? Unlike everyone else in the magical community, they actually appeared to be just and upstanding.
Damien had always told her that they would accept her just fine. They didn’t judge a person by how wealthy they were or what family they came from. All that mattered to them was how they contributed to society.
Damien had loved his father especially. His eyes had always lit up whenever he’d talked about him. To be fair, it wasn’t just Damien. Patrick King had fans everywhere. He was the youngest Magical Enforcement Director ever. Along with his wife, he’d invented spells the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the rawer days of magic several thousand years ago.
The Kings were like royalty. And though she didn’t buy into the myths of the elites usually, she did when it came to the Kings.
She tried not to blink obviously, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“You’ve got no idea what they can do, do you? Demon witch,” Sidney spat. It was clear he was taking more and more pleasure in Felicity’s apparent confusion.
When he tried to push against the spell and spit on her, all she had to do was click her fingers, and he fell right back down. The fear that should always have been there catapulted back into his eyes. But there was still anger burning beneath it. “You’ve got no idea what they’ll do. Lay will look after me.”
“I don’t care about Lay,” she growled. “I doubt Patrick would do something like that, though.”
He frowned. “Patrick? Are you on speaking terms? How would a demon witch like you know him?”
“Enough,” she growled.
She brought her hands forward and got ready to settle them either side of his face.
He snarled at her. “Don’t you want to know more, witch?” The way he spat witch made it sound derogatory despite the fact that around these parts, being a witch was pretty common. Casa City was a well-known magical hub.
That didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism in the magical world. Especially among smalltime magicians. They always thought they were better than witches. Felicity proved him wrong as, with a smile and a light pat of his cheek, she reinstated her weight spell. His sternum could have cracked if she put just a little more force into it. She didn’t even have to lean close to him. All she had to do was think about it.
His eyes pressed even wider open. “You think that’s power, witch?” he snarled again, but there was a frightened, tightened note in his voice.
“Yes, I think that’s power.”
“You ain’t seen nothing. You know what Lay is going to do to you?”
She sighed. “Nothing. He’s never going to find me.”
“He will. He owes me. So he’ll come looking for you. He’ll kill you, just like that,” he snarled. Though he couldn’t exactly click his fingers, he could click his tongue. The wet, disgusting sound of it slapping against the top of his mouth made her back shiver, though she didn’t show it.
Though she had absolutely no love lost for Josephine Lay’s father, she still crumpled her nose and showed just how seriously she took that possibility. The Lays would be nasty, arrogant, entitled assholes, but she doubted Stephen Lay would be as violent as Sidney was suggesting.
He laughed back. “You’ve got no idea how the real magical world works, ha? You’ve got no idea who’s really in charge,” he snarled.
“I have a pretty good idea of who is in control now,” she said. She settled her hands either side of his head. It was time to finish this.
“Lay’s got a demon working for him, witch. He controls it fully. Mark my words, he’ll come for you.”
She couldn’t take it anymore. She pushed her nails into his temples. It was a quick, snapped movement like a spring flicking back on itself. It wasn’t just her doing it. She could feel Lucifer’s eagerness to get this done.
Though she was only connecting to his magic and not his full mind, that didn’t matter. She would never have waited so long between initiating the magic-sapping spell and using it. Maybe his magic was worried that something was wrong.
Felicity had never – and would never – go against Lucifer. She knew which side her bread was buttered on.
Plus, even if she had the gumption to do it, what then? She’d seen what happened when his employees rebelled. They just… disappeared. There was no mention of them ever again. They went from being functional magicians who did his every word, to being the equivalent of permanent question marks for the rest of their lives.
But even though Felicity had never and would never go against Lucifer, she wondered if the eagerness of his magic had something to do with a suspicion that she was about to let Sidney go.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Lucifer’s magic pounded through her and sank into Sidney, she felt relieved. She imagined she was channeling it from all of Sidney’s victims. This monster would now be taken out of the magical gene pool, and despite his protestations, he would not be coming back.
The whole van filled with this pulsing, vibrating energy. It made it feel as if the very air had turned into scratching fingers. After several seconds, they started to concentrate on Sidney. They swirled around him and sunk into his body with all the eagerness of a wolf’s teeth as it ripped into its prey. He let out one last scream. Felicity ensured a blast of her magic encircled the van so that not a single sound could echo out.
Then Sidney lay still.
She drew the magic out of him. She didn’t bother to open her eyes. She always kept them closed for this particular part of the process. Yeah, this asshole deserved what was coming to him, but she still didn’t like to see revenge as it was being meted out. You’d think that would be funny considering her job and her obsession with getting her vengeance on Broadstone.
But funny it was not. Felicity was well aware of the fact that she didn’t have the guts to look a man in his eyes as she was stealing his future.
Once it was done, Felicity opened one eye then the other. Sidney was as still as a corpse. His mouth was open, and his head had lolled to the side. Were it not for his percussive breath, she could convince herself he was dead.
She rapped her knuckles on his chest. Then she stood, or as best as she could in the van.
She shifted over to the door, opened it, and jumped down.
She went to walk away. She stopped. With a hand on the door, she inclined her head back to Sidney and frowned.
She was used to trash talk when she began the process of stealing someone’s magic, but had there been more to it this time?
She shook her head. There was no way Damien’s dad would ever help someone like this idiot. “Put it all out of your head and get back home.”
She walked around to the driver’s side of the van, wrenched the door open despite the fact it was locked, grabbed the magical map on the passenger seat, and cast a quick spell. It would ensure the van would take Sidney to the location he’d been intending to take the six-year-old, Susie. From there, who really cared what happened to him? His magic was gone, and if he had any sense, he would make himself disappear, too.
She walked away from the van and shoved her hands into her pockets just as it rumbled into life and pulled out of the car park. This was a spell she’d cast multiple times before, so she was confident enough that she wouldn’t cause any crashes as an unmanned van wended its way through the streets.
She walked all the way back into the shopping mall, paused once more to incline her head in the direction of the car park, then shrugged. “Just put it out of your damn head,” she whispered. “Sidney was talking crap.” With her hands still in her pockets and her heels clicking over the crappy polished concrete, she reached that service cupboard door. She paused, cast a quick confusion spell, then walked inside. She arrived back in her bathroom at The Devil Man club.
Though she knew she had to deliver her magic to Lucifer, she got stuck staring at her reflection. She looked older somehow, even though that made no sense whatsoever. Her appearance was artificial. She looked just as old as Lucifer wanted her to. But she couldn’t deny that there was a certain shadowy, haunted look to her gaze.
“Put it out of your head,” she told herself firmly one last time. Then she walked out.
The Devil Man club was technically busy during the day as Lucifer still ran his primary business from it. But at night, it was absolutely pumping.
Felicity had never really figured out if Lucifer lived here because he particularly liked clubs or if it was just the most convenient front for his operation. One thing was for sure – it was damn inconvenient to live in one of the most popular clubs in town. But over the years, she had gotten used to the crowds. Once upon a time, she’d never been one for crowds, but now as she strode past Larry the barman, she grabbed a drink that had clearly been meant for another patron as she wended her way seamlessly through the gyrating bodies.
Rather than shout at her, Larry just winked, quickly poured another drink, and handed it to his customer before the lady could start a fight.
Felicity just shot her a smile. “Sorry. I had a hard day.”
Despite the fact Felicity had come straight back from her job to deliver her magic to Lucifer earlier, he hadn’t been in.
She’d spent the rest of the day doing some groundwork for another case. Now she was back. And her stomach was tight. No, she wasn’t particularly hungry. She’d already picked something up from the Chinese take away across the street. There was grease on her fingers and sleeves from where she’d eaten like a pig.
She usually had to eat quickly. She never knew when she would get another mission.
Though she knew Lucifer wouldn’t send her on another operation today, that wasn’t the point. She’d eaten quickly in order to see him.
“You’re such a goddamn idiot,” she chided herself under her breath as she strode past two necking couples.
Once upon a time, she would’ve stared at them with bright red cheeks and wondered how they could do that in public.
Now she didn’t even bother to glance their way.
When they made particularly unpleasant slurping sounds, however, she leaned in, downed a few gulps of her drink, and arched an eyebrow. “You two sound like vacuum cleaners. Watch out that you don’t suck out each other’s tonsils.”
Neither of them bothered to stop what they were doing.
Felicity took another draft of her drink, shifted through the pulsating bodies on the dance floor, ignored the scent of sweat, alcohol, and drugs, and headed straight for Lucifer’s office. She strode up the stairs that led to it, and she waved at Barney the bouncer. To think, she’d been deathly terrified of him the first day she’d come here – something he often joked about.
“You look so pale, Felicity,” he sniggered. “Scared of these?” He flexed his biceps. Considering his muscles weren’t just ordinary human sinew, it was an impressive sight indeed.
Felicity had walked in with her sunglasses on, despite the fact it was 12 o’clock at night. She pressed them up her forehead, locked her tongue against her teeth, and shrugged. “They aren’t as impressive as mine, Barney. Sorry.”
Barney laughed. “I guess you have a point. Not everyone can be Lucifer’s number one witch.”
She shrugged, finished off her drink in one gulp, despite the fact it was straight whiskey, and handed it to him. “Do what you want to do with that.”
“Okay,” he said as he tossed it over his shoulder.
It didn’t sail down the staircase and strike one of the gyrating dancers. It disappeared in a magical pop.
She frowned. “Larry hates it when I don’t return the tableware.”
“Then I guess you’ve pissed off Larry.” Barney shrugged. “Good luck with that. He is on the rampage lately. Someone keeps stealing his parfait spoons.”
Felicity didn’t immediately laugh. If you didn’t know Larry, maybe you would assume that was a joke. She shook her head. “That someone’s gonna pay.”
Barney laughed knowingly.
She patted his shoulder as she walked up to the door. She didn’t need him to open it. All she did was open her lips slightly and breathe.
One of the first things she’d learned when she’d started to work for Lucifer was that a lot of the trash she’d been taught in magic defense class wasn’t true. According to her teachers, demons often controlled their minion’s magic through blood. Bullshit. It was through breath.
That was why she would have to press her lips against her seals to activate them. The demon world recognized what humans often did not. Breath was the most important source of power. Without it, you would die. Quickly. Someone could drain your blood, patter by patter, but it still wouldn’t kill you as quickly as if they plain choked you.
The door swung open. Her stomach kicked one last time, but she pushed it away and walked in.
Lucifer was with someone.
One tall, slim, stunning lady, to be precise.
But he wasn’t with with her. Not yet, at least. Sure, she had a certain lustful look in her eyes, and as she sat opposite him in the lower mezzanine section of the office in one of the plush leather chairs, she crossed her legs Basic-Instinct style.
Lucifer looked up at Felicity.
Felicity just smiled back. “Am I interrupting something?” she asked in a patently false, sweet, innocent tone.
The woman turned around, a peeved expression on her face. “I thought you said we would be alone?”
“Oh, don’t mind me – I’m a nobody,” Felicity said with a shrug as she walked past the lady, reached over to Lucifer, and patted him on his shoulder. Just a few sparks of magic started to travel through her fingers and into his suit.
She was careful enough not to let them crackle visibly over his arm. Though she was assuming this chick was magical, the first thing you realized when it came to working for Lucifer was that assumptions were the devil.
Lucifer had a very wide network. He didn’t just take revenge on the magical community.
Judging by how intimate this was, Felicity really doubted this chick was here because someone had put a contract out on her and Lucifer was seeing to it personally.
Lucifer was one of the most attractive demons in town. He was young – only a few years older than Felicity. That came with… what was the right word? Virility.
This lady clearly knew that, and she clearly wanted to get physical.
A surprising number of witches – and magicians too – had fantasies about demons. They were meant to be the best lovers. It wasn’t just that they were exceptionally hands-on. It went back to the fact that there was no one who understood bodies like they did.
Combine their inherent powerful magic with their understanding of physicality and… Felicity didn’t really need to go further, did she? You’ve got the picture.
The woman continued to shoot Felicity peeved looks that told her to get the hell out of here and stop interrupting.
Felicity expected, considering Lucifer’s somewhat irritated expression, that he would tell Felicity the same. Yes, she was his number one witch, but no, that did not mean she could walk in uninvited. He’d repeated that fact to her many times after she’d interrupted things she’d rather not have seen.
She was in a mischievous mood for some reason. Rather than walk out at the look in his eyes, she strode over to his desk and started rifling through his papers.
“Just who the hell are you?” the peeved chick asked.
Felicity shrugged. “Whoever you want me to be.” It was a line she repeated often. Though this was one of her standard appearances, she could look however Lucifer wanted her to look. She could do whatever he wanted her to do. Though missions like today were usually straightforward and only required her to track down her target, occasionally she had to go undercover.
“Right now, you can piss off,” the lady said.
Felicity laughed. “You know, I like your spirit.”
“Felicity,” Lucifer said in that voice – the one she knew was perfectly programmed to do things to her. Back when she’d first met Lucifer, she’d described his voice like a set of fingers that trailed over her stomach. Right now his tone was more like a fist.
It was designed to get her attention and to hold it.
Though she had a little leeway when it came to pushing Lucifer, considering her special status, she was still his, and he was still her master.
Though she wasn’t done playing, she straightened. She opened her hands and spread them wide. “Fine, I get it. I’m leaving. I’ll be in my room if you need me,” she said, smiling at the woman as she emphasized the word room.
“Come here,” Lucifer said.
Felicity frowned. Had she really pushed his buttons that badly?
“What are you doing?” Miss Pretty Little Thing asked in a clearly irate tone that pointed out that right now he should only be paying attention to her.
“This has been… stimulating, I guess,” Lucifer said distractedly as he stood and shrugged toward the door. “But I have something I need to do right now.” His eyes flashed as they locked on Felicity.
She’d come in here in a silly mood, and to be honest, she’d enjoyed playing with him thus far. But at that look, it was clear that playtime was over.
She was going to get in trouble, wasn’t she? Oops.
Miss Pretty Little Thing stood, and it was clear she wasn’t going to back down without a fight. “But—”
“Come back some other time,” Lucifer said as he opened his hand and spread it wide in a specific motion.
Even if the woman had wanted to fight, she couldn’t. She got a glassy look in her eyes as she walked out and closed the door behind her. That just left Felicity with Lucifer. Rather than walk over to his desk and sit on it like she always did, she opened her mouth and massaged her jaw. “Sorry for interrupting you there, whatever that was.”
“I was on a job,” he said.
“Sure it wasn’t pleasure?”
He just looked at her. It was a look that could convey a thousand words, and almost every one of them was an unhappy one.
She shrugged. “Okay, not pleasure, then.”
“Miss Bradshaw was about to give me important information on a target.”
Felicity winced. “Right. So I should go, then. I’ll find Miss Bradshaw and send her back up.”
Felicity went to walk away. Lucifer darted forward and grabbed her wrist. It wasn’t a violent move, but it sure as hell held her in place better than being strapped to a mountain.
She ignored everything her stomach did, and trust her, her stomach sure did a lot.
Slowly, she gathered the gumption to turn her head up and look into his eyes. “This is where I get in trouble, isn’t it?”
“No. This is where you hand over the magic you gathered as usual.”
His tone took her on a tour of her own body. And that tour was wholly pleasant.
You know before how she’d said that demons practiced through their bodies? Their magic was also perfectly programmed to access people’s flesh. Though Lucifer wasn’t technically casting right now, that didn’t stop his words from having a disproportionate effect on her. You could get the most gravelly-voiced guy and make him whisper right in her ear, and it wouldn’t do a fraction of what his deep tone did as he muttered, “It’s time for you to deliver the magic.”
Felicity had to stop herself from getting breathless. She’d said before that she didn’t know why she’d come in acting all playfully. But she often acted stupidly when she came to see him. It was a defense mechanism, see? If she pretended that everything was a joke, she could stave off the blush that always threatened to rise up her throat and cheeks at the sight of him. “All right, then. Are you sure you don’t want this to wait? I can go get—”
“I assure you, Miss Bradshaw will find me again. She’s a demon fancier,” he pointed out with a shrug.
Felicity shrugged, but hers was a heck of a lot tenser. “Lucky man, I guess,” she muttered.
He just shot her that look. He’d been shooting her that look for three years. She still wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.
“You may believe that the line between professionalism and pleasure,” he said that word as if it was the vocal equivalent of drumming his fingers on his desk, “is thin for me, but it is not. I know the difference. Now, next time Miss Bradshaw is here, please allow her to share her information before you interrupt.”
“Okay,” Felicity said. Her voice was way too high pitched.
“Come over here.” He didn’t release her hand.
He walked her down to the couch.
As Felicity had already said, she’d fallen asleep in Lucifer’s lap too many times to count. Why did this time feel different? Oh yeah, because his grip was different. It was tighter for some reason – maybe even a little expectant.
She scratched the back of her neck with her free hand. “You’re angry at me, aren’t you?”
Asking people to define things was Lucifer’s go-to reaction when he was angry.
She winced again. “Look, I got the job done, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did.”
They reached the couch. Lucifer sat down. He was still holding her wrist. When she didn’t immediately take up position beside him so he could free up his hands, he looked at her pointedly. “What is it?”
“Nothing.” She jumped onto the couch.
She didn’t put her head in his lap. She was tired, but she wasn’t that tired.
She sat right up next to him with her body pressed against his.
She knew his gaze was locked on the side of her face as he grabbed his phone out of his pocket and started texting.
She knew way better than to glance at what he was doing. So she just sat there picking at her nails.
“What happened?” he asked without stopping texting.
“Like I said, I got the mission done.”
“There was approximately four minutes between you calling on my power and you using it. What happened, Felicity?”
Her stomach kicked.
She’d been prepared for this. Of course he would know. Though technically when she called on his magic to finish off a mission she was only utilizing a fraction of his unconscious power, it was still his mind.
“Take your time,” he said as he leaned forward and continued to text. He shifted, but he didn’t dare move too far from her. The more proximity they had, the faster the discharge of magic would be. She could feel it as it trailed through her body, pooled in her side, and pressed through her leg and arm.
Take your time? Yeah right. The longer she took to spit this out, the more suspicious he would be.
She just had to get this done. So she closed her eyes. “He just mentioned Patrick King, okay? I shouldn’t have paid attention to it, but I did. I’m an idiot, right?”
“I have met some unfortunately stupid souls in my time,” he muttered without looking at her, “but you’re not one of them.”
She didn’t know if that comment was him forgiving her or just an invitation to look for a better excuse.
She sighed. She trailed her fingers down her trapezius. It was tight. Though she wanted to pretend that she could have fought like that all day without it affecting her, maybe she’d used a little bit too much magic without being aware of it.
She let out another sigh. It was unmistakably heavy.
“I would tell you to lie down, but you’re not going to do that, are you?” he asked perceptively.
She forced her body not to react to that, just as she didn’t react to the specific sideways glance he gave her.
“I’m fine,” she lied as she quickly dropped her hand. “That’s not all that guy said,” she finally volunteered, realizing that she had to get this out. Though Lucifer hadn’t technically been present, and didn’t always use his unconscious connection when she was calling on his magic to check up on her, clearly this time had been different.
Plus, why hold this back? It was stupid. What that guy had said meant nothing.
She shook her shoulders. “He just talked trash, right? It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with that.”
Lucifer didn’t say anything. It looked like he was just concentrating on his work now.
“He said he knew Stephen Lay – said he also knew Patrick King.” She wanted her voice to be even, but it didn’t play nice. It tightened as if her memories were tying a noose around her throat.
She went to pat her chest, but she quickly thought better of it. The less emotion she showed, the easier it would be to prove to Lucifer and herself that this meant nothing.
“What else did he say?”
“He said,” she laughed, and it was a little over the top, “that he’d gone on missions for Stephen Lay. He said he was so important that Stephen and Patrick would find me,” she laughed again, “and they’d get revenge. He said Stephen even has a demon.”
She really did laugh now. It wasn’t at the prospect that a magician could have a demon. They could. If you were a strong enough and stupid enough which, you could call on the dark forces and trap them. But having a demon and working for a demon like Lucifer were two very different things. They were a completely different caliber of dark being.
“What else did he say?” Lucifer asked patiently.
She didn’t like the specific way he said that. It indicated that he was actually interested in this. And that… that made it seem as if this wasn’t so funny after all.
She violated her own rule about acting casually, and she hunched forward.
Before she could break their connection, Lucifer pulled one hand off his phone, settled it on her shoulder, and gently guided her back.
She didn’t even look at him. She fixed her attention on the memory of the incident. “Sidney said that Stephen and Patrick had the ability to give him his magic back.”
Was it just her imagination, or did Lucifer stiffen?
She tried to laugh again, but damn was it weak. It would convince no one that she was taking this lightly.
She let her fingers trail through her hair. “That’s about it. I don’t believe a word of it, though. Sidney was small-time. I felt his magic,” she stared at her hands, “and there was barely any of it. I can’t imagine for a second that someone like Lay would be working with someone like Sidney, and I certainly can’t conceive of a situation where Lay would waste the power required to give Sidney his magic back.”
Lucifer hadn’t asked her for her opinion. She knew that when he didn’t want to hear what she thought, he simply didn’t pay attention to her.
She was usually good at telling whether he was focusing on her or not, but right now, she couldn’t be sure that he’d tuned her out. Demons possessed the ability to control their body language completely, after all.
Slowly, she turned her head around, and she inched her gaze up to him. “It’s bullshit, isn’t it?”
“You’re tired, and though you don’t want to admit this, you utilized a lot of energy during that fight. Lie down. Your injuries need to be healed.”
She knew how this game worked, and this certainly wasn’t the first time he’d had to heal her injuries, but she spluttered for whatever reason. “I’m not injured. I’m fine. That fight took nothing out of me. I could do it 10 times over.”
Any fool would be able to tell that this was just bluster.
She shouldn’t have to tell you that Lucifer was not anyone’s fool.
He finally stopped what he was doing, placed his phone in his pocket, and looked at her directly.
She would’ve given anything for him to pick his phone up again and pull that stony gaze off her. “You may lie to yourself, Felicity, but there is no use in lying to me. You’re weak.”
She closed her eyes. “Sidney was lying, right?” She winked one of her eyes open.
“Unknown,” Lucifer said.
Her stomach pitched. “What do you mean unknown? He was just a smalltime magical criminal. Why would Stephen Lay—”
“I would not have picked you as someone who would protect the reputation of someone like Stephen Lay,” Lucifer pointed out.
Her cheeks twitched as she looked away sharply. “I’m not protecting him. I just find it suspicious that one of the most important wizards in the city and the second in command at the enforcement unit would be directly working with someone like Sidney. I’m sure Lay is a complete asshole,” she said through a forced breath, “but I just don’t think this makes any sense.”
She leaned forward again. This time it wasn’t to look at her hands. She was starting to feel the weariness she’d been pushing back.
Lucifer didn’t insist that she lie down again. He did the next best thing. He plucked up one of her hands and held it tightly.
She could feel the magic escaping her faster now.
It wasn’t just going in one direction anymore. Now she was literally in-hand, Lucifer’s healing magic could push into her.
Though it was the last damn thing she wanted to do, she turned around and put her head in his lap.
She had come in playing the fool so she didn’t flush at Lucifer’s proximity, but any memories of her latent attraction for him ebbed away as she gave in to his healing power.
“I should be stronger than this,” she admonished herself. “Every time I think I’m strong enough to take on Broadstone,” her voice hardened, “something like this happens. That guy was smalltime. I shouldn’t be this weak after a simple fight with him.”
“It was a lot harder than you’re giving yourself credit for,” Lucifer said.
He plucked up his phone again. He could have what felt like a seriously important conversation with her while writing emails on his phone. He was a demon. Insane multitasking skills were the least of his powers.
“I don’t care what you say. That fight should have been damn easy. What the hell is wrong with me?”
“You’re still only human,” Lucifer said.
She laughed. “I’m a witch. And I’m a demon’s dog.”
He stiffened. “I’ve told you many times not to call yourself that.”
“It’s true. I’m a demon’s witch, and I couldn’t even take on that pathetic scumbag. I have no chance, do I?” Though she tried to keep the emotion out of her tone, there was nothing she could do. “I’m never going to be strong enough to take on Broadstone.”
“I will be the judge of that.” Though he’d plucked his phone out, he put it back in his pocket. He turned his head down, and he stared right at her.
One of the reasons she could comfortably sit in a demon’s lap was usually because he wasn’t paying that much attention to her. But whenever he locked his gaze directly on her, it brought into sharp focus what she was doing.
She didn’t push up.
The magic was still emptying out of her and into him. He wouldn’t be pleased if she broke the process. Neither would she be. They would just have to start this all over again.
“You shouldn’t get disheartened.”
She laughed. “Is that because you’re a demon, you don’t have a heart, and you don’t know how hard it is to control it?” she tried to quip, though her comment was too pointed.
She could tell when her humor went too far. You would assume that there was no topic off-limits for a demon. Whenever she talked about the fact he didn’t have a heart, he always got like this, though. “The day to take on Broadstone is closer than you think,” he said abruptly.
She frowned. “You’re saying that to distract me, calm me down, and speed up this process so you can get me off your lap. My emotions are affecting the magic exchange, aren’t they? I’ll just shut up, then.”
“Did I say that?” His voice hardened. He wasn’t getting angry at her, but if there was one thing she knew that Lucifer hated, it was for her to put words in his mouth.
Whenever she was uncomfortable, her go-to move was to twist her jaw from side to side. Do that right now, though, and she would pretty much be massaging his thigh with her cheek.
She took a breath. “Whatever. I know what you’re thinking, anyway.”
He laughed. It was that deep laugh she was so used to after working for him for this long. It was the kind of laugh that made it seem as if he’d seen everything and there was nothing in this great wide world that could shock him except for her. “You have become very skilled, Felicity. I’ll grant you that. But no matter how skilled you’ve become, you will never be able to read my mind.”
She didn’t like the way his voice became tight on the words my mind.
It brought her back to the fact that she was still lying in his lap. If she focused too much on where she was, she would start to notice all of the details that she had fastidiously ignored every single time she’d ever done this before.
The way his muscles felt…
Nope. She could not go there.
“Whether you choose to believe it or not, the time to take on Broadstone Academy is nearing,” he repeated.
She wanted to pretend that he’d just said that to distract her. She could not deny the specific way his voice arced up, though.
There was import behind his words. Frowning, though she wanted to stay exactly where she was, she rolled her head back and faced him. “What do you mean?”
“I need you to go undercover,” he cut straight to the chase.
“Undercover? Where? And for how long?”
Though most of her undercover missions were usually relatively straightforward and didn’t last more than say a week, she knew from his other employees that sometimes missions could last months, if not years. Maybe she was making this up, but there was something in his eyes that told her this would not be the simple operation she was used to.
“I want you to look at me,” he said suddenly.
She was looking at him, but not directly. To do that, she had to roll all the way over. Though she was happy where she was, thank you very much, she still did it.
She looked right at him.
“Felicity, I need you to go undercover at Broadstone.”
She did nothing. She pretended that she hadn’t heard him.
A few seconds later, a dull ringing picked up in her ears. She shook her head. She smiled vacantly, turned around, and went back to staring at the rest of the room.
“Felicity,” his voice hardened, “don’t ignore what I said. I want you to go undercover at Broadstone.”
She shook her head. She’d been fastidiously still previously so she didn’t roll around in his lap. Now she didn’t care.
“This is no game. There is information I wish to procure from Broadstone, and you are the only witch who can do it for me.”
She started to laugh. It was wholly unhinged. Maybe she was going for unaffected, but it was about the most affected move she had ever made.
“Felicity, this is no game,” he repeated, his voice hardening.
“What are you talking about? Of course it’s a game. You wouldn’t send me back there.” Her breath became choppy. “I don’t have the power to go back there. You keep telling me that I don’t have the strength to seek my revenge. So how the hell could you send me back there—”
He settled a hand on her shoulder. “Felicity, I’m not playing with you,” he said steadily. “And though you do not have the power to take on Broadstone Academy yet, you can still effectively spy on them.”
“You wouldn’t send me back there,” her voice hardened with something that was between anger and total fear, “unless I could finally get my revenge, would you? You wouldn’t be that cruel to me, would you?”
He didn’t reply.
She wanted to push up. She couldn’t.
Even though he was the one who’d just suggested this, and she wanted to bodily remove herself from the possibility, he was still her safe haven. Without Lucifer, she would’ve been crushed three years ago.
If she stood up, not only would they have to begin this process anew, but she would then have to face the prospect this was real, because she would be able to stare directly into his eyes and see just how serious he was.
She squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m really tired, okay? You’re right. That fight took it out of me. Just let me stay here, alright?” Her voice became progressively tighter with every word she said.
“There’s no one else who can complete this mission, and unfortunately, I require it done quickly.”
She shook her head again. “Get someone else to do it. You know I can’t go back there. I was useless there—”
“But you are no longer the same individual you were back then. You have changed, Felicity. And I intend to use your new abilities.”
“Find someone else,” her voice rocketed all the way up now.
“There is no one else. This mission requires you.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Listen to yourself. For the past several months, you have been begging me for an opportunity to take on Broadstone. I am giving you one. But you will not take it.”
“I guess today proved to me why you keep saying that I’m not strong enough. You’re right. So just give me a simple mission. I’ll work my way up.”
“I would not have picked you for someone who would so readily give in to fear, Felicity.” His whole expression hardened.
She didn’t want to respond to that. She could effectively argue against it, though. All she would require was some of her old yearbooks from the academy.
Though Lucifer rarely got genuinely angry at her, the one thing that always got his goat was when she would spiral into fits of self-loathing. She was doing it less frequently than she had in the early days, but while she’d changed a lot on the outside, the old insecurities the academy had carved into her were still there.
“There’s been another murder,” he suddenly said flatly.
She didn’t want to face what he’d said. It wasn’t just the fact that she couldn’t put up with it; it was like her mind simply couldn’t process words anymore. There was a dull ringing in her ears.
“Another bursary scholarship winner, just like yourself, was killed. She was a promising graduate researcher. She was pushed from the roof. She fell into a spell that contorted her body like a doll given to a dog. Then she was strung up in the middle of the grounds. It took two classes for anyone to notice. Granted, she was tied to a large tree, but gruesome dead bodies are very rarely used as landscaping enhancements.”
Felicity couldn’t take it anymore. She pushed off his lap and looked right at him.
Fortunately, the magical process was almost complete, anyway. The last few crackles of Sidney’s power shifted out of her and into Lucifer.
She couldn’t describe the way she looked at him. Even if someone had taken a photo of it and they’d given her several hours to track her emotions, it wouldn’t have mattered. Her head became foggy. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I would hope that you have now known me long enough to know that I do not lie.”
A sick sensation wended its way around her stomach and plunged into her back. It wheedled its way up her spine and sank into her jaw until her lips wobbled open. “Those bastards. Those murderous monsters.”
“Indeed. You have the opportunity to stop another murder. But you must go there undercover.”
She opened her mouth. She shook her head. “I don’t get it. Who gave you the mission to stop the murders?” She didn’t know why she asked that. It wasn’t as if he ever answered. Just like a competent doctor, Lucifer practiced complete privacy when it came to his deals.
“I won’t tell you who gave me this mission,” he said privately. He looked at Felicity. It was clear that he was not going to ask her again.
Felicity had never outright refused to go on a mission. Even in the early days, she’d still done what he’d asked. It had made her who she was today.
She had no idea what Lucifer would do if she put her foot down. But there was something about the look in his eyes that said she could back out just this once.
She turned from him. The process was over. She walked away from the couch. Silently, she strode over to the window behind his desk. When she was in his office, she spent more time staring out at the view than he did.
She fell into an uneasy silence as her gaze locked on that darkened alleyway beyond.
Lucifer still didn’t say anything. Nor did he get up from the couch. His gaze was on her. It bore a hole into the back of her neck.
Felicity made the mistake of closing her eyes. And there, in a snap, she could see the moment Damien had been brought in, his lifeless body held between two teachers. He’d looked like nothing more than a broken doll.
She tried to fight the tears, but they came anyway. They didn’t run down her cheeks. They just sat there as if they were an open invitation for her to cry her damn heart out, but it wasn’t a given. She got to decide what she would do next.
She appreciated that conclusion had to do with more than crying. This was now up to her. She could go back. She’d been looking for an opportunity to get her revenge for three damn years.
This wouldn’t be it, but it would be a step in the right direction, wouldn’t it? More than that, she’d finally face her frigging fears.
When she’d walked into Broadstone Academy, she’d been nothing more than a feeble target. This time, though she really doubted Lucifer would let her use demon powers, she would be so much more.
He silently rose from the couch. She was only aware of the fact he was moving because she still had a little of a connection with him after the process.
She turned just as he stopped beside her.
“There will be more murders. I fear they are about to increase in rapidity.”
She jerked her head over to him. “Why?”
“It is simply a feeling,” he said.
Maybe with anyone else she would question if they knew what they were talking about. A demon’s intuition was the equivalent of a sound prediction.
She twisted her jaw from left to right, left to right, left to right. Could she actually do this? Could she go back?
“You will not be defenseless this time,” Lucifer said as if reading her mind.
She looked at him sharply. “So you’re going to let me use all the magic I require?”
He arched an eyebrow. “I would not want you to practice demon magic on your first day in front of your classmates, no. You must fit in. But after classes, you can use whatever you need to get this mission done.”
She narrowed her eyes.
Despite appearances, Lucifer often took his missions personally. Maybe the rest of his employees were under the false assumption that this was all just business, but she’d been close enough to Lucifer enough times to appreciate that he had a telling tick when things were bothering him. When he actually wanted to do a mission for personal reasons, he would get this look behind his eyes that was timeless. It went back to the same gaze she’d seen when she’d first met him. The one that looked almost lost. This time, it was still lost, but it had one hell of a sharp, angry edge to it as if he hadn’t found what he’d been looking for, but he’d found a weapon instead.
She closed her eyes. She couldn’t believe she was going to do this, but what choice did she have? Lucifer wouldn’t have lied to her. Another bursary kid just like her would have been killed in the most horrible way possible.
And if nobody stepped in, it would just happen again.
She opened her eyes. She stared at the city. She switched her gaze around, and she looked straight into his direct, burning eyes.
There’d once been a time when she’d been scared to look him in the eye. Now she wouldn’t turn away. “Fine. I’ll do it. What if I need to talk to you, though? How long will this take? From memory, there was at least several months between the last three murders when I was still at the academy.”
“You can come to me every night,” he said. “And I encourage it. I imagine in researching this case, you will come across those who do not require their magic,” he said pointedly.
She smiled. She didn’t need him to explain what that meant.
Though Felicity didn’t have the ability to attack anyone she pleased, she did have a little latitude to make her own decisions. If she encountered somebody who was about to attack her or otherwise harm her, she could take their magic – though not all of it – for Lucifer. If someone tried to kill her, then it was game on. She could drain their magic completely.
“Nightly?” Her lips slid around that word. “You think I’ll have to come back nightly? Do you really think this mission will be that dangerous?”
“Broadstone hasn’t changed much,” he said by way of answer.
She pressed her lips together.
No, she couldn’t imagine that it had changed much at all. If anything, it would have only become a more depraved place.
She looked directly at him. “How exactly are you going to get me in? And what’s my alibi gonna be?”
“You will be a bursary scholarship.”
She laughed. “How fitting. Though I guess it’s easier than pretending I’m from some rich family. It would be hard to do the groundwork to invent a believable lineage.”
“All right,” she looked him right in the eye, “I’ll do it. But when does this mission start?”
He didn’t look away from her. He held her in that specific gaze that felt like his eyes would be holding her for the rest of her life. “Tomorrow.”
That promise echoed in her mind as she turned back to the view. It was time to go back to school.
On every level, she couldn’t believe she was back here. It didn’t matter that she’d been trying to return for the past three years. The only thing that counted was the sense she got as she rocked up to the front doors of the central campus.
A magical taxi had taken her here. She walked out and grabbed her stuff from the back as the guy leaned out and shoved his hand in her face, clearly indicating he wanted to get paid.
Though Felicity’s first intention was to spit in his hand, considering how rude he was, she had to remind herself that she was just a plain pathetic bursary kid again.
She pushed a hand into her pocket, grabbed out the right amount, and shoved it into his palm. “Thank you,” she said, and she tried to make her voice as meek as she could. It was wholly at odds with the way she’d handed the money over.
“Have fun,” the taxi driver snarled with a laugh. There was something about his voice. Amused didn’t do it justice. It was almost gleeful. Maybe he got a kick out of bursary kids going to Broadstone just to get eaten alive by the elites. Maybe this was like gladiatorial sports for him.
As he drove away in a cloud of exhaust, she concentrated. She knew the rules. She had to pretend she was just a little meek scholarship student during the day. She couldn’t crack out her demon powers to silence anyone, no matter how irritating they became. That didn’t stop her from tracing her tongue over the top of her mouth.
She cast a silent, undetectable spell. It would ensure that by the time Mr. Asshole taxi driver got back to the city, he’d have four flats.
She turned back to Broadstone.
She didn’t have that much luggage. She didn’t need it. She knew exactly what it was like to be a bursary kid. You got your uniforms because they were paid for by the school. Everything else was up to you. If you were truly down on your luck, that meant your luggage was the equivalent of carry-on.
She hefted her bag up.
The first thing she did was tilt her gaze up toward the girls’ wing. She imagined that right there the new queen bees of Broadstone would be leering at her behind the glass. They’d know that today another bursary kid would be arriving.
“Come get me,” Felicity muttered as she walked up the steps.
The doors opened. A teacher scurried out to greet her. If a new elite had been joining, the headmaster himself would have shown up. Though Felicity didn’t recognize this teacher, from one look at him it was clear he was right down the bottom of the pecking order.
“The first thing you have to do,” he said without bothering to introduce himself or welcome her, “is learn the rules.”
“Yes,” she said meekly. God, it was all too easy to slip into that old refrain. She knew the exact register she should keep her voice in. She knew the exact way she should look at the guy from underneath her rumpled brow. Hell, her body could even remember just how hunched her shoulders should be. This was a routine that she had perfected over all the years she’d been at Broadstone, and it had likely been the only thing that had kept her alive.
The teacher continued to sprout off the rules to her as he led her up the steps and into the building.
Felicity didn’t pay attention. She knew the rules. And the ones that were official were absolutely irrelevant compared to the ones that were unofficial. If you actually wanted to survive in this school, you had to learn those as fast as you possibly could. Rule number one was that the most powerful kids in the school had the most powerful parents. Usually they came from the truly old families. And those were the kids you had to watch out for.
Sass them, fight them, or do better than them in class, and you sure as hell wouldn’t survive.
Yeah, it had been different with Damien, but he had been the exception to the rule.
Rule number two was that bursary kids like her did what they were told. If some rich irritating shit demanded that you got out of their way, you scurried. If they wanted your position at the cafeteria table, you gave it up. If they wanted you to do their homework, you did it.
You were the slave to their master.
Rule number three was simple. Keep your head down and survive. Never rise up. Never make a target of yourself. Never be exceptional.
You were there to be in the elites’ shadows, and the day you forgot that was the day you got kicked back to the corner where you belonged.
Felicity wondered if that was why the last murder victim – an Emelia Winston – had been targeted. She’d been an exceptional researcher. She’d shown true promise. Presumably somewhere along the line she’d pissed off an elite by proving that she was better than them.
Big damn mistake.
“Do you understand?” the teacher snapped at her as he turned around and planted his hands on his hips.
Felicity had to try hard not to snarl at him. She locked her lips into a smile. Any harder, and she’d swallow her teeth. “Yes, I understand.” She nodded and bowed low. “Thank you so much for this opportunity.” She channeled her old self. Those were the exact words she’d used when she’d been allowed into Broadstone.
The teacher didn’t even look at her. He turned away. “Here at Broadstone there are two separate dormitories. The girls’ dormitory is to the west, and the boys to the East. Understand this, your room will be coded only to those who sleep there. No one else will be allowed to enter.”
“Of course,” she stammered.
“Though it’s your first day, you are still expected to head to classes. Drop your stuff in your room and come down. I will ensure that there’s someone to guide you.”
Yeah. She’d get a guide. If things hadn’t changed since her time, it would be the Head Girl. And unless things had really changed, the Head Girl would be the kid with the most important family.
Felicity had done her research before she’d come. Times changed, but not that much. The Head Girl was now a Candice Lay – Josephine’s sister. As for Josephine, she was now a graduate researcher.
Felicity needed to control herself to stop a certain kind of smile from spreading her lips. She would relish the opportunity to meet Josephine again. Preferably on a dark night were Josephine wouldn’t be able to see what was coming.
“This is a privilege,” the teacher said suddenly as he turned at the base of the stairs that headed up to the girls’ dormitory. “You will understand that. You will follow the rules. You will do as you’re told. And you will never forget the opportunities that Broadstone has given you.”
Felicity knew the stakes – dammit, she did – but it was so hard to control herself at the arrogant look flashing in his eyes.
She looked him up and down. Heck, she gave him the exact look she usually shot her targets when she was about to shove her knee into their chest and knock them flat.
Her stare did not go unnoticed. He took a step in close. His eyes blazed. “Do you understand?” His voice hardened. “You’re in your final year before graduation – it is critical you understand.”
“Yes, I understand,” she controlled herself. Her voice wasn’t as deferential as it should have been, though.
He quickly strode away, but not before shooting her a disgruntled, suspicious look.
Felicity hadn’t caught his name. She would, though. When she went back to Lucifer tonight, she’d ask for bios on all the teachers.
When this was over, maybe she’d pay Mr. Arrogant Asshole there a visit and see if he was still as full of himself when he didn’t have any backup.
Felicity waited until he was out of sight, then she rolled her eyes.
She walked up the steps. A class had ended, and kids were coming out.
They walked around her, and every single one of them stared at her. God, she remembered that exact stare. It made you feel as if you were the only antelope in a pack of lions.
Several guys made disparaging comments about her looks.
Several girls laughed.
A few kids just ignored her and clearly concentrated on getting to class. Those would be the bursary kids. It was a big mistake to ignore her. If they actually wanted to fit in, this is where they had to take glee in the fact that there was now someone below them.
Felicity barely reacted. She ignored the glares and walked up the steps.
Though she just wanted to get this done, she understood that there was little Lucifer would be able to do for her if she broke the rules and started practicing demon magic. It was critically important that she didn’t stick out too much. During the day, at least. During the night, she would give these creeps hell.
She held onto that fact. She made it to the girls’ dormitory.
As she exited onto the expansive level, she watched several girls in the corner trying makeup spells.
So nothing had changed much, ha? It’d been three years, but school was exactly the same.
As she passed, one of them exited the group and looked at her. “Shouldn’t you be a little more polite?” Her voice hardened. “You’re the new kid, ha? Shouldn’t you be introducing yourself? What family do you come from? Would I ever have heard of them?”
“I’m a bursary kid. You don’t know my family,” Felicity said simply. Yeah, she got it, she had to pull her head in, but she also had to get to class.
She walked straight past and navigated easily to her room.
She stopped in front of the right door, and she had to control herself. It wasn’t at the fact that the chick she’d irritated was marching up behind her. It was that Felicity had been put in her old room. What were the chances? Or had Lucifer organized this?
He might pretend to act kindly toward her most of the time, but he was still a demon, right?
Right, she answered quickly. And this wasn’t him playing a cruel game – he only did things if they meant something. He was not petty. If he’d put her in this room, then there had to be a reason.
She stepped forward and pushed a hand out. She quickly accessed the coded lock.
Unlike the last time she’d been here, as soon as her fingers settled around the handle, she understood how it worked. More than that, in a few quick seconds, she understood how to break the coding spell. She would now be able to break into anyone’s room, regardless of whether they wanted her in there or not.
She went to open the door.
The chick she’d irritated previously wasn’t about to let her go, though.
“Sorry, but do you have any idea who I am?”
“No, and I don’t care,” Felicity said quickly.
She had 10 minutes to get to class. Class would be seriously important. Yeah, okay, the investigations she’d do at night would be the real kicker, but class would be how she would understand the current dynamic. She needed to see how the school worked. Specifically, she had to assess who were the current weakest targets. Then all she would have to do was hang around them until the murderer attacked.
Felicity went to push through her door. That was when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
The nails were curled in.
She rolled her eyes. She turned. She flattened a stiff smile over her face. Only a second later did she remind herself that she had to be weak. But, dammit, she couldn’t stop her stiff lips from looking like she was getting ready to chew through bone. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are. But I’ve really got to get to class.”
“And I was told that my scholarship is dependent on me always being prompt. I can’t skip class, even if it’s my first day.”
“And it’s nice to meet you?” Felicity tried. She could’ve laughed at her own joke.
“Is it? I’m going to go back to the fact that you clearly have no idea who I am.”
“Who are you?” Felicity asked innocently. She knew the answer. Just another rich idiot who thought the world revolved around them.
“Belinda Hamilton,” she said.
She could have lit a match and ignited the word Hamilton. She put so much power into it, it was like the strongest spell in the world.
The Hamiltons were an old family. They were eye-wateringly rich. And they were powerful as all hell. Hamilton Senior sat in the government, and his wife ran a very lucrative magical bank. Though in the real world that would be a little bit of a conflict of interest considering Mr. Hamilton helped regulate the magical banking industry, the magical world didn’t have time for morals.
Felicity forced herself to feign surprise. “I’ve heard the name Hamilton before. You’re… wow, you’re not the daughter of Frederick and Jennifer Hamilton, right?”
Belinda’s lips snarled open. Hell, the way they moved, it was a surprise she didn’t cut her cheeks off her face. “Yes, I am. I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Oh dear,” she said in a falsely light tone.
“Why have we gotten off on the wrong foot?” Felicity asked weakly. It was damn hard not to push her own foot forward and step on Belinda’s shoe to prove exactly how it really felt to get off on the wrong foot.
“You’re rude,” Belinda said point-blank. “I can’t abide rudeness. Everybody deserves dignity, don’t they? But are you too good to give it?”
Felicity tried not to smile. She tried not to frown. She tried not to do anything, because right now the only thing she wanted to do was shove Belinda back, press her foot into the door, and slam it so hard that Belinda would lose her teeth.
Felicity settled for closing her eyes and regaining her nerve with a tight breath. “Rude? I’m so sorry. I just need to get to class—” she began.
Her act was obviously good enough for Belinda. She gave Felicity a once up and down, clicked her tongue, crossed her arms, and walked off. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around.”
Felicity rolled her eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said in a fake tone as she grabbed the door and closed it.
She turned to see that she’d had an audience. There was a girl sitting on the edge of her bed.
Felicity pressed her lips together and tried to smile. “I am Mary. Nice to meet you. Who are you?”
“There’s no point in knowing my name,” the girl said.
“Because you’ll be dead by the end of the day.”
Though it was probably just hyperbole, Felicity still frowned. “Dead?”
“Nobody messes with Belinda. She’s together with the King.”
Felicity tried to control her expression, but she couldn’t. At the mention of king, it felt like someone had kicked her in the heart.
The girl just took this to mean that Felicity was finally understanding how much shit she was in. “She looked pissed. She is going to torture you. Mark my words.”
“You said that she was together with the King,” Felicity began.
“Jake King. Why?”
Felicity scratched her arms. She didn’t need to try to look pathetic anymore. She was. “I thought… I thought I read a few years back that a Damien King,” God she couldn’t control her voice, “was killed right here on campus.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Jake is his brother. Mark my words, right now Belinda is gonna go straight to him. If you think it’s going to be bad enough being bullied by her and her friends, you will wake up to a whole new world of pain tomorrow.” With that, she got off her bed, fixed her uniform, and went to the door. She stopped in front of it. “I’m Jane, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Jane. I’m Mary.”
“You already said that.” Without another word, Jane walked out.
Felicity crossed her arms. She waited until the door was locked. “Great,” she said, and she didn’t modulate her tone. She meant it, and she even pumped her fist into the air.
She couldn’t have hoped to make a better enemy in the first few minutes of arriving here.
Yeah… it was uncomfortable that Belinda was going out with Damien’s brother, and she didn’t want to believe that Jake could be bad, but she had more than enough evidence to conclude that Belinda was.
Though maybe it would have been better for Felicity to keep her head down and just tag along, spying on everyone from the shadows, she could use this too. She would gather way more attention this way, and most of that attention would be bad. She would quickly get to understand just who was powerful at Broadstone and just exactly what they could do to those who they thought were weaker.
Felicity dumped her stuff.
As she kicked it under her bed, she ran her hand over her bed covers. She closed her eyes. She cast a quick surveillance spell. She would know who would go through her stuff. It wasn’t an if – it was a would. These girls would pick through her bag the second they could.
Hell, she wouldn’t put it past one of them to be employed by Belinda. That’s what had happened back in Felicity’s day.
“Have fun.” She patted her bed and winked at the last few traces of her spell that disappeared under her covers. “And good hunting.” She fixed her blazer, ran her hand through her hair, and finally walked to the door.
She got to class.
It was magical defense.
She had to stop herself from laughing her ass off as she walked in to see kids in activewear trying to engage in magical sparring. Every single one of them could be taken down with ease. Even the teacher was a lightweight.
As Felicity strode in, her back was straight and her head was held high.
Belinda was already there. She was standing over near a handsome guy who instantly reminded her of Damien. The resemblance was so sharp, it took Felicity’s breath away. That had the bonus effect of taking the wind out of her sails.
“So here’s the newbie, then?” The teacher gestured toward her. “You’re a bursary student, aren’t you?” he said for everyone to hear. “Can you come onto the mat to show us what you can do?”
Oh, Felicity would love to. She settled for pressing her lips into a fake smile. “Really?” She let her fingers trail through her hair awkwardly. “We didn’t do too much magical defense at my last school—”
“Then you have a lot to learn. Who wants to spar with Mary here?”
Belinda put her hand up slowly and ticked a finger to the side. “I’ll do it.”
“Seems a little unfair,” the teacher chuckled. “You’re the number one rated witch in the class.”
Belinda clapped her hands together. “Then I guess Mary here,” she emphasized the word Mary as if she was carving it out of the air, “will have a lot to learn from me. I’ll be happy to teach her.”
There were several unkind sniggers.
Here we go, Felicity thought.
Though usually in magical sparring the first thing you had to do was protect yourself, the first thing Felicity needed to do was rein in her natural instincts. Lucifer had already told her that she couldn’t show her power – both magical and physical. She had to keep her head down. That was proving to be hard as she navigated this snide world, but it would be nowhere near as hard as when she was sparring.
Felicity had become an instinctual fighter now. She moved as her body saw fit. She dodged several seconds before an attack came her way. Her senses were honed, in other words, and it was seriously hard to turn that function off. She was like a high-powered race car that was being asked to crawl around the track.
Belinda reached around her back and grabbed something from the back of her skirt. It was a wand.
Felicity had to try so damn hard not to roll her eyes. Really, a wand? Why not put on a cape and pull bunnies out of a hat while she was there?
“Where’s your wand?” Belinda looked Felicity up and down pointedly. “Or can’t you afford one?”
There was a smattering of laughter which the teacher did nothing to stop.
No, I don’t need a wand, Felicity thought to herself. Then she imagined the innumerable ways she could take Belinda down with nothing more than her pinky finger.
She settled for shrugging awkwardly. She ensured her cheeks burnt as brightly as a nuclear explosion. “I’m sorry. I didn’t have the time to pick one up.”
That was the exact excuse Felicity had used years ago. She hadn’t been able to afford a wand, but she’d been too embarrassed to point that out.
No one here was under any illusion that she had simply lacked a chance to procure one. There was even more laughter.
Belinda shrugged. “Here. How about you take mine?” Her voice was so fake, Felicity had to try hard not to gag.
She tried to splutter instead. “Really? What are you going to use?”
Belinda walked over to Jake and pushed a hand out. With the slightest smile pressing across his lips that reminded her of Damien, he handed Belinda his wand.
Felicity quickly tore her gaze off Jake.
It wasn’t quick enough, though. Belinda moved in close. “Not a chance, bitch – not for someone like you.”
“Okay, begin. The rules are simple. Whoever can pin their opponent with any form of legal spell wins the match,” the teacher said as he clapped his hands loudly.
He didn’t bother to point out what spells were legal, because he really didn’t think that Felicity would have any chance of winning.
Belinda pushed her wand forward, took up the stupidest pose as if she was a flight attendant indicating where the exits were, and flourished her wand in one of the longest spell castings Felicity had ever seen. It would leave her wide open to be struck by a snail, let alone a fist.
Felicity just stood there, trying to look weak. When the spell was finally cast, she took it right on her chest. Belinda’s enchantment was like a sneeze.
Felicity had to push her back into it and throw herself onto the mat. She felt like a method actor.
God, it really was gladiatorial sports to them, wasn’t it?
Felicity had to remind herself to cough and look out of breath as she staggered up. All the while, she held Belinda’s wand. And all the while, she did things to it.
Belinda might’ve thought she was making a point by taking her boyfriend’s wand, but she clearly had no idea what a demon witch could do when motivated.
As Belinda continued to stupidly fight in a way that would get her killed in the real world, Felicity just focused on the wand. She maintained a clear connection between her hand and the wood.
The first thing she noted was countless illegal spells that were there to increase the user’s power and give them an unfair advantage in class. Though it would have been tempting as hell to remove them and see what Belinda would’ve done, that would be child’s play.
In the wrong hands, a witch’s wand could become an exceptional surveillance device.
Though it would take longer to turn it into a functioning microphone and camera, all Felicity required was a little physical contact to make it into a location tracker. She got the impression that Belinda would be a very important person to keep an eye on. But Felicity wouldn’t be able to be everywhere at once. Plus, at night when she was back with Lucifer, she’d need to keep watch on Belinda remotely. This spell would do that.
You didn’t require Latin words to cast spells. Or Greek, for that matter, or Samarian, or Hebrew, or any other ancient language that was chic at the moment in the magical community. All you required was intention. You were taught at Broadstone that you still needed to use words, though, because they were under the mistaken impression that they had a psychological effect on your opponent.
Belinda obviously bought this fallacious rule hook, line, and sinker. As she continued to pound Felicity relentlessly, and the teacher did nothing whatsoever, all the while Belinda sounded like a chewed-up version of Google translate someone was feeding a laundry list through.
On the surface, Felicity made sure she looked injured. Her shoulders were hunched, her hair was a right mess, and she sagged whenever she had to. Internally, she was just fine. She could do this all day. And unlike the debacle with Sidney, she wasn’t joking. She still didn’t quite understand how the fight with Sidney had injured her so much, but Felicity was sure that tonight when she went back to Lucifer, she wouldn’t require any healing magic.
Was that disappointing…?
She couldn’t go there right now. She had to feign more pain.
Belinda struck another stupid pose that made Felicity want to take a photo, slap it up on the board, and show people precisely what you didn’t do when you were in a real fight. It left her so glaringly open, it was like she’d painted a target on herself.
It didn’t take Felicity long at all to finish the locator spell on the wand. As for this ridiculous farce of a fight, soon enough, the teacher gave a chuckle and clapped his hands. “That’s enough,” he said.
Maybe Belinda didn’t hear him. She struck Felicity with what could have been a nasty spell. It was nothing more than a light slap to Felicity. She once again had to force herself to fall as hard onto the mat as she could.
It would be different with the other kids. Magicians who were just starting out wouldn’t have to feign that they were being injured. They wouldn’t have as developed an internal magical system as Felicity did. Right now, regardless of whether she wanted to act weak or not, internally, her magic was working just fine. It ensured that when she was attacked, the majority of that force was dispersed unconsciously.
Belinda arched her shoulders and kind of wiggled her butt as if she was stretching on a yoga video. Then she walked straight up to Jake and handed over the wand. “It worked well. Thank you.”
Felicity stood up. She patted down her shoulders, grabbed her uniform, and straightened it. She looked right at the teacher. Then she smiled. “That was an amazing lesson, sir.”
Stop being a smartass, Felicity, she thought quickly, but she couldn’t prevent herself from turning to Belinda and reaching a hand out. “Thank you so much. I hope one day that I’ll be as good a witch as you are.”
Felicity’s somewhat unaffected behavior clearly threw Belinda. She looked down at Felicity’s hand, her nose scrunching with obvious disdain.
“I’ve never met a witch quite like you. I hope you can continue to give me lessons.”
Belinda laughed once.
It was picked up by a number of other students.
Felicity, without inclining her head, counted each one. She also made a mental note of their faces in nothing more than a split second.
The teacher pressed his hands together. “All right, come into the classroom. It’s time to learn one of the most useful spells you will ever encounter in defense class. You, Felicity, should pay attention. It might be the only thing that gives you a chance after that poor display.”
There was another smattering of laughter. Really? That hadn’t even been funny. Apparently loose, crappy threats were the best kind of humor around here, though.
She followed the other kids out into the corridor then along into the nearby room.
It was new. Or at least it had been updated since her days. There were spell-resistant desks and chairs, a massive teaching space out front, and these fancy lockers that presumably contained magical defense equipment.
And all of it, down to every last scrap of furniture, was completely useless.
A well-placed fire spell would burn through this place. But don’t get any ideas, she counseled herself quickly. Though she’d already attempted arson on Broadstone once, now was not the time to grab up the magical equivalent of matches again.
Felicity ignored the various comments – and there were numerous – as she waited at the front of the class to be given a seat. The teacher wasn’t paying attention – that, or he was just fine with her standing there, bedraggled and on display after her fight.
When he strode toward the blackboard, clapped his hands, pulled out his wand, and initiated the board’s specialized magical field, she cleared her throat. “Can I be directed to a seat, sir?”
He looked at her like she was a nuisance. “Actually, you can help me demonstrate something.”
“And what’s that?” she asked in a falsely light tone. Did he want her to demonstrate that he was an idiot? Oh, that was easy as hell. Already done and dusted.
The teacher started to write something on the board with his wand. He wasn’t close to it, but he didn’t need to be. He scribbled in the air, and the symbols shot out of the tip of his wand in charges of magic, danced through the air, then burnt into the blackboard. Though you could hear and smell those particular sounds and scents of burning wood and chalk from here, the board wouldn’t be marked forever. Which was proven as the teacher changed his mind, swiped his wand to the left, and erased what he’d just written. When he was done, Felicity was still standing there.
“All right. Today, we’ll learn to use soul charms.”
Several students audibly gasped and everyone else reacted in some way. Except for Felicity.
… Really? A soul charm? She would be impressed, were they actually going to learn to cast the real thing. But they weren’t. Real soul charms required forbidden magic. That didn’t stop the magical community from using that term. It indicated a set of invented spells that were meant to mimic the power of a soul charm but came nowhere near the real charm’s power.
“Our new girl didn’t react. I assume that means she has no idea what a soul charm is. Does anyone want to pull the wool from her eyes?” the teacher offered.
She expected Belinda to shoot her hand up. She didn’t.
Jake cleared his throat.
Though Felicity was now snide 90 percent of the time despite how much she was trying to fit in, as soon as she set her eyes on him, uncomfortable memories danced through her mind. It was enough that she had to drop her gaze to the side.
Belinda saw. It seemed she paid utmost attention to anyone who made eyes at her boyfriend.
She opened her mouth and began to mutter a spell.
Felicity ignored her.
“Jake King, why don’t you answer? I suppose you’re best suited, considering it was your very mother who helped reinvent them and bring them into the modern age.”
“Sure, I’ll help out. A soul charm,” Felicity could tell that Jake was looking right at her, “channels the direct power of yourself – your truest emotions, I guess you could say. If you get the charm just right, the power it creates is incalculable. You can use it for strong defense spells.”
Shut up, Felicity, just shut up, she told herself. But it wouldn’t work. She looked right at Jake. She tried to tell herself that she wasn’t looking at Damien. “Can you use it for offense?” she asked innocently, even though she damn well knew the answer. If it was a real soul charm, a hundred percent you could use it for offense. That’s what it was meant to be for. If you could actually use forbidden, demon magic to access your soul and channel its power, then necessarily it came to your side and protected you with offensive charms. But the pathetic copy that had been created several years ago and marketed as the real thing was nothing more than a glorified wishing charm.
The class became quiet. It was as if someone had just gagged all the students.
Though Felicity could only see the teacher out of the corner of her eye, that didn’t matter. He looked pissed. As he rolled his jaw from left to right, he stared at Jake again. “Perhaps you could disabuse our new student of that particular notion and point out why it’s so wrong.”
Jake chuckled. There was something about it that was so much like Damien. It had this light but knowing edge.
“It’s dark magic. You can’t use a soul charm for anything but defense. If you did, you’d be a bad witch.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she’s already a bad witch,” someone muttered.
Felicity forced herself to stare at her feet.
Technically when Felicity accessed Lucifer’s seals, she practiced soul magic. Did that make her a bad witch? Yeah, it did, didn’t it?
The teacher faffed about, then finally brought his wand forward. He concentrated, sprouted some Latin gibberish, cast the wand to the side with a stupid flourish that instantly told Felicity where Belinda had got that from, and pulled something out of his pocket.
Judging by just how much magic discharged around the room, he had to put his all into the spell.
Pocket magic was not hard. Felicity had most of her real gear in a pocket just behind her left shoulder. It was completely hidden. Even if you brought a magical scanner right up to her nose and wafted it around her face, you wouldn’t be able to detect it. For other magicians, however, pocket magic was something you built up to over a lifetime.
Presumably none of the other students in here would be able to create one. But, just as presumably, their rich parents would have created one for them. It didn’t matter that it was illegal and you could only create your own pockets. There was already ample evidence to suggest, based on Belinda’s wand alone, that illegal was nothing more than a word to the elites and their children.
The teacher’s hand tightened around the soul charm. It was a massive, hefty thing. It was this large blue vial with a permanently crackling lid that made it look as if someone had grabbed one of the stars from the night sky and used it like a cork.
Felicity could feel the excess magic discharging off it from here. If she had ever created a charm that inefficient, Lucifer would’ve picked it up, chucked it over his shoulder, and told her to do it again until she got it right. In the magical world, when it came to charms, at least, efficiency was everything. It was kind of like storing and transferring electricity. The more efficient your system of transportation, the less power you lost.
Based on how the tip of Felicity’s tongue started to tickle, that charm would only be viable for a week or maybe less.
That rendered it utterly useless in the real world.
“Right. To access a soul charm, you need to be worthy enough to pull the lid off,” the teacher began.
Really, really? That’s what they were going with? Being worthy? To take the lid off, you needed to utilize more magic than the lid. That didn’t make you worthy. It made you strong. They were the same thing in this world, though, weren’t they?
Felicity, as stupid as it sounded, started tuning out. She began to imagine what she’d do tonight. First things first, she was going to do some much-needed recon on the girls’ dormitory.
She was also going to head to the graduate research area and start investigating Eleanor’s death.
She’d even head out into the grounds and see where the corpse had been strung up. Then? God, she was going straight back to Lucifer. She needed a stiff drink.
It was a crap idea to tune out completely. Abruptly, the teacher handed her over the potion.
Without even thinking about it, she uncorked it. She didn’t pause. She didn’t even have to gather magic in her fingertips. She just ripped the damn cork off. It was a surprise she didn’t use her teeth, considering that’s how she usually disengaged the seals on magical equipment. It drove Lucifer crazy. He kept warning that if she did that too much, she’d require extensive dental work. The kind that would have to pull her teeth back from the ether.
There was a general splutter of complete surprise. No one was more surprised than the teacher.
“What?” he stammered.
She tuned right back into the conversation. She looked down at the cork in her hand. It had a rudimentary locking spell on it. The teacher, the little shit, had obviously placed it there so that there would be no way for Felicity to open it.
She had anyway.
… Right. Time to think quickly.
She looked up at him.
She tried to make her eyes as wide and pathetic as she could. While she distracted him, she subtly closed her fingers around the cork.
Without having to chant some stupid Latin litany, she made it disintegrate. Not a huge amount, but she introduced some critical flaws into it.
“How did you get that off?” the teacher stammered.
Felicity didn’t go with her go-to comment which would’ve been that she guessed she was worthy after all. She frowned down at the cork and handed it over to him. “Looks like there’s a crack in it.”
The teacher blanched.
This had been an exercise to make her embarrassed, but now she’d turned the tables.
Several of the students laughed, and this time, it wasn’t directed at her.
A quick survey of the rest of the students showed her that not everybody had enjoyed the show. Belinda was staring daggers at Felicity. And Jake? He was just looking at her.
It made her back itch uncomfortably. She took a step away from the teacher and brought her hands up. “I don’t know much about magical containment corks, but the potion should still be good, right? What were you trying to demonstrate?”
“Get to your seat,” the teacher snapped, his voice not just acerbic, but perfectly destructive. It was the snide, snapped comment of someone who could and would go further if pushed.
The teacher hadn’t given Felicity a seat, but fortunately there was one that was empty at the back of the room. She walked over to it.
After the teacher had calmed down enough, he pointed at Jake. “We need a real magician to demonstrate this.”
Jake half bowed, stood, and strode to the front of the room. Though Felicity wasn’t paying attention, and she was cursing herself for having opened that cork so easily, she could feel his gaze on her.
It was sharp enough that she soon looked up at him.
She swore time condensed a little as they made eye contact. She looked away.
“Isn’t gonna happen,” someone whispered from beside her.
It was sharp, and it was right by her ear.
It was clearly designed to make Felicity jump. It was a remote voice spell.
All you had to do was whisper into your wand or use a recording, and you could technically send your voice anywhere. If you were a pro. If you weren’t, like Belinda, you clearly had to have programmed the room.
Felicity did not jump, suffice to say. But she did immediately half frown and stare at the room with a critical eye.
She saw the spell traps. She would’ve noticed them sooner had she not been distracted by the teacher.
The spell traps were rudimentary and so obvious that even a magical cleaner half worth their wage would be able to notice them. Said magical cleaner should also remove them from the room.
It was of utmost importance to ensure that the classroom that taught magical defense was always clean of old spells. Not only could they interact with each other, but if too much magic accrued, things could go bang. Judging by how decrepit the spells looked as they reminded her of clumps of dust forming in a cobweb, they hadn’t been cleaned in years.
That told Felicity two things. They’d been here for a while, and all of the people who shouldn’t have ignored them, had ignored them nonetheless.
“You’re gonna go through hell, and it’s gonna start now,” Belinda’s remote spell spat in her ear. It had a modulated voice. Perhaps it was to confuse Felicity so she wouldn’t know who was speaking to her.
You couldn’t modulate Belinda’s choice of words though, could you? Nor the exact sharp way she spoke. It was so obviously her that her attempt to hide her identity was laughable.
But don’t you frigging laugh, Felicity snapped at herself. Act like your old self, goddammit.
That thought… it wasn’t a particularly comfortable one. As Felicity tuned out, memories of her old life came back to her.
A teacher had once done that to her in class, embarrassing her in front of everyone. It had been her first day, too. He’d decided that she should come up to show everyone her skills, despite the fact she’d never taken magical defense. A lot of the smaller schools just didn’t teach it. They didn’t have the considerable resources that Broadstone had. That wasn’t the point. He’d singled her out. And that had been the start of everything.
She drummed her fingers on the desk in front of her.
She wanted this done. Yeah, so she’d only been back at Broadstone for several hours, but it was time to solve this crime and get back to her real life. She wanted a stiff drink and preferably someone to punch. In her current mood, they would only have to be half guilty of a crime.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Jake use the soul charm.
Once the teacher was happy that the room was prepped, Jake downed the charm in one go.
Magic leaped over his body.
It was powerful, she’d grant him that. He was in control of it, which was the most important fact. If Belinda had done that, magic would be discharging everywhere. The thing about consuming charms is that you have to have very good control of your body. Bodies don’t mind generating magic, but they hate having it thrust upon them. They are homeostatic, and when you introduce a heck of a lot of energy suddenly, your body tries to discharge it in the only way it can. In order for you to hold onto the charm and get as much out of it as possible, you had to override your body’s natural processes.
Sure, Jake was nowhere near perfect. A lot of energy still crackled over his legs and sunk into the ground, but credit where credit was due. He did a good job for just a student.
“This,” the teacher said, and he looked right at Felicity, “is how you use a soul charm. Now, perhaps somebody would like to attack Jake? How about you, Felicity?”
She couldn’t control herself. She rolled her eyes. The teacher saw it. So did a few of the students.
“Really? You just rolled your eyes? Is there something you want to say, Felicity?”
This entire thing is a farce, she thought, and if you little kids ever go out into the real world, you will be eaten alive in seconds.
She settled for wiping her eyes. “Sorry, I think something got in my eye. What kind of attack would you like me to do?”
“Any you can manage,” the teacher said snidely.
Any she could manage, really? She could send Jake skidding across the room with one hell of a remote punch. Or, you know, she could just open her demon seals, steal his soul, and send him to the underworld.
She settled for pressing her lips into an awkward smile and scratching her head. “What kind—”
“Just any you can manage,” the teacher snapped.
She looked right at Jake, and was it just her, or was there a knowing look in his eyes?
If she’d been paying attention, maybe she would’ve started to wonder if he’d cottoned onto the fact she was a lot more powerful than she was letting on.
She wasn’t paying attention. She was looking at Jake, and all she was doing was remembering Damien. After they’d got together, everything had changed in magical defense class. Nobody had picked on her – at least in front of him. Even the teachers had pretended to be kind.
He’d tried to teach her a few spells, too. In retrospect, he hadn’t done a very good job, despite his credentials, but that didn’t matter. What counted was that he’d tried when everyone else had written her off.
“Attack spell, now,” the teacher growled.
“Keep your shirt on,” Felicity snapped.
“Excuse me?” the teacher practically swallowed his tongue in anger.
She tried to smile. It was too late for that.
“You just talked back to me in front of the entire class?” he snapped.
“Give her a break. It’s her first day. She’s stressed. I guess she doesn’t know any good offensive spells. You put her on the spot,” Jake said.
By the blazing look in the teacher’s eyes, Felicity didn’t expect him to back down. If it were up to him, Felicity would be mincemeat.
He did. All it took was one well-placed look from Jake.
Yeah, okay, she got it, even in her time, Damien had had a lot of clout because of his family. But the teacher was still the one in charge.
That didn’t stop him from looking to the side, controlling his expression, and nodding at Felicity, albeit with daggers behind his eyes. “Jake has kindly decided to give you another chance. Now cast your spell.”
It was up to Jake to give her another chance? What the hell was going on here?
Though all Felicity wanted to do was continue to survey the scene, she realized she had to attack.
She went to bring a hand forward, but she stopped, cleared her throat, smoothed her hair, and shrugged. “I don’t have a wand.”
Jake shot her a specific look. She stiffened. He’d seen her move her hand purposefully, hadn’t he? Had he figured out what it meant?
“Someone please give the new girl a wand,” the teacher snapped.
The student next to Felicity handed her wand over. It was only when Felicity looked directly at them that she saw it was Jane.
She had a haunted look in her eyes. Though Jane had appeared strong and unaffected when they’d met, you could tell from the way her cheeks paled and her lips pressed together that she didn’t want to see this.
Because presumably, this would be Felicity being beaten to a pulp.
Felicity quickly tuned in to the wand. It didn’t matter that Lucifer didn’t use them. Using one was still ingrained in Felicity.
Though she didn’t ask her body to, it immediately checked for hidden enchantments. There weren’t any. This was just a plain wand. Based on the little Felicity still knew, it would cost approximately $1000 – a lot of money for someone who looked like they had Jane’s background. It would be nothing whatsoever for someone like Belinda. Her wand? It would probably have cost around $150,000. Yep. You read that right. She could have bought a luxury car instead of a highfalutin stick. And a car would’ve been way cooler and way more useful.
It didn’t take Felicity long to select a spell. It was a standard force spell that was something you would learn in most schools. It wasn’t technically an attack spell, but it could be utilized as such. All it did was gather the force of your magic and thrust it forward.
She pointed her wand, not like it was a baton and she was a cheerleader, but like it was a gun. Then she cast. She remembered to move her lips, though she didn’t actually mutter anything.
Suffice to say, she did not cast the full force of her magic. Do that, and Jake would be nothing more than a jittering ball of blood and guts on the floor. She controlled herself. And that right there was hard when you were casting a force spell. It instinctively accessed your magic, so controlling just how much it used was like putting a throttle on the exhaust of a space shuttle.
A blast of magic pulsed out, shot across the room in between the tables and chairs, and smashed into Jake.
It was rebuffed by his soul charm.
The soul charm glowed this deep green that reminded her of Damien’s eyes. Then there was a sharp crackle, and it started to absorb the magic of Felicity’s blow.
In a few seconds, there was no magic left whatsoever.
“A brilliant display,” the teacher said as he clapped and looked right at Jake. “You didn’t even move backward. Now.” He shifted and stared at Felicity.
“That was a pretty good spell,” Jake spoke right over the top of him. He looked right at Felicity.
Even if wild horses had been attached to her, she would not have been able to look away.
“What?” the teacher asked. He further solidified the fact that he was very much not the one who was taking this class, despite the fact he was the one who was being paid to do so.
Jake brushed nonexistent dust off his shoulder, nodded in a move that was mostly jaw and cheekbones, then looked right at Felicity. “That was a pretty good spell.”
“It was weak—” the teacher tried.
Jake lifted a finger and tapped an invisible force field around him. It would be what was left of the soul charm. It shuddered. With another tap, it looked like it could break.
Felicity tried not to pale. She’d barely used any force, dammit.
The teacher turned and stared at Felicity. She tried not to look mortified.
“Relax,” Jake said, still looking right at her. “I think this soul charm was broken to begin with. Still, you did good.”
Felicity sat back down. She still had Jane’s wand in her hand. It took Jane to lean over pointedly and gesture for Felicity to give back the wand with a muttered, “Thank you.”
“You dodged a bullet. Well done,” Jane said.
Though Felicity could have ignored her, she looked right into Jane’s eyes and nodded. “Thanks.”
Thankfully the rest of the class continued without that much drama.
She said that much. Belinda continued to assault her with that remote sound spell.
Any senior magician worth their money would be able to hear it. Though it was becoming questionable as to whether the teacher had any clue what he was doing, presumably he would know what was going on. Did he care? Did the Pope shit in the woods? Of course he didn’t care.
Hello, judging by the somewhat mutinous look he shot her, he was planning his own revenge.
That thought wasn’t so easy to dismiss. Felicity had to keep an open mind. And that wasn’t even because the deal that she’d made with Lucifer required it. Though she’d never been on a stakeout as long and complicated as this, she knew enough to appreciate that you never necessarily knew who was responsible straight away.
Most of the missions that Lucifer sent her on were straight forward and had clear targets to begin with, but on the rare occasions where she had to find out who’d committed some crime, she’d always understood that keeping an open mind was essentially the difference between catching the correct criminal and wasting everyone’s time.
Broadstone was poisonous. That meant that anyone who had anything to do with this awful place wasn’t immune.
Who knew what this teacher’s background had once been, but as soon as he’d come into this warped culture, it would have started rotting him like a tomato thrown in the trash.
Maybe the experience had been so psychologically challenging that he’d snapped and started murdering the students.
Or maybe there are multiple murderers, she thought to herself quickly. It was a possibility she had already entertained.
It wasn’t impossible that the murders that had occurred in her year had been perpetrated by one person, and the murder that had occurred last week had been a copycat.
“Keep an open mind,” she muttered to herself as the class ended.
She went to potion making class, human law class, and something that she had to not laugh through – ethics class.
Even the teacher looked as if she couldn’t believe the crap she was having to spout.
The whole day, Belinda kept up her attack. Which meant that not only had she seeded the defense classroom with crappy sound casting spells – but she had them all over the academy.
That just compounded what Felicity had already noted. The more magic that was allowed to build up, the more dangerous it got when other magic interacted with it. Every stooge worth their wand would know that. For them to ignore that rule meant that they had been paid – or slapped enough to turn the other cheek.
By the end of the day, all Felicity wanted to do was get the hell out of here, demand a whole bottle of whiskey from Larry, and find something to punch. Barney was great for sparring matches. Sure, he was a little below her, but that didn’t matter. She could modulate her force. All she wanted to frigging do was hit something. No, Felicity, said to herself knowingly, that’s not all you want to do. You want to go somewhere where you can pull the kid gloves off and prove that you’re powerful again.
She walked up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory, and she frowned at her own thoughts.
She couldn’t push them away. They were too damn accurate to do that to.
Felicity occasionally had bouts of low self-esteem, but she was materially different to the girl who’d run out of here three years ago. But being back here and having to play meek and mild was bringing up uncomfortable memories. It was enough that she kept flexing her knuckles in and out as she strode up the steps and reached the top floor of the girls’ dormitory.
She was not at all surprised to note that Belinda was standing in front of one of the massive windows, her back to her. Her friends – or grunts, or whatever you wanted to call them – were standing around her. One by one they turned. It looked like some kind of coordinated dance from a girl group.
“You gotta be goddamn kidding me,” Felicity muttered.
“Come on,” she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder and someone whispering in her ear. “Come this way.”
Before Felicity knew what was happening, someone pulled her through a side door that had just appeared.
She didn’t immediately think it was an attack. She turned around and saw a stiff-lipped Jane.
Quickly, she surveyed the room they’d entered. “This is some kind of interconnected service corridor, isn’t it?”
Jane arched an eyebrow. “I saved your life from the Queen Bee and her Hornets, and all you care about is a maintenance room? Actually, this is where you say thank you.”
Sure, Jane was a little acerbic, but Felicity liked acerbic. She smiled, and she meant it, even though Jane hadn’t saved anyone. “Thank you.”
“How did you access this place, anyway? I thought these corridors were locked off from students.”
“My grandfather used to be a groundsman here.” She became strangely stiff as she said that.
Perhaps she thought that Felicity would turn her nose up at the fact that Jane’s grandfather had been a lowly groundsman. Anything but. She nodded and smiled. “Cool. What does he do these days?”
“Nothing. He’s dead.”
Felicity pressed her tongue against her closed lips. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. No one else was when he died.”
Though Felicity could’ve just left it, there was something about the specific look in Jane’s eyes. “Why did no one else care?”
“He was a groundsman here. He was murdered here. No one bat an eyelid.” Jane turned around and started to run her fingers over an old magical paint can on a shelf beside her.
The interconnected service tunnels didn’t sprawl through the various academy buildings. They were a discreet place in one of the basements that was connected to various doors through portal magic.
The corridor they were in was just one long room filled with various equipment. There was everything from paint to a magical lawnmower for the massive grounds.
The lawnmower was irrelevant. The way Felicity’s gut clenched was not. “Murdered? You don’t mean that he was one of the four victims from three years ago?”
Jane looked at her sharply. “How do you know that?”
Felicity tried her hardest not to stiffen. It was something that required a heck of a lot of attention, though.
If there was one thing she could not do, it was reveal who she was. Using too much magic and being snide to teachers was one thing. Cracking out her demon seals was another. Letting everyone know she was Felicity Smith… who knew what Lucifer would do? Probably lock her up in her room for the rest of time.
“I remember hearing about them. I just assumed because I haven’t heard about any other murders…” Felicity tried.
“Yeah. He was one of the murders from three years ago. Though everyone only ever talks about that King boy.”
Felicity looked away.
“But there was a murder last week, you know that, right?” Jane looked right at her, and there was a sense of urgency behind her tone.
Felicity nodded. “Yeah, I heard about that. Who… who was she?”
“Bursary scholarship kid just like us. No, not just like us. She was amazing. She was on a career path to invent spells that would actually matter,” Jane’s voice dipped down low and vibrated on the word actually. It was damn clear that she was drawing a sharp line between the spells that the elites produced and the ones that really went on to make a difference in the magical community.
“Why was she killed?” Felicity asked.
Jane laughed. “I judged you as innocent when I first met you, but now I can see that you are anything but. Why do you think she was killed?” She turned the question around on Felicity.
Felicity just shrugged. “Because she was up-and-coming, and some elite asshole decided they didn’t like that. So they ended her.”
Jane looked slightly impressed. “Referring to them as assholes on your first day is not a great sign. That’s the reason I pulled you in here.”
“What’s that? Anyhow, are you going to get in trouble? Those girls saw what you did when you pulled me in here.”
“No, they didn’t. You don’t understand what a place like Broadstone does to its maintenance tunnels, ha? And the people who maintain everything,” she added through a stiff breath.
Felicity frowned. Jane turned around, ran her hands over that same old paint can, and let out a chuckle. It was about the tightest thing Felicity had ever heard.
“The maintenance staff – and their gear, and the methods they use to get around the school – are to stay in the shadows. These elite assholes,” she copied Felicity’s words exactly, “have unconsciously made these tunnels the best place to hide, just because they can’t put up with the sight of real people doing real work.”
Perfect place to hide?
“When I opened that door and pulled you in here, all they would’ve seen was you disappearing. Sorry about that. You’re probably going to get in trouble. But I thought it was better than you being strung up.”
Felicity frowned even harder. “Are you actually telling me that they would’ve killed me?”
Jane shook her head. “They would have come close. And they keep getting closer. There was a girl a few weeks ago,” she grabbed her mouth and let her fingers slide down her stiff cheeks, “who was in our dorm room. You’re in her bed,” she added. “Anyway, the bullying got so bad that they strung her up in the middle of the girls’ dormitory like she was a Christmas decoration. They left her there all day. She kept trying to escape, but the chains reacted to the magic she used to try to escape. They kept getting tighter. By the end of the day, she’d almost been strangled.”
Felicity’s jaw became so stiff, she could’ve broken a diamond. “What happened to the perpetrators?”
Jane laughed. It was bitter. “Absolutely nothing. As for the girl?” Jane shrugged. “She quit. Or at least that’s what we were told. I’m assuming she was transferred out quickly lest she make a complaint.”
Felicity didn’t know how to respond. No, she did. She could turn right around, open the door, go over to Belinda, grab her by the collar, and throw her out the window.
Maybe the time for that would come. For now, she shook her head tightly. “Doesn’t anyone care?”
Jane snorted. “Of course not. That’s why I thought it was important to have a conversation with you in private.”
“Isn’t our room private?”
Jane laughed so loudly, she could have broken the walls. “Yeah right. It’s full of listening bugs. They used to use them on the previous girl, Margaret,” Jane said quietly. “But now, I’m assuming they’ve already recast them. One of the girls in our room, Bethany, is in the pocket of Belinda. Your stuff will have been rifled through, by the way.”
Felicity tried to look as if that was a surprise.
“If there’s anywhere that’s private in this school, it’s here.” Jane rapped her knuckles against the wall. “Because those idiots don’t think there’s a use to these maintenance tunnels.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Felicity said.
Jane shrugged. “For what it’s worth. I’m afraid you are going to turn out exactly like Margaret. I haven’t seen Belinda as angry as this for a long time. I heard the sound spell she was using on you in class.” She pressed her lips together, peaked her eyebrows up, and looked genuinely concerned. “It’s probably best for you to transfer out. I don’t know how you got the scholarship, I don’t know who thought it was a good idea for you to come here, but if I were you, I’d leave. Leave before you are the next murdered girl.” Jane turned away sharply.
Felicity followed her. “Wait, are you telling me that Belinda is the murderer?”
Jane shrugged. “I’ve got no idea, though I doubt it. She’s a coward at heart. But the point is, even if she doesn’t intend to murder anyone, if she keeps going too far, she will anyway. She thinks there will be no consequences whatsoever. And there won’t be – not when she’s got Jake around.” She snorted, and it was derisive as hell. “Belinda is nothing compared to Jake. Compared to him, she’s all sweetness and light.”
Felicity stiffened. She tried to hide it, but she couldn’t.
Jane had been opening up. Until now. Her eyes narrowed. “What? Were you drawn in by his handsome features? Don’t be,” she snapped. “They were picked out by his parents when he was a baby.”
“I didn’t think he was that bad,” Felicity tried. “I thought the Kings were upstanding.”
Jane shot Felicity the kind of look that Lucifer had shot her back when he’d given her this mission.
It appeared that Jane was regretting bringing Felicity in here at all. “I’m sorry. I thought you were different. I thought you understood.”
Felicity could sense that she was losing Jane, which would be a real bad thing, because it was clear that Jane was a font of information. So she brought up her hands. “No. I’m not. Trust me,” she let her voice vibrate with true, unfiltered emotion, “there is nothing I hate more than the elites.”
It was Felicity’s unchecked emotion that stopped Jane from turning away.
“Then let me quickly disabuse you of one notion. Jake King is the worst. Belinda just follows in his wake. When he and his friends decide to lock onto somebody, there is nothing they can do. I saw the way he looked at you in class. That’s why I think you need to get the hell out of here. Just do what you can and leave before tonight.”
Felicity didn’t want to hear that. And for a few seconds, she just pretended she hadn’t. When Jane looked at her again with those sharp blue eyes, Felicity sniffed. “I can’t leave,” she said seriously.
“Why not? This is the difference between you living and dying, so don’t you think it’s important to find a way to get the hell out of here?”
Felicity looked at her feet. “I’m not allowed to leave. There’s nowhere for me to go.”
“Nowhere for you to go? Have you not been listening to what I’ve been saying? You will be targeted, and judging by the way both Belinda and her boyfriend have been looking at you, it will be merciless. And it will only escalate. Don’t you care about your life?”
Felicity tried to stop herself, but she let out a dark chuckle.
It got Jane’s attention. She narrowed her eyes. “You’re a lot stronger than you’re letting on, aren’t you?”
Felicity looked away. It was one hell of an allegation, and it was bang on the mark.
She still didn’t give anything away. She switched back to the previous conversation. “There’s nowhere for me to go. I’m sure I can find a way to keep my head down.”
“If you think that you’ve got the strength to take them on, then you’re absolutely mad. It’s not just Belinda’s parents. It’s the Kings,” Jane said, and as she said the word Kings, it was like a cloud was cast over her personality. She even shuddered as if someone had her shoulders and they were shaking her for all their worth.
Felicity couldn’t hide it anymore, and she frowned hard. “What about the Kings?”
Jane looked at her, her suspicion obvious. “You need to get it out of your head that they’re good people. They’re anything but. When my grandfather was killed, they were the ones who stopped us from getting compensation. They said he was loyal, and that he’d understood the risks.” Jane’s eyes became wild. “Understood the risks? He wasn’t in the goddamn army. He was a groundsman for a frigging school.”
Felicity couldn’t reply. She couldn’t imagine a King saying that. They were upstanding people. Damien had idolized his parents.
Jane turned away quickly, her anger obviously getting the better of her. That was a good thing, because despite Felicity’s best efforts, her expression was becoming less and less open.
Jane thrust out a hand, grabbed up the paint can, and twisted her fingers in until her grip was enough to bend the metal. “My grandma died pretty soon afterward. Heart attack, apparently.”
Though Felicity was still too overcome by what Jane was suggesting, she managed to move her lips. “Apparently?”
Jane laughed. “There was never any indication that there was anything wrong with her heart.”
“… Could she… have died of loneliness?”
Jane turned right around and looked at Felicity with the exact glare that dumb ass statement deserved.
Felicity put her hands up. “No one dies of a broken heart in the real world.”
“Yeah, my words exactly. But no one believed me.” Jane started to flex her knuckles in and out. A few charges of magic began to build over them.
When she saw that Felicity was looking at her, she just shrugged. “I’m not losing control or anything. Just… when I’m in here, away from everyone else, I let my anger out.”
Felicity nodded. “Go for it. I won’t let anyone else know.”
This elicited a long, cold stare from Jane. “I get that you think you’re strong. And honestly, considering what I saw, you probably are. But you can’t take them on. Jake will eat you alive. And Belinda will laugh the whole time.”
Felicity was finally doing something she should have done earlier. She was acting professionally, and she thrust away any last attachment to the word King. “What do you think they’ll do to me? … Look, for reasons I can’t go into right now, I can’t leave this school. If you let me know what’s happening, I can plan ahead, though.”
Jane shot her a broken look. “Plan ahead? What, you’re going to call the funeral home and procure a coffin? Because that’s the only plan you’ll need.”
Felicity wasn’t stupid enough to tell Jane that she was overreacting. From what Felicity had seen today, this was no reaction.
Felicity just held Jane’s stare.
“Just tell me what you know. I’ll look after myself. I can promise you that.”
Jane frowned, gave Felicity a once up and down, then ticked her jaw to the left and right. “I do get the impression that you probably can look after yourself.”
Felicity didn’t let on about how accurate that impression was. She just stared at Jane steadily.
“But you won’t be able to go up against them. No one can,” Jane continued.
Right there in Jane’s eyes, Felicity saw something that she’d only ever seen in the mirror. Pure hopelessness. And it fed a singular emotion – anger.
It was like they were both in a walled prison watching the elites live their lives while the walls that kept them separated just closed in and in and in. The elites wouldn’t be happy until they’d stolen everything from girls like Jane – including the damn air they breathed.
Well screw that.
Felicity stood straighter. She got a particularly dark look in her eyes.
Jane’s eyebrows descended, and her lips parted slowly. “You look like you’re going to go and hit something. I suggest you control that emotion. If you really do try to strike out at Belinda, you will get kicked out. Though maybe that’s the best way to go, you’ll probably get sued. It doesn’t matter that her family is the richest there is – they know precisely how to stay on top, and it’s by bullying and stealing from people like you. So reel your anger in.”
Felicity managed a nod. It was so tight, she could’ve snapped her neck.
Jane went to walk away, her warning obviously done.
Felicity quickly grabbed her arm. “I want more info about that recent murder. Where can I find out the details?”
Jane frowned. “Why do you want to know about the murder?”
Felicity snorted. “Because I want to keep myself alive, and it sounds like the only way to do that is to understand precisely what I’m up against.”
Jane looked at her, then shrugged. “You want to know about the murder, then good luck with that. There aren’t any details.”
Felicity frowned. “What do you mean?”
“After the body was found between classes, the teachers put up a magical defense shield to ensure that no one could take photos and couldn’t leak the story to the media until the situation was controlled. That meant that most of the—”
“Magical evidence would have been contaminated,” Felicity said. There was only one thing she could think of. It pounded through her mind, in fact. It was the memory of the day Damien had been pulled in. She could still hear one of the headteachers snarling at everyone to put up a magical defense field.
… Could that be a coincidence? Could the teachers have been in on it?
Maybe Jane was good at reading minds, because she immediately shook her head. “I doubt the faculty are involved. Not directly, anyway. But they always act in a way that protects the school’s reputation, despite the fact that often means they do nothing about the crimes that are committed here. Anyway, I should go. I’ll program the maintenance tunnel so you can exit on the grounds. If I were you, I’d just walk around for a while and come back late at night. The later, the better. Belinda will get bored by about 10 o’clock. I’ll see you in our room. But,” she turned around, “please pretend not to know me. I know that sounds harsh—”
“But you want to keep your head down,” Felicity said evenly without a hint of bitterness in her tone. “I understand. Thanks for this.” She made enduring eye contact.
Jane nodded and walked off.
Felicity waited until Jane had disappeared, then she felt a spell pushing through the room. The maintenance tunnel changed, and right in front of her was a door.
She spread her fingers close to it, and she concentrated. That was all it took to appreciate that the door led out of the side of the building to one of the sprawling lawns.
She arched an eyebrow. “Convenient. I’ll have to remember this,” she muttered under her breath.
She’d already remotely scanned this room to ensure that there were no sound recording spells.
It wasn’t hard. Lucifer had taught her several powerful enchantments before she’d come here. So she knew perfectly well that whatever was said or done here would not make it back to anyone.
She planted her hands on her hips. “Thank you, Jane. This is the perfect way in and out of Broadstone.” She leaned to the side and rapped her knuckles on the wall. Then she frowned as she thought about everything she’d learned.
Jane was related to one of the murder victims.
That was one hell of a coincidence.
“But it could be one hell of a benefit,” she muttered. Jane could become a really useful asset. It was clear she knew a lot, and it was just as clear that she had absolutely no compunction about badmouthing the elites.
Felicity’s mind instantly ticked back to what she’d learned about the recent murder. If they really had used a complete magical field to ensure photos couldn’t be taken, it would be harder to discover the magical spell that had been used to kill Eleanor. But not impossible. Felicity just had to retrace the crime and think in a way the criminal hadn’t.
When you are arrogant, which was everyone here, you tended to forget just how much evidence you could leave. Felicity wasn’t just talking about spellcasting anymore. She was talking about forensics, believe it or not. Though the magical community often dismissed the technologies of ordinary humans, forensic science had come a long way in the past several years. It wasn’t impossible that Felicity would be able to find a strand of hair or a stray fingerprint. All she would have to do was—
“Start on the roof.”
She shoved her hands into her pockets and concentrated on the door. When she discerned that there was no one out there, she slipped out.
It was time for some real detective work.
Felicity waited until dark.
She wasn’t about to waste her time, though. While she waited, she watched.
She found a relatively secluded position in the grounds, grabbed a book from her magic pocket to look as if she was studying, then set up position as she surveilled everyone who came and went.
There was a lot more traffic than there should be.
Technically, when classes were on and it wasn’t holiday time, the students were not allowed to leave Broadstone. You tell that to the 50 or so students she saw disappearing through an unmarked door on the side of the building. All they would have to do was walk up to it and whisper something at it, and the door would open and take them right to a busy main street. They didn’t even have to go through the forest. They just hopped right out into town.
Nobody saw Felicity watching them.
From one angle, they would’ve recognized that she was just an ordinary kid studying. But she got to decide what people saw. If they looked dodgy, then they didn’t see anything at all.
It would ensure that if anyone asked where she’d been, she would be able to generate several witnesses who had legitimately seen her just sitting under a tree. But nobody who could be a potential target had any clue that she was watching them.
Felicity had a pen in her hand. She tapped it against the book she was apparently reading as she watched the 51st student disappear.
Broadstone was meant to be the most secure building in all of the country, ha? Things were only secure when you kept all the doors locked.
Felicity was under no illusion whatsoever that these students had created this door on their own. Broadstone was more than secure enough to have detected the door on multiple occasions and shut it down. But the door remained. Which meant the faculty was completely aware of it and didn’t give a hoot.
Felicity made a note of everyone’s identity, then, when it was dark enough, she finally rose. She cracked her shoulders. She discarded the book behind her into a spatial pocket. There was a slight crackle of magic, and it was sucked away.
With the portal still open, without turning around, she reached a hand behind herself, and she pulled something out.
It was a sword. No, as tempting as it would be, she was not about to go on a rampage and trash the school grounds, though she would love to destroy the magical defense class just to see what the teacher would look like the next day. This sword was… well, she guessed you could call it a wand. A real one.
Wands technically concentrated magic. It wasn’t the wood they were made out of – it was the complex interconnected lattice network that was inside them. People might pretend that it was cool that they had cherry wood wands, or cedar, or some ancient wood that hadn’t been seen in thousands of years, and that this somehow made a scrap of a difference when it came to casting. What mattered was how sophisticated that internal lattice was. It was an artificial substance grown in a lab. The more magic you introduced to it, the more holes that lattice had, and the easier it was for it to concentrate magical fields. That’s why certain ones were more expensive. Magic was, in and of itself, an expensive commodity. The more you used to generate the wand, the more it cost.
But what Felicity was holding now was something completely different. Lucifer had given it to her, for one.
It didn’t concentrate magic – it cut things. Specifically, it cut through existing spells.
You didn’t need a wand to concentrate your magic. All you required was your mind. If anything, it was a dangerous crutch. But when it came to destroying people’s spells, efficiency was the thing that mattered most. Hence the sword. Rather than having to waste her precious mental resources breaking through other people’s enchantments, all she would have to do was slice this sword through them, and they would shatter as effectively as glass thrown off a cliff.
“Time to get this done,” she growled to herself.
She stalked across the grounds, but she did not do so visibly. It sure as hell would be a great exclamation mark for her already crappy day to reveal who she was by striding around with forbidden enchanted weapons.
One of the other spells that Lucifer had been at pains to teach her before she’d left was a true invisibility cloak.
To cast it, you had to screw with the space directly around you. But to truly ensure that you were properly invisible, you also had to screw subtly with people’s minds.
Light was a funny thing. The way it bounced off objects wasn’t always clear. You could cast what you thought was a pretty good invisibility cloak, and it would work on direct observers, but it wouldn’t work on those who were far away.
To ensure that you were truly visible, you had to create a manipulation spell that was carried on the light that struck your form and rebounded. Anyone that light struck would be controlled by the spell. Now that was hard.
The kind of hard where Felicity had been forced to concentrate with all her damn mind to learn it.
Though Lucifer didn’t exactly have a problem with being hands-on, when he was teaching her spells, usually he let her figure things out for herself. Not this time. When he’d taught her true invisibility, he’d wrapped his arms around hers, grabbed her hands up, and held them in a specific position. She could still feel the latent tingle from where his thumbs had spread her fingers.
“Clear your head, girl,” she said to herself pointedly as she rolled her tongue around her teeth. “And concentrate.”
She’d already cast her invisibility spell. She could tell it was working fine because she walked past two teachers who were taking a stroll around the grounds and they didn’t even blink her way.
Though clearly the teachers were searching for any students who were trying to skip school and head out into town, they were clearly doing a pretty shit job, because despite the fact they saw two students heading toward that door, neither of them did anything. The students weren’t wearing cloaks, but they were from very well-known families.
Felicity just strode past everybody, the sword in her hand, a disgruntled look in her eyes.
Though it would’ve been easy as hell to slice her sword through the teachers – not that it would’ve killed them – she resisted the urge. The attack would have momentarily crippled their magic and left them as nothing more than magical vegetables for several minutes. Then she could have turned around and smashed up that door. It would be the only effective way of ensuring that students didn’t skip school.
She had zero intention of being responsible for these assholes’ truancy, though.
She made a beeline for the roof.
She didn’t walk through the building. It wasn’t just that the building had a far stronger magical detection net than the grounds. It was that the direct approach was always better. And there was nothing more direct than climbing up the side of the building.
Here we go, she thought as she ticked her head back and faced the sandstone wall. She cracked her shoulders from side to side. She scratched her ear, then she launched herself at the sandstone. Her sword was still in her hand. She only needed one hand to climb with. With a quick muttered adhesive spell, she ensured her fingers and feet were sticky, and she started to climb. Hell, she practically ran up the wall.
This was the benefit of having a strong body. She didn’t tire, even as she got halfway up the 10-floor building.
By the time she reached the roof and flipped onto it, she was ready for a fight, not bed.
She whipped the sword around in her hand, drummed her fingers against the hilt, and started searching for magical spells.
She quickly came across several.
They weren’t the ones she was looking for, though. These were just the standard dross that was spread around the school. Some of them were part of the sensor net. Some of them just seemed to be old magic that had been cast over the years and hadn’t been cleaned. Some of them were for surveillance.
She arched an eyebrow. So the school surveilled the kids after all, then?
Though she wanted to believe that the school let the elites get away with anything, she was missing the point, wasn’t she? There was a hierarchy, even when it came to the elites. And that hierarchy was maintained when they exited back into the real world. It wasn’t beyond the realms of imagination that the school surveilled the lower-class elites in order to generate evidence should they ever need to be blackmailed further down the track.
She arched an eyebrow. “This is such a nice damn place,” she quipped.
The roof was large. Fortunately, it was flat in most sections. If you thought that would be a nightmare when it came to rain collecting and draining through the sandstone, you’d be wrong. There was a weather field up here that would ensure that even the most battering storm, save for the one that had helped her escape all those years ago, wouldn’t cause any damage to the building.
She shoved her free hand into her pocket as she walked.
She kept her tongue against the roof of her mouth. It enabled her to concentrate on the magical fields she encountered. Occasionally, she brought up her sword and sliced through any enchantments that were getting in her way. Mostly, it was old magic. Though you would think that not too many people came up onto the roof, obviously you’d be wrong. There were a whole host of ancient spells, from sunshine spells, to the things students had clearly been practicing, even to a few love spells.
She pressed her teeth against her lips, came up to one particularly old spell, and rather than cut through it, grabbed it, instead. She secured her fingers around the invisible strands of magic, closed her eyes, and started to tease them apart.
It was kind of like she was sniffing through it to see what it smelled like. And what it smelt like was blood.
She opened her eyes.
Jane had already revealed that the teachers had stupidly used a magical field as soon as they’d discovered Eleanor’s body. That would ensure that no real evidence remained. But there was an assumption there, wasn’t there? A magical field would be able to destroy evidence of recent spells, but it could do nothing for old spells or persisting spells.
The enchantment that Felicity had her hand on right now seemed old as hell. More importantly than that, it was laden with the scent of blood.
She brought her fingers close to her nose, and despite the fact it was pretty disgusting, she smelled as deeply as she could. It was like she’d gone into a graveyard, dug up a fresh corpse, cut it, and buried her face in its torso.
It was this sickening old scent of death. It was so cloying and maddening, Felicity had to stop herself from gagging. She pressed her hand against the back of her mouth.
She’d encountered spells like this before. Once upon a time, Lucifer had made Felicity go after his competition, because yeah, of course he had competition. He wasn’t the only demon in town, though he was by far the most powerful. Though usually demons just left each other alone, that didn’t always happen. She’d never asked exactly what that rival mob had done, but Lucifer had spared no expense in breaking them apart.
When Felicity had gone to their main den, she’d encountered a spell like this. Later, Lucifer told her it had presided over the killing of over a thousand people.
You read that right, a thousand people. It had stunk. And yet, it didn’t stink as badly as this one.
“What the hell is going on here?” she muttered to herself darkly. “This makes no damn sense. If that other spell killed a thousand people, then this one….”
She pushed away, locked her hand against the back of her mouth, closed her eyes, and tried to count.
When she was done, she was well into the thousands.
Though she couldn’t be sure that she’d pierced the veil of the spell accurately and counted its every victim, a ballpark figure wouldn’t be that off the mark.
She shuddered. It was a cold, destructive move. It felt like someone grabbed her by the shoulders and kept shaking her as if they wanted her damn head to snap off her neck.
If Broadstone had killed thousands of students, people would know. You could smooth over a handful of deaths, but not that many.
Though this spell smelt of blood and reminded her strongly of the spell she’d encountered with that dark mob, maybe it hadn’t actually killed its victims. Judging by the overpowering scent of blood, it might have just bled them.
That could account for the apparently high body count.
But it could not explain why this spell was here in the first place.
“Unless someone needs an inordinate amount of blood?” she stammered.
Blood was a pretty powerful substance. It didn’t just keep humans alive – there were plenty of magical creatures out there that used it in their spellcasting.
Blood that was given freely was powerful, sure. But blood that was taken secretly had different properties. When it was taken by force, it had different properties again.
Felicity could think of a handful of extraordinarily dark spells that required blood that had been taken secretly. All such magic was forbidden.
She shook her head. “This makes no damn sense. What the hell are students from this school doing collecting blood for forbidden magic?”
She didn’t honestly expect to get an answer.
Something beside her vibrated. At first, she ignored it. When it became more insistent, she turned over her shoulder. Right beside her, a phone had appeared in a cloud of magic.
She didn’t stammer a quick, “What the hell?” Her eyes opened wide, and she snatched it up. It could only be one man. “Lucifer? Why are you contacting me? I’m busy investigating.”
“It’s midnight,” he pointed out. “It’s time to come home.”
“Midnight?” she spat disbelievingly. “It can’t be much later than 10 o’clock.”
“And yet, it is midnight,” he said. “So it is time to come back. I’m sure you are tired from your first day, just as I’m sure you have a lot to tell me,” he said more pointedly.
Felicity couldn’t give up on the fact that it could not possibly be midnight. “Sorry, but it’s only 10 o’clock.”
“Demons know time, Felicity. It is not something we lie about.”
His voice was pointed. And fair enough. Demons did know the time. It was a quirk of the fact that they alone could practice true soul magic. Souls, in part, carried the clock of a human’s existence. It was the soul that decided when you were born, and it was the soul that decided when and where you died.
That didn’t stop her from shaking her head. She pulled the phone away from her ear and checked the clock. Then she paled about 10 shades. “This makes no damn sense,” she said, her voice a tight whisper, despite the fact her invisibility spell would stop it from echoing out. “I just lost two hours.”
There was a tight pause. “Return immediately.”
“Do you want me to transport?”
“No. If you just lost two hours, you may have encountered a spell that would be able to sense a transport enchantment. Leave the school, and once you’re in the city, then transport.” With that, he hung up.
Felicity didn’t shove the phone into her pocket. It was a demon phone, hello. She let it go. It hovered by her ear, and she took a step back.
It disappeared in the same crackle of sparks it had used to appear in in the first place.
Felicity’s stomach kicked. It felt like she’d swallowed a mule. She pressed her hand against the back of her mouth. She stared wildly around her. “Two hours?” She had lost two hours coming up here. How?
Though she dearly wanted to investigate, she knew that Lucifer would be waiting for her. He’d also be timing this.
Felicity jerked over to the edge of the roof. Her sword was still in her hand. She looked back at that blood spell. She could cut it. She had the strength.
Something told her to hold back.
She reached the edge of the roof, and she unceremoniously jumped off.
As she flew down the side of the building, her hair fluttering around her face, it reminded her of what she’d done three years ago. Back then when she’d landed, she’d snapped her ankle. It had taken a substantial healing spell from Lucifer to fix it. Right now as she smashed into the ground, she landed in a cloud of magic that protected her completely. She didn’t even get a splatter of mud over her trousers.
She pushed up, holstered her sword in her magical pocket, and thrust forward. She ran across the grounds, her invisibility spell still in place, and she arched her head over her shoulder and glanced at the roof. “What the hell is going on there?” she muttered darkly.
She didn’t know, but she would find out.
She made it across the grounds in quick time. Which was good. Probably one of the reasons Lucifer had called her back was to see just how quickly she could do this. A lot of their plan hinged on how seamlessly she could enter and exit Broadstone.
As soon as she hit the city street beyond the forest, she thrust a hand to the side and cast a transportation spell.
She didn’t have the power to cast transportation spells on her own. No witch or magician did.
To cast it, she had to kiss her right seal, or technically breathe on it. But come on, pressing her lips against it was pretty much like a kiss, even though Lucifer never referred to it in that way.
She arrived in the alley beside The Devil Man bar.
The back door was right there. She brought her foot up, tapped on it, and opened it with a light kick.
The door gave way easily.
She strode inside. She expected she would have to go to Lucifer’s office. She didn’t.
Back here was the kitchen, not that The Devil Man served that much but magically inebriating alcohol and cocktails that would screw your head off, screw it back on, then slap you silly.
Larry was there grabbing a box of drinks from one of the shelves, and Lucifer was leaning against one of the polished stainless-steel benches, his arms crossed, his gaze zeroed in on her.
As soon as she saw him, her heart skipped a beat. Who was she kidding? It skipped 20.
She looked down at her feet, then up at him. Her brow was marked with barely hidden worry. “I screwed up, didn’t I? I walked into a spell that cost me two hours—”
“Where were you when I contacted you?”
Lucifer was only ever this direct when she really had screwed up and he was trying to control the damage she’d done.
She sighed hard. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “The roof. I was trying to investigate Eleanor’s murder.”
“Describe exactly what happened.”
“I climbed up the side of the building. I had my sword out. I started going through the spells on the roof. I,” she shivered, “I found some kind of blood spell.”
Larry had clearly been ignoring the conversation. He was smart enough to know that it was not a good idea to eavesdrop on Lucifer of all people, but he still gasped and dropped his drinks.
Lucifer did not gasp. His eyes narrowed. “What kind of blood spell?”
She scratched her arm. “At first, I was pretty certain that it was a killing spell,” she forced those words out, despite the fact it felt like pushing stones from her lips. “But then I realized it was a blood spell. It… was laden.” She closed her eyes. “It had fed off thousands of bodies. According to my rudimentary count, it had fed off at least 6000 people.”
“Damn,” Larry said.
Lucifer just looked at him. “This bar has a reputation to uphold. Our service is always prompt.”
Larry spread his hands, got down on his knee, plucked up his drinks, and scurried out without another word.
Lucifer locked his eyes on Felicity again.
She walked over to one of the gleaning benches, jumped up on it, and practically collapsed. She pushed her elbows against her knees. Only after a few seconds did she tilt her head back and stare at him. “I stuffed up, didn’t I?”
“Did you feel the time spell?”
She shook her head. “No way. To me, only a couple of minutes had passed. I lost two hours. God, I’m going to have alerted someone to the fact I was there, right?” She looked right at him.
He didn’t answer. He finally pushed off the bench. He walked right up to her.
It was no surprise that her stomach clenched. It wasn’t the look in his eyes – it was his outstretched hand.
She made a show of wiping her fingers, despite the fact they weren’t dirty, then she reached over to him. He plucked up her fingers. He opened her hand and smoothed his palm against hers.
She looked away sharply. She ignored what her stomach did. Hell, so many tight, racing, hot tingles plunged through her, she felt like she was sitting on ants.
Lucifer appeared to concentrate.
She knew exactly what he was doing. He would be going through the history of the spells she’d cast.
Felicity was a strong witch, but she wasn’t capable of the same forensic magical detective work as a demon.
He quickly frowned. He took a step away from her.
For several seconds, she just left her hand out there, looking like a complete idiot. She quickly dropped it and tried to neaten her hair. Then she looked up at him again from underneath her eyebrows. “I’m screwed, right? I can’t possibly go back—”
“I think the time spell wasn’t monitoring anyone. I think it was an old spell someone forgot to remove.”
She frowned. “Someone just forgot to remove it? But it was so strong. I mean, I didn’t even feel it,” she shivered. “So I hazard to think how powerful it was.”
“It was powerful,” he said flatly through a frown.
She rolled her lips through her teeth and turned away sharply. She went to push off the bench, but Lucifer got there first. He placed a hand on her knee and stopped her from moving.
Despite the fact that it could have been an intimate move, and it could’ve made her heart wild, it didn’t. He was just stopping her from pushing off the bench. “You’re weak. You’ll probably break your ankle if you do that.”
She tried to laugh. It was pretty hard.
It took him a few seconds to let his hand drop, and even then, he only moved half a meter away as he watched her carefully.
“I’m not weak. School was easy. Okay,” she conceded with a shrug, “I stuffed up a little. I gave way too much lip to several teachers. But I’m fine.”
Lucifer didn’t react to the fact that she’d given too much lip to several teachers. If anything, he had a knowing look in his eye as if he would’ve expected nothing less from her. “Your blood has been taken, Felicity,” he said out of nowhere.
Her whole world stopped. It took several agonizing seconds for her mouth to open. “What?” she spluttered sharply. She jerked her hands up. She stared at her wrists. She knew how blood spells worked. The place they primarily chose to draw from was your wrists. It was the easiest access to fast pumping, hot blood. The femoral artery or the jugular were too dangerous. The wrists, on the other hand, were just perfect.
“Don’t fear,” Lucifer said as he pushed away from her, finally satisfied that she wasn’t about to jump off the bench.
She experimentally scooted forward, but she wasn’t stupid enough to jump off.
She was starting to feel weak. Seriously weak. The kind of heady nausea you only get if, say, you’d just given a hell of a lot of blood.
She pressed her sweaty palm against her hair, pushed it out of her face, then looked at him. “You’re saying that the spell stole my blood?” She almost couldn’t push those words out. “Because if that happened, then that means they’ll know who I am. That means everything—”
Lucifer shook his head once. And that was all it took for Felicity to stop.
“I thought of this. Please, I’m a professional.”
Yeah, he was.
She sucked her lip in and chewed it. She looked down at her hands, then up at him. “How much of my blood did they get?”
“They didn’t. They got the blood of a rat,” he said smoothly.
She made a face. “You gave me rat blood?” She brought her hands up and stared at them.
“And chicken blood, and the blood of a cow, and several other synthesized bloods that can mimic human blood,” he said simply. “Your disguise,” he nodded at her, “is complete, I assure you that.”
She flattened a hand over her face. For several seconds, she hid behind her eyes, then she opened her fingers and stared at him between them. She didn’t care that it would’ve looked like a stupid damn move. “Thanks,” she muttered.
“Why thank me? I’m the one who sent you on this mission. It was up to me to try to foresee potential problems.” He turned to walk away around the benches.
Larry entered the kitchen, but quickly opened his hands, turned around, and walked out. “You’re still here. Okay. So no more peanuts for the patrons, then,” he muttered.
Felicity made a face. “Maybe we should take this up to your office? We can’t have the esteemed guests of The Devil Man not getting their peanuts.”
“You are going to remain right there,” Lucifer said, his voice hard.
“Crap,” she collapsed forward, pushing her elbows hard into her knees, “I really am in trouble, aren’t I?”
“Define trouble?” he said.
“Oh no,” she muttered. As she’d already pointed out, Lucifer only ever asked her to define things when she really was in the shit.
She hunched over herself. She wanted to collapse. Preferably in his lap. But not while he was this angry.
She settled for chewing on her bottom lip and staring at the floor. “You said I was ready for this,” she muttered. “Clearly, I am not.”
“I thought you might encounter a spell like that. That’s why I gave your disguise several distinct forms of blood to choose from. Your disguise has been programmed to be intelligent, and it has lived up to that programming. If that blood spell is checked, no one will assume that a human disrupted it tonight. All they will think is that a rat walked across the roof and accidentally – for it, at least – encountered the spell. Your disguise – and the mission – are still fine.” He looked right at her.
She winced as she turned around and stared at him. Slowly, she pushed up. Her back ached. “I don’t get it. If my blood hasn’t been taken, why am I so weak?”
“Your blood was taken. The spell tried to access you, but your disguise gave it rat blood. Your blood is sitting in your disguise.” He pointed at her.
She made a disgusted face. She pulled up her sleeves.
She couldn’t remove her disguise – only Lucifer could. Hell, she hadn’t seen her real self in three years. She could change this disguise, sure, but she couldn’t strip it off like someone removing a cloak.
Lucifer took a step up to her. He opened his hand. Reluctantly, she put her hand in his.
He grabbed her gently and ran a finger up her wrist. It encountered the seal on her left hand. She felt it opening.
It was like someone ripped her body off. It wasn’t a violent sensation, though. She went back to the fact it felt like having a coat removed. In a few shuddering, magic-filled seconds, she saw herself completely changing.
Suddenly, she was back in the same torn T-shirt and jeans she’d been wearing the first day she’d encountered Lucifer.
That was one thing. A far more important fact was that her arms were completely covered in blood.
She went to scream.
Lucifer brought a finger up and pushed it in front of her face. “It’s not the first time you’ve seen blood. You’re not going to die.”
“But there’s so much of it,” she spluttered.
“Of course, the spell you encountered was a particularly greedy one.”
Lucifer grabbed her other hand up, flattened his palms against hers, and pressed in tight. He closed his eyes.
Felicity watched as her blood started to drain back into her body.
It was a heady experience. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She was still conscious, though, and she could part her lips. “I don’t get it, why was that blood spell there?”
“You are not that innocent, Felicity. You know full well what blood spells are used for.”
“And other dark creatures,” he corrected quickly.
“But why would it be at the school?”
He opened his eyes and looked at her directly. “For someone who wants to destroy Broadstone, sometimes you have a worrying naivety about it. Why would it be at the school?” He turned the question back on her.
She felt sick. She stared down at her knees, let her gaze skip across his hands so she didn’t have to know how gently he was holding her, then stared up at his eyes again. “Because someone’s using it for forbidden magic.”
“… Do you think they’re using it to feed a demon?”
He paused. Then he shook his head. “There are far darker creatures out there than we demons. Some of them have a voracious desire for blood.”
She nodded. She already knew that.
She was so damn weak. It felt like someone had drained half of her blood. But slowly, her strength was coming back to her.
“Why didn’t my disguise stop the blood spell from accessing my real blood?”
“Because the blood spell was powerful,” he said simply.
She looked right at him. “I don’t want that answer,” she said stupidly, considering it was the one he’d given her.
He shot her a look that conveyed that exact point. “Well unfortunately for you, it is the answer.”
“Why didn’t you craft a better disguise spell?” It was a stupidly innocent thing to say that. It was damn clear that Lucifer wanted to get this mission done. Because he needed to get every mission he was given done. That’s how his contracts worked.
He didn’t answer.
Glumly, she stared to the side.
“While I heal you, this is a perfect opportunity for you to tell me what else you learned today.”
“That I’m an idiot—”
“We have spoken before about this, Felicity,” his voice suddenly became as hard as a punch to the gut. “You’re not an idiot. Now, please,” he emphasized that, “tell me what else you learned.”
“Fine,” she said as she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and thought. “Broadstone was even worse than I remembered. I caught the attention of Belinda Hamilton,” she said through a laugh. “She’s trying to torture me.”
“How unfortunate for her,” Lucifer said with a smile.
That smile was way more effective than his healing magic. It reminded Felicity that she was not the victim here.
Felicity laughed. “Yeah. Anyway, she’s been using this remote sound spell to follow me around. It’s in every damn room.”
“And the cleaners haven’t noticed?”
“God, it’s a rudimentary spell. Anyone with a magical education would be able to sense it a mile off. I imagine countless people have noticed. But they haven’t removed it.”
“Then indeed, Broadstone has fallen far. Is it the only bloat spell you’ve encountered?”
Bloat spells were exactly what they sounded like. They were spells that took up space without doing anything useful. As Felicity had already pointed out, they were not innocent. If you found too many littering the environment, they could have all sorts of disastrous interactions.
“No, there are others, but I haven’t paid too much attention, to be honest. I was kind of distracted by trying to be good.”
He laughed. “A hard task for a demon witch.”
She laughed back. She was feeling so much more at ease.
“Anyhow, I learned a few things. I made a lot of enemies, too.”
“I thought we agreed that you would keep your head down?”
“I tried. But they locked onto me the second I walked in the door. I think it’s better in some ways to have enemies, because then I can see just how far they are willing to go.”
“Indeed. What else did you learn?”
“I met the granddaughter of the groundsman who got killed three years ago.”
He looked right at her. “And?”
“She hates the elites just like I do. She pulled me into a maintenance corridor and told me to get out while I still had the chance. Apparently the Queen Bee – Belinda Hamilton – almost killed a girl several weeks ago. The same girl whose bed I’m now in.”
Felicity frowned. “Speaking of which, why did you put me back in my old room?”
“I didn’t. You are a bursary student, and that was the room they selected for you. I’m assuming that it is full of surveillance spells.”
Felicity nodded. “Yep.”
“Do not assume, however,” he added quickly, “that those surveillance spells have all been placed there by malicious students. I go back to the fact that you were given this room by the school.”
Felicity looked at him sharply. She hadn’t thought that through yet. She frowned. “Wait, you think the faculty might have something to do with this?”
“I think if the school is full of bloat spells, there is a functioning blood spell on the roof, and students are almost dying from excessive bullying, then yes, the faculty are involved on some level.”
She tilted her head back. “I don’t want to go back,” she said simply. “I want a bottle of whiskey and a day off.”
“I can give you a bottle of whiskey, but you cannot have a day off.”
She made a face. “I don’t like that deal.”
“Well, it is the only deal I will make.” He shifted away from her abruptly.
She almost reached out and grabbed him to pull him back. What was the point? The spell was done. She looked at her hands. There was no longer blood covering them.
Then she remembered they were her hands. She got stuck looking at them. She went to grab her face, but she didn’t get the opportunity. Lucifer snapped his hand forward, locked it around her left wrist, ran his finger over the tattoo, and reconnected it. And there, in a flicker of magic, she returned to her disguise.
She frowned at him. “Why did you do that so quickly? What? Are you worried that I’ll go back to being pathetic if I see my old face?”
He arched an eyebrow. “No. There is no part of you that is a victim anymore, Felicity. I ensured that you know precisely how to defend yourself.”
She didn’t point out that it hadn’t been completely down to him. If it hadn’t been for her grunt and sheer will, she would’ve crumpled on the first of his missions.
She finally pushed off the bench. She didn’t stagger. She walked over to the shelves. She selected an old and very expensive bottle of whiskey, made a sweet face at him, went to open it, and then said, “It’s a deal, remember?” She uncorked the magical stopper with her teeth.
“You could pick something cheaper. That particular bottle of whiskey is over 700 years old. It belonged to a French wizard who spent almost all of his time distilling whiskey and hunting demons.”
She made a face as she chugged down a mouthful, pressed a hand against the back of her lips, and looked at him pointedly. “Why would you drink something from a man who tried to kill your kind?”
“He was a true artist.”
She shrugged. “It’s pretty good. So I can take this back with me?”
“I would prefer you to not drink on school grounds.”
“But I’m not a student. And I’m not a kid.” She wagged a finger at him as she took another long draft.
He just looked at her. “You need to go back.”
“What?” she spluttered, several golden drops of liquid splashing onto her cheeks. “Now? You mean now, don’t you? No way. You said I could stay here tonight.”
“Not the whole night. You’ve already been healed. You need to go back. I need you to find out who put that blood spell on the roof. But I need you to be careful,” he growled.
“You’re gonna send me back up there?” She gestured with the bottle. A few droplets splashed out.
“I need you to watch. I fear something is about to happen. I require your eyes to see what that is.”
Why didn’t he just say that he needed her body? That’s what this was, after all. She was just a pawn in his game.
If she’d been thinking rationally, she would have corrected herself quickly. But screw rationally. She strode toward the door.
He grabbed the bottle off her before she could take it away. He looked at her. “You will not be in danger. Do not think that I would ever let you go,” he said, his voice practically dropping through the floor.
It was enough that it held her on the spot. As did his gaze.
“I will never let you go,” he repeated.
It wasn’t a threat. Maybe someone who didn’t know him well enough would think that, owing to the fact he was a demon and she was contracted to him, but this wasn’t him throwing his power around.
No, it was a promise.
She looked at her feet then up at him. “What do you think is gonna happen?”
“Something interesting. Just watch. Maybe it won’t happen tonight, maybe it won’t happen for several days, but I feel something is quickening.”
She shivered. When a demon said that something was quickening, you had to batten down the hatches and go for your guns.
She trailed her lip over her bottom teeth. She nodded. Then she did something stupid. She saluted. It was all because he was close and she had to do something with her hands.
He arched an eyebrow. “You don’t work for me.”
“No, Felicity,” he turned away, pushed his hands into his pockets, and went for the door that led back into the club, “one of these days, you will realize you work with me.”
“One of these days, you will realize you work with me,” Felicity didn’t speak those words out loud, but mouthed them into her pillow. She was back at school.
Dammit, she’d been hoping that she would never have to sleep in this dormitory. She’d planned to use a clone spell to ensure that the other girls never realized anything was wrong.
But now she was here. Repeating the last words that Lucifer had said to her was literally the only thing stopping her from going insane.
Lucifer was right. This room was chock full of surveillance spells. Some of them would just be crappy little things that Belinda had left behind – some of them were too sophisticated for that.
The question was why the hell was the faculty surveilling their bursary students like this?
Felicity had to stop herself from laughing out loud. It might have something to do with the fact that three years ago, she trashed the place, and they wanted to prevent something like that from happening again.
Then again, it might be something a whole lot darker.
Just before she could mouth Lucifer’s words again, she locked her lips together and pushed her eyes against her pillow. She blinked them open. She stared at the pattern on the fabric.
It was dark, but that didn’t matter. Her night sight was pretty darn good. That’s what happened when you were contracted to a demon.
But if her skills were that good, why hadn’t she been able to see that blood spell? Why hadn’t she recognized it was being protected by a time spell? Wait, why the hell was it being protected by a time spell?
She could have kicked herself for not asking Lucifer that question.
She grabbed her bed covers in her hands. It didn’t matter that it was 4 o’clock in the morning – she got the urge to slip out and see him again.
“That bastard promised me that I could spend the night with him,” she mouthed.
She didn’t bother correcting herself. She would not be spinning her nights with him. She would be spending her nights at The Devil Man club in her room. Sure, it was a nice room, but it was not his room. Not that he slept, anyway.
“Just shut up and try to sleep,” she muttered.
She did not sleep. For the next 2.5 hours, she lay wide awake. She thought through every possibility.
Why was someone using a time spell?
2.5 hours later, she had her answer.
It would be to bleed people quickly, right?
Blood spells that were after people’s actual body fluids and not there to outright kill them, tended to be slow affairs. If they were quick, that could be problematic, because odds were your target would find out. If they were slow, and they only took a dribble of blood every few seconds, then it was more likely that the intended target wouldn’t notice and the spell would be able to operate without being detected.
If you needed to take a lot of blood quickly, though, why not speed up time?
She doubted you could have a functioning blood spell on that roof without a time spell. Because why would anyone be spending that much time up there?
As dawn split through the windows, and several of the girls started to rise, Felicity sat up abruptly. Her covers fell off her.
Jane had just woken, and she looked at Felicity directly. There was a haunted look in her eyes.
It was likely programmed to tell Felicity that today would probably be her last chance. If she didn’t get out now, she’d never get out.
Felicity got out of bed.
She walked over to the window. God, she wanted to open it. It was such an old body program, but she wanted to thrust her head out, close her eyes, and breathe the fresh air. That little routine had always reminded her that there was a world outside of Broadstone, even if she’d been too weak to grasp it.
She dressed quickly.
All the while, she wondered what the hell her next step would be. Lucifer hadn’t told her.
He wanted her to find out who’d cast that blood spell. Fine. She had to go back to the roof for that. She also had to protect herself from said blood spell.
And she would have to wait until night.
Screw the days. She didn’t want to go to class.
One of the good things about working for a demon was that school was never mentioned again.
She had no option, though. She got to class. And every single minute she spent was like plucking her hair out.
She had another potions class, another ethics class, a magical accountancy class, and even another defense class. And yeah, the teacher was brutal. Felicity was a lot better at keeping her magic in check this time.
That didn’t stop Jake from looking at her. A lot. It seemed that every chance he got, he would stare her way.
She kept feeling his attention on the back of her neck as she walked through the halls.
By the end of the day, Felicity was this pent-up ball of energy, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that in every class Belinda had been using her remote sound spell to hound Felicity.
She had tuned it out in the first quarter.
By the time classes were finally over, all she could do was pray that the night would come quickly.
As she walked up the stairs to go back to her room to have a better look at the surveillance spells there, she wasn’t at all surprised to encounter Belinda.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Felicity mouthed.
Belinda crossed her arms. “Oh dear, you’re looking terribly pasty. Have you had a hard day? Did you not sleep well? Did you have nightmares?”
Belinda’s yes-girls sniggered.
Felicity just slipped her gaze across all of them then locked it on Belinda. “I’m fine.”
Pull your head in, Felicity, she told herself quickly, but the damage was done.
Belinda looked shocked. “Haven’t you been hearing things?”
“Hearing things?” Felicity put her finger in her ear and waggled it around as if she was cleaning out wax. “No, I’m hearing fine. Why?”
Belinda’s yes-girls didn’t know what to do. They looked at Belinda. She paled. She frowned, too. Felicity could actually see Belinda concentrating. She accessed a remote sound spell. Because she even had them in the girls’ dormitory, apparently, even though it was highly illegal to practice environmental magic up here.
“Bitch,” Belinda suddenly screamed in Felicity’s ear with one of the remote spells.
Felicity had been expecting it. She didn’t even flinch. She just looked at Belinda and tilted her head down. “You okay?” She walked to the side of Belinda.
Belinda’s expression was priceless. That didn’t stop her from jerking a hand out and grabbing Felicity’s wrist. “You don’t belong here.”
“What? In the corridor? I guess you’re right. That’s why I’m heading to my room.” Felicity pulled her hand back. It was easy as pie to break Belinda’s grip.
Belinda staggered a little. She blinked. “You don’t belong at the school. People like you,” she cut her gaze up and down Felicity’s form, “don’t belong anywhere near here.”
“Okay,” Felicity said as she walked away.
“You’re dead,” the remote spell screamed in Felicity’s ear, and it was clear Belinda was using all her force.
Felicity just scratched her shoulder, arched her neck, and kept walking.
Belinda wasn’t about to let up.
Felicity reached her room, opened the door, and walked in.
Belinda? She walked right in after Felicity.
Felicity stopped and turned. “How come you can walk in here? I thought the room was coded?”
Belinda launched forward and slapped Felicity.
Felicity just stood there and took it.
Jane was in the room. She straightened, her cheeks paling.
Felicity slid her gaze over to Jane and just shook her head slightly. Then she looked back at Belinda. “Isn’t it a violation to enter someone else’s room?”
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” Belinda snarled.
Felicity scratched her brow. “A dumb ass who has no clue how the real world works and who thinks if she stuffs up, her dad is just gonna fix it.” The words were out before Felicity could do anything to retract them. A sinking sensation plowed through her stomach, pointing out how stupid she’d just been. But it was done.
Belinda quite rightly looked as if she’d been slapped.
Felicity turned quickly and walked over to the window. She had to control herself, dammit. She had to control herself before she got way out of line.
She stared out the window. That’s when she saw a certain person walking across the grounds.
She didn’t have to struggle to remember who it was – the memory was as fresh as a bird that had just had its head cut off and had been served to you on a platter.
It was Sidney.
“What the hell?” she stammered. She grabbed the windowpane and leaned against it.
Belinda wasn’t done. She whipped out her wand.
Felicity paid absolutely no attention.
Sidney was walking across the grounds. He was behind the principal.
Sidney, the smalltime idiot damn criminal she’d attacked two days ago.
What was way worse was that he had a wand in his hand. She watched as he casually shifted it to the side and cast a few showy spells as if he was taking it for a ride like a new car.
Even from here, she could tell that wand was about as expensive as they came.
Belinda shrieked. Felicity could tell that she was gearing up to cast a spell.
Belinda’s wand was right up against Felicity’s neck. Deathly yellow charges were building in it. To an ordinary student, it would be terrifying.
If Felicity didn’t have the experience with magic that she did, and her body wasn’t as primed to disperse it, that spell right there could knock her out. Hell, it could almost kill her.
Belinda began to cast.
Felicity grabbed the wand. She threw it out the window.
Belinda was dumbstruck. Hell, everyone who saw it was dumbstruck. In order to interrupt someone’s spell, you had to have a heck of a lot of power.
“What the hell?” Belinda stammered.
Felicity ignored her.
There was no damn way that Sidney would have his magic back. Everything he’d said to her in the back of that van had been crap, right?
So what was he doing here casting magic?
As soon as Felicity hit the corridor, she pushed into a run. No one really paid attention to her. The Queen Bee’s Hornets hadn’t come into the room. Presumably, they weren’t coded to it. As they saw Felicity running out, they laughed, wrongly assuming that she was running for her life.
Felicity reached the stairs and took them two at a time.
She made it down to the atrium in time to see Sidney walking through.
He still had a wand in his hand. He wasn’t casting magic anymore, but that didn’t matter. She didn’t need to see it to know that he was magical again. Worse than that, he was a hell of a lot more powerful than he’d once been.
This… this could not be happening.
The power required to give someone back their magic once it had been stolen was insanely expensive.
She could not deny what was before her very eyes, though.
She’d either given Belinda the slip, or she was too focused on getting her wand back. She fortunately didn’t come tearing down the stairs to finish the fight.
That meant there was nothing to stop Felicity from falling into step behind Sidney.
It took her too long to realize she was being too obvious.
She saw an opportunity, ducked into the girls’ bathroom, ensured it was empty, and cast an invisibility spell. When she walked out, no one looked her way once.
She followed Sidney all the way up to the principal’s office. He was led inside.
She followed him in.
There was the principal. He was the same asshole who’d been there in Felicity’s time.
“You come highly recommended, Sidney,” the principal said as he clasped his hands together.
Sidney simply spread his hands to the side and nodded. “I’ve had a varied career.”
The principal simply smiled. “Yes, I am aware. Though we usually don’t employ men of your particular caliber, we’ve been asked to make an exception.”
Men of his particular caliber? What the hell did that mean? Murderers, kidnappers, and petty criminals? You’re damn right Broadstone didn’t usually hire them. If they had a problem with poor students like her, actual down-on-their-luck criminals had to be right down the bottom of the pile.
The principal looked at his papers, nodded, then handed something over to Sidney. “This is your new identity. You come from the Frank family.”
Sidney laughed. “I’ve heard of them.”
“That’s the point,” the principal said, his humor gone. “I’m doing this as a favor to the Enforcement Unit. But for it to work, you need to act the part. You now come from a prestigious family, and you’ll be expected to act that way.”
Sidney leaned back, a condescending expression on his face that told her he thought there was nothing the principal could ultimately do to him. He spread his hands wide and shrugged. “I’ve got it, okay? Keep my head down and do as I’m told.”
“Indeed.” The principal rose. “I was instructed to take you to the roof. Come with me.”
The roof? He was here for the blood spell, wasn’t he?
Felicity just couldn’t process this.
Not only was Sidney back, and not only did he have his magic back, but the principal seemed happy to give him unfettered access to the school.
Felicity followed. You wouldn’t have been able to pull her away for the world.
When they reached the roof, the principal actually bowed as if he would ever think that someone like Sidney was an important person. “Please send my regards to the unit.” With that, he walked off.
Felicity slipped onto the roof behind them. No one had any clue she was there.
She was so damn overcome by what was happening, she almost forgot to protect herself from the blood spell, but at the last moment, she ensured she upped her magical defenses.
She could feel the blood spell, though. And damn was it greedy.
When the principal was well and truly gone, Sidney leaned back, rolled his eyes, and said some particularly unkind words.
He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Come to me,” he said. He closed his eyes.
Judging by the exact way his fingers moved, he was accessing something in his pockets. And judging by the exact way her tongue tingled, it was some kind of magic space. It would be giving him access to an object that wasn’t technically here. Whatever it was, it was powerful as hell. It didn’t just make her tongue itch. It felt like she was swallowing hot coals.
The blood spell started to appear. When a spell appeared, it would often look like a lattice that had been overlain over the environment. The older and more powerful the spell was, the more of the environment it would cover. She had to stop herself from gasping, even though Sidney wouldn’t be able to hear her anyway, as the blood spell appeared. It was huge. It covered everything. It looked like it had been operating for hundreds of years.
Sidney chuckled. He pressed his hands together. He whistled. “You’ve got quite a lot of blood there for me,” he said as he tickled his hands backward and forward as if he was scratching the chin of some cute animal.
Felicity couldn’t describe how sick she felt.
Sidney started to drain magic from the spell.
He had to open his pockets, and the magic started to spill into them, transferring through the spatial spell within to wherever its intended destination was.
Felicity could actually see the blood being drawn out of the spell.
Something struck her. She’d assumed that the spell had been gathering blood and holding it for years. She’d been wrong. It was obviously being cleaned regularly.
This spell hadn’t just stolen the blood from several thousand victims once. It had done it multiple times.
… It was feeding off the students continuously, wasn’t it?
Felicity just stood there and watched. That was until the door opened.
Someone walked out onto the roof.
It was a young student. She could only be 12. She had a bag clutched in her hand, and as soon as she locked eyes on Sidney, her face paled with fear. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said innocently, clearly having no idea what she was looking at, “I just came here to eat my dinner.”
Felicity used to do that, too. The roof was often the only place she’d been able to get any peace.
Sidney looked at the kid. As he did, Felicity understood precisely what was going on in his mind. It was written large over his vicious expression. “No witnesses, sweetie. Sorry. No more dinner for you.”
He twisted his hand to the side, and the spell suddenly swirled around the kid.
She didn’t get the chance to scream. The spell pushed into her wrists and started sucking her blood, just like that.
Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and she crumpled.
“Asshole,” Felicity screamed.
She jolted forward.
The invisibility spell was still hiding her and her voice.
Felicity understood why she was here and that she just had to watch. She couldn’t get involved.
If she interrupted, she might never find out what was really happening.
But a single second later, she snapped.
She had come here to make a difference. She didn’t have the strength to take on the school right now, but that did not matter. She would still make a difference in any way she could.
She accessed her disguise spell. Lucifer had already given her one that she was only to use when she needed to attack somebody publicly.
According to him, he’d borrowed the appearance of a known magical criminal. One who, if she appeared at Broadstone, would be surprising, but would not be particularly suspicious.
As Felicity changed her appearance in a rush of sparks, and broke the invisibility spell, she thrust forward.
Sidney had a chance for his eyes to pulse wide. But she punched him right on the jaw. He was powerful now, powerful enough that the blow didn’t down him in a single hit. It did send him scooting to the side.
His eyes opened wide. He twisted his hand to the right and sent the blood spell spinning around her. She felt it trying to push into her. She clicked her fingers and broke its strands.
Sidney paled. “Who the hell are you?”
“A criminal. You?”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” He thrust forward.
More strands of the blood spell spun around her and tried to push into her body. She let them enshroud her. Then she flexed her muscles and pushed them off. They were blasted back in a hail of black power.
Sidney staggered. “Who the hell are you?” he stammered again.
“Not the kind of person you want to mess with,” she snarled.
When she’d disrupted the blood spell, it had lost its hold on the kid.
To ensure that it couldn’t get its hooks back into her, Felicity pulsed her magic out. She sent a protective barrier circling around the child.
Sidney’s eyes narrowed. “Who the hell do you work for?”
“Myself. I collect magic and sell it to the highest bidder.”
He paled even further. “Wait, I’ve heard of you. You collect magic for the underworld. You idiot. You have no idea what you’re getting involved with.”
He snarled. He jerked forward. This time, he used his full magic. It was so much more than what he’d had when she’d attacked him two days ago.
It was almost so much that Felicity could have lost. She didn’t.
She ducked at the right moment, punched, and thrust him back.
He fell against the stone roof, blood sliding out of his lips.
“You’re coming with me, dear,” she said. “I might be a shady crim only in it for the magic, but I do so hate when creeps like you go after kids.”
His eyebrows could’ve cracked. “Why would you care? You once went after the magic at a children’s hospital.”
She shrugged. She tried to hide the fact that she’d just screwed up. “Maybe I just don’t like you.”
He put a hand up. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
“Another shady crim is my bet.”
He snorted. “Try the Magical Enforcement Unit.”
Though she’d heard him mention that several times, she couldn’t ignore it this time. Nor could she push away the look in his eyes. It was the fanatic stare of someone who knew they practically had God watching their back. He laughed. It was high-pitched. He sent the blood spell at her one last time.
She had to resist the urge to grab her forbidden sword and cut right through it. But she thrust it back anyway.
He staggered. He paled. “You won’t win.”
She spread her hands. “Clearly I will.”
Sidney became just as pale as she remembered from his van. “Look, what do you want?”
“Nothing you can give me. Except for information. This Magical Enforcement Unit – how much magic do they have kicking around that they’re stupid enough to use someone like you to do their dirty business?”
“You can’t win,” he said pathetically one last time. But it was clear from the look in his eyes that he was starting to recalculate this. “I’ll tell you where they are, okay? I’ll—” his throat suddenly seized up as if someone had just wrapped their hands around it.
His pocket started to bulge. It looked like invisible hands were making their way up the fabric as they traveled under his shirt and grabbed hold of his throat twice as hard.
His eyes bulged wider. “No, please, I’m not going against you,” he tried.
Felicity jolted forward, knowing what would happen next.
His neck snapped. Just like that.
He was killed right in front of her.
She hadn’t destroyed the blood spell yet. It was still swelling around her. Suddenly it zeroed in on Sidney. There was nothing she could do as it lifted his corpse up and started to disintegrate it in front of her eyes. She hid behind her hand.
She felt more magic swelling around her.
There were a lot of things Felicity could fight, but not this. The terrifying power that built up across the roof could rival even Lucifer’s.
She thought quickly.
She skidded to the side. She grabbed up the girl, and she jumped right off the roof. It was just in time before the blood spell could collapse around her.
Felicity hit the ground. The girl was still over her shoulder.
It was now pitch black. Of course it was. She might’ve followed Sidney up here after classes, but the time spell was still operating.
There was no one to stop Felicity as she ran with the kid across the grounds.
The blood spell still pounded her, but she just managed to escape.
She made it through to the forest. Then she reached the world outside.
She didn’t have to open a transport spell and make it back to The Devil Man club.
She turned her head to the side, and a car sped up, mounted the curb, and came to a screeching stop.
The back door opened, and there was Lucifer.
Felicity staggered forward, the girl still over her shoulder. “Lucifer, Lucifer—”
“I know,” he said. He reached a hand out to her.
Barney was driving. He got out, grabbed the kid gently off Felicity’s shoulder, and nodded at her. “We’ll look after her, right, boss?”
Lucifer nodded. It was the kind of nod Felicity knew he would not go back on. The girl wouldn’t be able to return to Broadstone, but she would be safe.
Felicity collapsed. She let Lucifer grab her and pull her into the car.
This time she didn’t resist falling into his lap. He settled a hand on her shoulder.
“What the hell is happening, Lucifer?”
He slid his hand down her arm. He secured it against her bare elbow. He started to heal her, and, critically, just ground her. “I don’t know, Felicity, but we will find out.”
The end of The Demon’s Witch Book One. This series is complete. There are five books in total, so pick up the rest today.