Home > Magical Midlife Meeting (Leveling Up #5)

Magical Midlife Meeting (Leveling Up #5)
Author: K.F. Breene


A round face loomed over me and I screamed, clutching the bed covers and yanking them up to my chin. My magic boiled within me, nearly releasing. If I’d lost control, it would’ve blasted the intruder across the room.

“Good morning, Miss Ironheart.” Cyra, the mythical phoenix who lived in Ivy House but wasn’t officially a member of the team yet, clearly hadn’t learned the rules of personal space. She smiled down on me, her silky black bob shining within the soft light from the windows, giving her hair a slightly blue sheen. It struck me that the light didn’t reflect off the thick-rimmed glasses over her jade-green eyes.

I lifted my head and squinted at her. “Do you have any lenses in those glasses?”

She laughed and straightened up. Fire curled into the air from her shoulders and something like liquid magma dripped from her fingers onto the bed and floor.

“Oh, whoa.” I scooted away, only then noticing the presence at the end of my king-sized bed, its little body standing on the corner of the mattress, its painted-on baby face turned down in sorrow. It held a glass of water. “No!” I kicked at the doll, but the bed was too long for me to reach. I scooted down and tried again. “No dolls on my bed. No dolls—”

A spot on my comforter blackened before a tendril of smoke rose into the air. Small thuds sounded across the floor, more dolls rushing forward. The one at the end of my bed skittered toward me.

Fear quickened my heart. I threw out a hand to blast it away, but it tossed the water at me before I could, glass and all. Water slapped my face, and the glass thunked down onto my ribcage. More liquid splashed up from the floor, hitting me crossways.

“I’m not the one on fire!” I hollered, patting at my bed, snuffing out the little flames the dolls had missed. My comforter slipped down, and I quickly hauled it back up to my chin. “Cyra, away. How many times have I told you not to come wake me up? Mr. Tom gets special privileges because he brings me coffee.”

“Yes.” She gestured to the nightstand beside the bed. “I have brought you coffee. It is scalding hot, just like you like it.”

“No…” I groaned.

“What’s going on?” Hollace sauntered through the open bedroom door, but at least he had the good grace to step to the side rather than approach the bed. Leaning against the wall, he crossed his large arms over his chest, the darkness of his skin contrasting with a crisp white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to expose his muscular forearms. He was another new addition, the third being a gargoyle and the last being dead.

A pang hit my heart as I thought about Sebastian, the odd mage who’d taught me so much in such a short period of time. Before Elliot Graves had killed him.

I pushed the thought away before any of the attached rage or guilt could drag me under. Elliot had only killed Sebastian because of me, something I couldn’t seem to get past. Then, not long after, he’d amended his causal invite to meet for a drink. I was now invited to his residence, the exact location to come later, along with a collection of other mages, the number of total attendees and who they were not disclosed, to compete for his attention like some sort of dating show. The invite had been vague at best, and now Niamh was scrambling to find out more information, uncovering only bits and pieces at a time. For example, she’d found out that the residence seemed to be some sort of collection of tunnels within a mountain, possibly with limited entrances and escapes, but nothing beyond. To say I was on edge about it was a vast understatement.

Hollace kicked out, an almost lazy movement, clipping a doll and sending it rolling across the floor.

I smiled despite myself, the expression melting away immediately, not unlike the bedroom rug probably would beneath Cyra’s lava-dripping elbows. “Cyra, stop shedding fire!”

“Oops.” She laughed again and yanked her arms in tighter. Little droplets of fire sprayed out.

The doll on the bed ran for the glass next to my ribs.

“Gross, get—” I kicked, connecting with it this time and knocking it to the floor with a thunk. They were helpful when it came to Cyra’s unconscious droplets of fire, but they were still animated murder dolls. I hated having them around all the time, especially when I first woke up.

The rest of the dolls ran to the bathroom with their glasses, going for more water.

“What’s going on?” Ulric jogged in, his pink and blue hair spiked and his lithe frame shirtless. “We having a meeting? Oops. Those dolls are failing in their duty. Look at this—five spots of fire.” He stamped on the nearest. “We’re going to have to get the floor redone at this rate.”

Hollace pushed forward, his focus on the ground, snuffing out another spot. “The miss needs to learn the spell for canceling fire so we can lock up the dolls.”

“I know, I know.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I just can’t seem to get the elemental spells right. The root spell is super complex. It’s at the very top of my power scale and there is literally no room for failure. I need help…”

The room fell silent, and I looked out the window, feeling a stronger rush of sadness chased by rage. Sure, Sebastian had been Elliot’s employee, something I hadn’t known until the end, but Elliot hadn’t needed to kill him.

“Maybe send out another summons?” Ulric asked, stomping at the ground.

“And potentially get someone else killed?” I shook my head.

“If he could not defend himself, he wasn’t good enough for this team anyway,” Cyra said, something she repeated often. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel better—she was speaking the truth as she knew it, and most of the team agreed with her. The magical world was cutthroat, and I was starting to wonder if I had what it took.

Not like it mattered. I’d taken a blood oath to protect this house and these people, and there would be no takebacks. I was in it to win/lose it regardless of what I might want.

“It’s fine,” I said, nearly sitting up before I remembered what I was wearing. I had put on a see-through lacy number last night, hoping Austin would eventually make it over. He hadn’t, unfortunately, still kept insanely busy by his ever-growing pack. “I’ll figure it out. Can you all leave now so that I can get up?”

“My, my. Busy morning, isn’t it?” Mr. Tom bustled in carrying a silver tray laden with a steaming white mug, a thin white porcelain vase containing one red rose, and a plate with fruit and biscuits. His tuxedo was freshly pressed, his nose high, back straight, and loose jowls wobbling as he made his way to the table by the window. He’d clearly thought I’d want to take breakfast in my room, usually done in silence and with the door locked. Given everything I’d been pummeled with within minutes of waking up, he was correct. “To what do we owe the pleasure of so many loud personalities so early in the morning?” A question I hadn’t thought to ask after the invasion of the dolls.

I reached over and tapped the screen of my phone. Half past nine, not early for Dicks and Janes—the non-magical—but an hour or so before I usually got up.

“I’ve been thinking…” Cyra scratched her eye through the rim of her glasses.

“What happened to the lenses?” I asked, bewildered.

“They made my vision blurry,” she replied.

“So why wear glasses at all?”

“It makes me look more human.”

“Our faces make us look human,” Hollace drawled, back to leaning against the wall. “Our bodies. That’s why we inhabit them.”

I squinted my eyes and bit my lip, still struggling to understand the natures of our new houseguests—Cyra a phoenix and Hollace a thunderbird. Their souls lived on from body to body, through the eras, which wasn’t like me, obviously. But they both had a magical shape, like a shifter or gargoyle (like me), and a human form. They looked human, at any rate. Yet they didn’t think of themselves as human. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Was I not human anymore? Were any of us?

“It is too early for an existential crisis,” I groaned, closing my eyes.

“If I may prompt the next phase of this conversation…” Mr. Tom transferred the coffee to the table, shooting a withering look at the cup on my nightstand, which had blackened fingerprints along the rim, before straightening up. “What is it you were thinking, Cyra?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “When you practice, Miss Ironheart, you batter us with your magic, and you stab at us, but you are doing so against the protective shield you have on us.”

“Otherwise I’d kill you,” I said, eyes still closed, willing patience.

“And you also keep a layer of defense over yourself, since the defensive spells applied to us reflect magic in some cases.”


“So that’s not good.”

I peeled an eye open, trying to read her face. The supportive expression didn’t relay any additional meaning.

“Why?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I see.” Hollace nodded. “If she’s wasting all that energy trying to keep us and her safe, she’s not putting all her power into the kill shots.”

Cyra bobbed her head. “When this Elliot Graves accepts your rose and is finally in your sights”—she’d watched one too many episodes of The Bachelor—"you won’t be accustomed to working with full power, and you will hold back. It might make the difference between success and failure.”

“Right, except I can’t practice kill shots on people who aren’t protected from them.” I finally sat up, holding the sheets over my chest. “I feel like that’s pretty obvious.”

“Agreed,” Mr. Tom said, crossing behind Cyra and lifting the still-simmering cup of coffee. “We only have two weeks before we go to Elliot’s…residence, or tunnels, or whatever he calls his lair. The time for experimentation is over, if there ever was one. Instead of waking the miss for these types of musings, maybe your time would be better spent harassing the rock-throwing old crone next door into learning more about Elliot’s dwelling. Surely she should’ve uncovered something useful by now.”

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