Rhea turned back to me and opened her mouth.

“Can I go now?” Damara interrupted.

Rhea sighed, looking put-upon. “Yes.”

Much stomping and squeaking ensued until Damara disappeared through the door.

Watching the closed door, Rhea shook her head. “Why do I put up with that child?”

I crossed my arms. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Rhea shrugged. “I feel bad for her, I guess. She doesn’t have anyone else. Her mom was one of the ones taken at the vineyard.”

My stomach lurched. Suddenly Damara’s sullen ways made a lot more sense. “That’s horrible.”

Rhea nodded. “She’s also incredibly talented. She’s already mastered several advanced areas of magic. But she’s impatient.” She shot me a sly smile. “Like some other students I know.”

“What you call impatience, I call eagerness,” I said with a smirk.

“Smartass. You ready to go again?”

I nodded. “Just give me a sec.”

I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Like Rhea taught me, I visualized the energy surrounding me—not hard, given I was in one of the largest cities in the world. The air pulsed with it. I drew it up from my feet, in from my fingers, and down from the top of my head. I gathered it into a glowing ball in my diaphragm. It beat there like a second heart, pulsing with power. On my next exhalation, I imagined a thin stream of red rising through my esophagus with the air. It climbed up until I could taste ozone in the back of my throat. My eyes flew open. The power surged through my pupils and shot like a laser across the room.

“Bull’s-eye!” Rhea shouted.

I slammed my lids shut. The leftover power dispersed through my veins, making my arms and legs tingle. The rush of energy through my body made me dizzy. I swallowed against the rising nausea and focused on regaining my equilibrium. Rhea told me that in time, my body would adjust to the aftereffects of such an expenditure of energy, but for the time being it left me feeling wrung out. My shoulders sagged, and a bead of sweat trickled down my temple.

Once I felt more stable, I slowly opened my eyes. The dummy was the first thing I saw. It burned like an effigy for a moment until Rhea cast a spell to douse the flames. I limped to a nearby table and leaned on the edge, feeling worn-out but pleased.

Rhea came over and patted my shoulder. “Excellent work, Sabina. With a little more practice you’ll be able to call up the power without concentrating so hard. Once you master that, we’ll work on reversing the spell.”

I frowned. “Reversing it?”

“Yeah, this is just a stepping stone on the way to being able to use your true power. Most mages can shoot energy, but only Chthonics can suck the life force out of living things. It’s tricky and has some nasty side effects, but it’s also quite effective.”

My mouth twisted. “What kind of side effects?”

“Nothing you can’t handle. But let’s not worry about that now.” She patted my shoulder again. “You did really well tonight. I’m pleased with your progress.”

“Thanks,” I said. “This trick will come in handy if anyone takes another shot at me.”

Rhea frowned. “Why do I get the impression you’re hoping there’s another attack?”

I considered lying, telling her I wasn’t doing just that. But she’d see through that. “At least then I wouldn’t be sitting around wondering when another attack was coming and who was responsible.”

“Sabina, I get what you’re saying, but I would caution you not to get too cocky. Any mage who could handle an Avenger demon will be able to block a simple power bolt. If I were you, I’d have Giguhl or another mage with you at all times.”

As smart as her advice was, it rankled. The very idea of needing a bodyguard pissed me off. “I can take care of myself.”

Her shrewd eyes narrowed. “We all need help sometimes, Sabina. Don’t let your pride force you into a foolish and potentially deadly situation.”

“I’m not an idiot,” I said, my hackles rising.

“Yes, I’m aware of that. But I’m also aware you’re itching to zap someone. I’m just saying, you need to keep a cool head and not get yourself in a situation you can’t handle.”

I jerked a nod. “Fine.” Rising from the table, I worked my suddenly tense shoulders. “I need to grab a shower before I head to Vein.”

“I hear Maisie’s going with you.”

I frowned. Was there anything this lady didn’t know? “Yeah. It was her idea.”

She nodded. “She told me. I think it’ll do her some good. She’s been so tense lately. Maybe getting away from here for a few hours will help her get her visions back.”

I stopped, my earlier indignation dissolving. “I didn’t know they left.”

Rhea sighed and crossed her arms with a nod. “She hasn’t had a vision since before you got here. It’s the stress. Between the negotiations with Queen Maeve’s emissary and the council pressuring her, it’s no wonder she’s blocked.”

“How’s the council pressuring her?” I knew there was some stress over the outcome of the vote, but Maisie hadn’t mentioned the council coming down on her about something.

“Think about it. Maisie’s an oracle. The council relies on her to foresee the potential outcomes of their decisions. Especially now, with so much riding on this war vote. But she hasn’t been able to see a damned thing.”

I chewed on my lip. “I hadn’t thought of that. No wonder she’s looked so worried every time I’ve seen her.”

Rhea nodded. “Like I said, maybe a night away will help. Get her mind off things. Please promise me you’ll keep your eye on her, though. If anything happens, Orpheus will have all our asses.”

“He doesn’t know?”

She shook her head. “Maisie told me because she needed some help with her glamour spell. The only reason I didn’t argue was that no one will recognize her and you and Giguhl will be there to watch her back. But Orpheus would go apoplectic if he found out.”

I gritted my teeth. If I’d known it would be this big of a deal, I’d have flat-out refused Maisie’s request the night before. “Good to know.”

When we arrived at Vein, Giguhl made a beeline for a gaggle of nymphs. Squealing ensued as the girls fawned over his arrival. I shrugged at Maisie and jerked my head toward the bar. She followed close behind, almost tripping over my heels. After the lecture I’d given her on the way over about sticking close and not engaging anyone, this wasn’t a surprise. I just hadn’t anticipated her taking me quite so literally.

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