Home > Boundary Broken (Boundary Magic #4)

Boundary Broken (Boundary Magic #4)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

Chapter 1

“For the last time, Lily,” I said, not bothering to hide my impatience, “we are not using code names. There’s no need.”

“Copy that, Griffin. We are all set up on this end. Flower Child over and out.”

I rolled my eyes and pressed the “Talk” button again. “Simon? What about you?”

“I kind of like the code names,” came my friend’s amused voice.

“That’s not what—” I cut myself off and took a breath, pulling my knit hat down a little farther. It was late on a Wednesday night in December, and I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of Baseline Road in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. My best friend, Lily, and her brother, Simon, were stationed at either end of the block, supposedly to direct traffic. Well, not “direct” so much as “ward off.” Simon and Lily were witches, and they could do a pretty nifty spell to keep humans away while I did my thing.

Of course, that was assuming I could get the two of them to stay on task. It was after midnight, they’d both had long days at their nonmagical jobs, and they were clearly getting a little punch-drunk.

Or maybe they were just creeped out. As trades witches who worked with regular magic, the Pellars couldn’t actually see the two children who ran skipping into this street every night after dark: the kids were remnants, minor ghosts who acted out the moment of their deaths over and over again in a loop, sometimes for centuries. They weren’t sentient, and they couldn’t hurt anyone, but even if you were used to seeing them, they were still kind of spooky. Then again, sometimes I wondered if it was more unsettling to see the remnants or to not see them but know they were there.

I pushed the button and tried again. “What I meant was, are you ready on your side, Simon?”

Silence.

“Simon?” Then I got it, and fought the urge to spike the walkie-talkie into the street. My boss, Maven, had gotten special encrypted handsets for me, just for this project, and they were probably expensive as hell. I sighed and said, “Are you ready on your side . . . Phoenix?”

“Ready over here, Griffin,” Simon chirped. I heard Lily cackling over the line.

I clenched my teeth. Unlike my friends, I had been in the army, where we had actual missions and, yes, call signs. Using Lily’s pop-culture version of military speak felt to me like playing with emotional matches, but I kept reminding myself that the Pellars were just having fun. And that they were out here in the cold in the middle of the night, using their sad excuse for spare time to help me. “All right,” I said, “I’m going radio silent now, guys.”

I turned the knob on the handset before Lily could respond. Tossing the handset on top of my backpack, I made myself glance over my shoulder. I’d been trying to avoid getting distracted by the remnants, but considering what I was about to do, it seemed more respectful to face them.

The two girls were near the same age, maybe ten or twelve years old, and they wore halter tops and pants that curved out at the bottom. I saw them whenever I drove through this part of town after dark, but this was the first time I’d come close enough to see the freckles that covered one girl’s face and arms, or to realize that what I’d taken for a ponytail on the other girl was actually a long braid. Shit, they were so young.

When I’d first started my little pet project—laying Boulder’s ghosts to rest—I had tried to do research on each of them beforehand. I had plenty of free time, so I’d spent hours at the library combing through ancient newspapers to find out who they were and how each one had died.

After a few weeks, though, I had to admit to myself that it didn’t really matter—and that reading through so much death and horror wasn’t particularly good for me. I’d decided to just focus on laying the ghosts.

I may not have known these remnants’ names, but their cause of death was pretty obvious just from watching their loop. Both of them had their heads down, focusing on chasing something into the street—a ball, or maybe a small dog. Whatever it was, it hadn’t left a psychic imprint behind, so I couldn’t see it. The figures ran laughing into the middle of the road, and then the moment I’d dreaded arrived: the freckled girl turned her head in my direction, a look of horror materializing on her face just before she blinked out. Her friend never looked up. She disappeared before she even noticed the vehicle bearing down on them.

I closed my eyes, reminding myself that the two girls were gone, and had been for a long time. In a few seconds the whole scene would start over.

My working theory was that every ghost was a small piece of someone’s soul, trapped on this side after death. Remnants like these two were the least sentient of the ghosts I’d encountered, but their presence still bothered me, in more ways than one.

Luckily, I could do something about it. Other witches often referred to boundary magic, my personal specialty, as death magic, and they hated those of us who could use it. But I tried to think of what I could do in terms of bridges, messages, reunions. I could put these ghosts to rest by sending the fractured parts of their souls across the boundary between life and death, where I assumed their spirits would become whole again.

At least, that’s what I thought happened. I was still fairly new to this, and was making it up as I went along.

I unfolded my legs and crouched down a foot from the street’s centerline, digging my big Swiss Army knife out of the backpack. I tried to pull out a cutting blade, but I kept fumbling it. We had done this routine a hundred times in the last six months, but now it was early December, and my fingers were stiff with cold.

I mumbled a few choice curse words, which steamed in the freezing air and drifted away. I blew on my fingers and rubbed them together until they were warm enough to work. When I finally got the blade out, I checked my hand and found the most recent scar was on my right pinkie. Tensing, I pricked my ring finger. I’d gotten a lot of practice at poking just hard enough for the amount of blood I needed.

The moment my blood hit the cold night air, the two girls paused, finally breaking their loop. There was boundary magic in my blood, and ghosts could somehow sense that. They didn’t move any closer, but their laughing faces went slack and they turned their heads toward me, regarding me like a particularly sweet and tempting treat. This part never failed to unnerve me, and my uninjured hand automatically reached up to touch my birth mother’s bloodstone where it hung on a leather cord under my clothes.

Still in the crouch, I turned in a circle, smearing the blood in a dark line that looked almost blue in the yellowish streetlights. I wanted to move as quickly as possible, to get those lifeless, staring eyes off me, but I forced myself to take care. The circle had to be completely intact, or I’d have to do this all over again.

I spent a few seconds filling in spots where the blood had smeared. There weren’t any bad cracks in the road—I’d chosen this spot because it was the smoothest. When I was confident the circle would hold, I carefully stepped outside it. The Band-Aid was already in the outer pocket of my coat, and I taped it onto my bleeding finger. Then I looked up at the watchful girls.

The first time I’d made a doorway to the other side, it was almost an accident. Well, Simon referred to it as “psychic self-defense,” and maybe that was a better description. My biological father, Lysander, had been attacking me with ghosts, something I hadn’t even known was possible until that moment. Desperate, and with no other ideas, I’d done this same procedure more or less on instinct. I think I was even more surprised than Lysander when it worked.

Now I squatted back down, still outside the circle, and pressed my palms into the asphalt so the tips of my tattoos just touched the line of blood. Lily had designed the elaborate griffin tattoos, which helped me channel magic with more control. The bloodstone grounded and steadied me; the tattoos focused my magic like a funnel.

“Door,” I said out loud, concentrating as hard as I could on the image of a doorway.

Inside the circle, the pavement disappeared, replaced by a sort of swirling smoke that led . . . somewhere. I hadn’t opened a gate to, say, heaven or hell—that much I was pretty sure about. This was more of a neutral bridge to . . . wherever. Limbo, the gates of Saint Peter, Santa’s workshop. I didn’t know, and I wasn’t the least bit tempted to find out.

When I was certain the door was stable, I looked back up at the two girls. “Go on,” I said gently. “Be at peace.”

The girls held hands as they approached the swirling mist without hesitation. They crossed the line of my blood with their chins up, eyes bright. I felt my own eyes fill as they vanished through the gate.

Blinking hard, I took a moment to glance around. Twice, when I’d done this, additional remnants had appeared from nearby buildings or bodies of water. They had heard the call of my blood, and were eager to take the path I was offering. I counted slowly to thirty, but there were no other takers tonight. I scuffed at the line of blood with my boot, breaking the circle. The smoky door vanished, replaced by ordinary pavement.

A rush ran through my body, the aftereffect of using pure boundary magic, and I had to brace myself on the ground for a moment. Sometimes this happened while the gate was still open, sometimes not until afterward, but there was always this feeling of joyous contentment when I laid ghosts to rest. It could last for minutes or hours, depending on the night.

Lily had once asked me, in her unfiltered Lily way, if it felt like an orgasm, and I’d had to think through how to actually explain it with words. “No, it’s not sexual, or even sexual-adjacent,” I had answered. “It’s more like this overwhelming sense of”—I struggled for a phrase—“glorious purpose, I guess. It feels like I’m doing exactly what I was made to do.”

I didn’t explain that it was about the only time I really felt useful these days, but Lily had probably figured that out. My best friend was a lot more perceptive than she got credit for.

I let myself sag down onto the road, but after only a moment, I reached for the walkie-talkie. Oh, what the hell. I turned it on and pushed the button with a little smile.

“Griffin here,” I said into the handset. “The eagles have landed. Over and out.”

Chapter 2

It was after one in the morning by the time I drove the Pellars back to my cabin, where they’d left Simon’s car. I was used to staying up most of the night—dating a vampire will do that to you—but I figured the two of them had to be exhausted. They both had normal human day jobs, plus specific responsibilities for their witch clan. Simon “liaised” with my boss, Maven, which mainly involved dealing with security issues alongside Quinn and me, and Lily . . . well, a year ago, their mother, Hazel, had declared that Lily would become the clan’s next leader when she retired.

We probably should have seen it coming. The eldest Pellar sister had betrayed the family and gotten herself banned from the state, and the second-oldest sister, Sybil, was universally disliked. Somehow, though, nobody was more surprised by the news than Lily. Now she had special lessons with her mother several times a week to learn advanced magic, leadership, and diplomacy.

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