Nika sank into a chair inside her father's office, sulking in vexation and defeat. Ren had taken a seat to her left, while Markos leaned against his desk in front of them. The electricity had returned during their walk of shame into the house, and the cozy room was engulfed in golden light.

Markos pinched the bridge of his nose. "First, why was the power out? Second, why were you hosting a fight club in the yard?"

As he gave them an utterly parental look, they jumped into an explanation. Simultaneously. Each using their own version of events.

"...sick of being trapped inside this house..." Nika said.

"...ripped out the cord and snuck away..." Ren argued. "...asked her nicely to go back inside..."

"...just want to see Jade before she goes back to school...this brute threatened to manhandle me..."

"...so I had to use force, and she fought back..."

"...he follows me around like a shadow!"

"...tell her it's for her own good, she throws a tantrum."

And at that, Nika turned to him and bellowed, "Because you act like my bloodydamned keeper!"

"Both of you, shut up!"

Their heads whipped to Markos. "He is your keeper," he said to Nika. To Ren, he said, "And I told you to be discreet."

Nika gaped. "What?"

Markos sighed. "I've assigned Ren to guard you until it's safe for you to wander about on your own."

She shot out of the chair, anger blinding her vision. "Nefili don't have keepers."

"You're my daughter before you're a Nefili."

"You can't do this! I don't need to be protected, and I sure as hell don't want it!"

She spewed her disapproval and defiance until Markos finally yelled, "Sit down and stay there!"

The words hit her like a slap. They dug into her mind and yanked on her willpower. Nika's body betrayed her. She tried to fight against her own muscles, but they wouldn't be moved.

So she sat. And she stayed. Just as Markos had commanded. No—as he'd bewitched.

Bewitchment was one of the only magical gifts that modern Serafi possessed, given the recent censorship of magic. It allowed them the power of compulsion, of making a command that couldn't be disobeyed. Many Serafi claimed that the ability was proof of their race's right to rule.

Nika remembered her mental shield—a trait unique to Nefili—and tried to slam it into place. But it didn't work. Her dad continued to flood her mind with the bewitchment.

She was even more furious than before, and began spewing profanities at him for taking her freedom of choice. Yet when she looked into his eyes—twins to her own—she knew he wasn't enjoying it.

Markos shook his head. "You act just like your mother sometimes."

That silenced her. Even when the pull of his magic disappeared, she couldn't move or speak.

Never—not in seventeen years—had Markos compared Nika to her mother.

A tense silence passed before Nika said, "What?" It was barely a squeak.

"She also likes to get her way. Even if it could get her killed." Markos knelt down and took Nika's hands. "I know you need your freedom, but at least tell Ren if you go somewhere, and who you're meeting. That's all I ask."

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