Five blocks? My heart slammed into my ribs. Five blocks was way too close.
“The demon jumped our lines and is fleeing northeast of Grid 22,” Felix barked into his headset. “All teams, check in with your position. Team One?” He paused. “Confirmed. Team Two? Confirmed. Team Three?” Another pause. “Team Three? Team Three, do you copy?”
My entire body went cold. No one moved, every person as still as a statue, half of them watching the screen, the other half watching the guild door like the demon might burst through at any moment.
“Team Three? Team Three, I’m not receiving.” Felix focused on another screen. “Where’s their signal? It’s—”
He leaped to his feet and spun toward the door—and that’s when I saw the blinking GPS dot marking a team’s location. The indicator was speeding toward our guild, almost on top of us, about to—
The front door flew open.
Several people screamed and backpedaled, but it wasn’t the demon. Dark-haired and russet-skinned Izzah burst into the pub in a splatter of rain.
“Healer!” she yelled. “Where’s the healer?”
“Here!” Miles boomed as a mash of eight people squeezed through the doorway. Aaron pushed through, a limp man slung over his shoulder in a fireman carry, and Drew carried Gwen piggyback-style. Last in line, Kai backed through the door with his sword out, then slammed it shut and flipped the heavy, rarely used bolt down.
Aaron lowered the injured man onto a gurney and the healers surrounded him. Miles and Elisabetta—a tall blond woman—shot rapid observations back and forth as they cut their patient’s clothes off.
As Kai helped Gwen off Drew’s back and supported her over to a chair, Aaron stormed up to Felix, his black vest shining with rain and blood. “Get Darius for me.”
Felix sat again and tapped on his laptop. “Darius, do you copy? I have Aaron here.”
Aaron took the headset and shoved it on his dripping head. “Darius, the demon has wings. The bastard was probably watching our search from the rooftops. How the f—” He cut off the curse. “Yeah, we’re okay. Gwen sprained an ankle, that’s it. An Odin’s Eye man took the hit and he’s with our healers.”
A pause while he listened.
“We ran into their team on our way back. We stopped to trade notes, and the beast dropped on our heads. It knew our guards were down.” He swore again.
Aaron listened for a minute more, then yanked the headset off and passed it back to Felix. He strode away from the table, cursing in a low, continuous growl. The three healers were huddled around the injured mythic, and as I watched, the shifting bodies parted, offering me a glimpse of the gurney.
The man was lying face down, his bare back streaked with blood. Three deep gashes ran from shoulder to shoulder.
The horrific wounds were enough to make me lightheaded, but they weren’t the reason the floor was shifting under my feet. The way the three parallel cuts swept across his flesh like monstrous claws had torn him open … I’d seen wounds just like that before.
I’d seen them in the form of white scars that raked across Ezra’s torso from hip to sternum.
Aaron slumped on a stool. “Tori, I need a drink.”
I shook my head. “Darius said no liquor until the alert is over.”
He looked up with pleading, exhausted blue eyes. “Just one. My next rotation doesn’t start for two hours.”
Shifting my weight, I considered. “Only if you promise to eat a sandwich. What do you want to drink?”
“Something that’ll burn.”
I pulled out a shot glass and filled it to the brim with whiskey. He downed the shot with a grimace.
Kai dropped into the next seat, his sword sheathed. My stomach twitched unhappily at the sight of him and I ducked into the kitchen to grab sandwiches and a wet paper towel.
Returning to the bar, I put a sandwich in front of each guy, then told Kai, “Hold still.”
He squinted tiredly, then recoiled when I started scrubbing his cheek with the paper towel.
“Tori,” he complained.
“You’re splattered with blood. Just hold still.” I scrubbed his temple, checked he was clean, then pitched the paper towel into the garbage. “Okay. Now eat.”
As they robotically bit into their sandwiches, I surveyed the pub. The healers were working on the injured man, his team members hovering nearby—Izzah, Mario, and another mythic. It was reasonably quiet again.
No sooner did I think that than the door banged. The bolt rattled, then someone knocked loudly. Clara hastened to unlock it, and three wet strangers stumbled in. Outside, rain poured, the rippling puddles reflecting the building’s lights.
“Guild?” Clara asked.
She made a quick note on a clipboard. “We have hot drinks, sandwiches, and cots upstairs. What would you like first?”
They conferred, then chose beds. She led the weary trio to the stairs, where the second level had been converted into a bunk room. As they passed the bar, Aaron and Kai nodded to the men, and they nodded back.
“Mages,” Aaron said once they’d vanished upstairs. “The Pandora Knights are exclusively Elementaria. They invited me to join but I passed. They’re snobs.”
I glanced worriedly at the stairs. With the arrival of the Odin’s Eye team, Ezra had vanished, just like when Izzah and Mario had shown up last night. There were only so many places he could’ve gone. “Is Ezra up there?”
“I checked on him a few minutes ago,” Kai said. “He’s camped out on the third floor where it’s quiet.”
That was good. Ezra was unpredictable when it came to chaos. Sometimes, he was the calmest person in the room, and other times … he didn’t cope well. I now suspected that demon-related chaos always pushed his buttons.
I pulled my spare stool over and sat across from them. “What happened out there?”
Aaron rubbed his forehead. “It was ugly, Tori. The demon dropped on us from off a building and ripped Roberto open before we even knew what was happening. Mario called his demon out, and the unbound demon jumped right over it and tried to take Mario’s head off. Izzah was fast—she’s his champion—and landed a direct hit with a water blade, but the demon barely flinched. The thing is a tank.”
“What do you mean she’s Mario’s champion?”
“It’s a tongue-in-cheek term for a contractor’s protector,” Kai explained, picking at the crust of his half-eaten sandwich. “Since no one wants to fight a demon, they try to kill the demon’s contractor instead. As soon as the contractor dies, the demon is gone.”
“It takes most of a contractor’s concentration to command and maneuver his demon, so the champion protects him.” Aaron stared at his sandwich like it was made of playdough. “Mario’s demon was way too slow for the unbound one. I thought we were all dead.”
“Not that I enjoy admitting it,” Kai muttered, “but the Keys of Solomon saved our asses. Their team charged in with two demons of their own, and the unbound one took off. The Keys chased it while we rushed Roberto back here.”
Huffing painfully with each step, Izzah stumbled over to the bar and sat beside Kai. “Aduh. Tori, anything to eat? For Mario too, please.”
“Coming right up.” I grabbed two more sandwiches, and when I returned, Mario had taken the stool beside Izzah, his shoulders drooping. “Here you go.”
Izzah started unwrapping her food. “It’s bad, this demon. With its ability to fly, we’ll have a hell of a time catching it, let alone killing it.”
“We can wear it down,” Kai said. “It’s one demon against thirty combat teams. Sooner or later, it’ll make a mistake.”
“But how many mistakes will we make first? How many will die?” She took an unenthusiastic bite. Why did no one like my super club sandwiches? They were only a little soggy.
“Mario,” Aaron began, “do you know anything about winged demons?”
“They aren’t common.” He picked the tomato out of his sandwich. “Summoners keep mum about demon lore, so I don’t know much about types. I’ve heard about winged demons but I’ve never seen one until now.”
I sank onto my stool. “Are all demons equal, or does their power vary like fae?”
“They’re all powerful, but some more than others. I can only base it on my own experience, but some are larger with more physical strength.”
“Our issue is magic,” Izzah said. “Bound demons can’t use their magic, only the small amount the contractor can command through them. Unbound demons can do who knows what with theirs.”
“Who knows what …” Aaron muttered. He shoved back from the bar. “I need to sleep if I want to be of any use in a couple of hours. Tori, can you ask Felix about a replacement phone for me? Mine got smashed during the ambush.”
“Okay. Have a good rest.” Chewing on my lower lip, I watched him, Kai, Izzah, and Mario limp tiredly upstairs to catch a few hours of sleep. None of them had finished their sandwiches, and I threw out the remains. I needed better food for them. Something more appetizing than slimy deli meat. Something they could scarf down fast.