“Um.” I inched back, warily eyeing the double-ended spear. “How good is your depth perception again?” By “good,” I really meant “bad.”
He twisted the two blades apart and sheathed them inside each other so it was once again an innocuous metal pole. “Terrible, as usual, but it’s rarely an issue in a fight. Moving people disturb the air, so I can tell how far away they are even if I can’t see them.”
“Oh, right,” I said faintly as he slapped the weapon against his back. It stuck to the baldric on its own—magnets, maybe?
“All right,” Kai called. “Any questions before we head out?”
“Whose car are we taking?” Felix asked dryly. “I’m not riding in the back of Aaron’s pussy-mobile.”
“Hey! Don’t insult my baby.”
“We’re taking the van,” Kai said. “Anything else?”
Zora folded her arm and cocked a hip. “Are any of the bounties DOA?”
“Dead on Arrival?” I muttered questioningly to Aaron.
“Dead or Alive,” he corrected. “Not common, but it happens.”
“No,” Kai replied. “We take them alive, but don’t hesitate to defend yourself with whatever force is required. Your lives come first, always.”
That sick, lightheaded feeling returned. I gripped the edge of the bar, my knuckles turning white.
Kai waved at the team to follow him. “Let’s go.”
“Ezra,” I said hoarsely as he moved to follow. “Be careful.”
He smiled reassuringly. “We’ll be back before you know it.”
Aaron stood and clasped arms with Ezra, then the aeromage hastened after the other seven mythics, Kai in the lead. The door shut behind them, and my shoulders drooped. No matter what Ezra said, for me it would be a long, long night.
Desperate for a distraction, I would’ve loved a crazy Tuesday-evening rush to liven things up, but the pub was dead most of the night. Sin popped by to chat, my favorite hag Sylvia ordered three Manhattans before stumbling out, and yoga-girl witch and two friends hung out for a couple hours, but otherwise, my only customers besides Aaron were Liam and Tom, parked in a corner while Tom read a new sci-fi book and Liam played on his phone.
As midnight crept closer, I circled the front of house, straightening chairs and wiping already clean tables. Giving up on work, I sat on a stool beside Aaron. Hunched over his laptop, he was scrolling through an ugly white website that looked ten years out of date.
“What’s that?” I asked, unable to take the silence anymore.
“Hmm?” He yawned, belatedly covering his mouth. “The MPD Archives. This is the job board. I’m checking for new listings with good bonuses.”
Oh wait. I’d seen this site before, hadn’t I? I’d uncovered the homepage during an otherwise fruitless Googling session on magic. “Find anything?”
“Not really. It’s been quiet lately.”
I watched him scroll. The page went on forever. “Are these all from MagiPol?”
“For the most part. They typically come from three sources: MagiPol, which makes up about eighty percent of the postings, then individual mythics who need help with something and guilds that want to pass off a job.” He scrolled through another dozen listings. “Some are open bonuses, meaning they’re always ongoing—stuff like exterminating vampires, tagging shifters, and confiscating artifacts from humans. Others are what we call the ‘Wanted Ads,’ which are postings about something suspicious that anyone can look into.”
He tapped the screen. “Like this one. ‘Claims of spiritual activity in abandoned warehouse.’ Anyone can go check it out, and if they find something troublesome, they deal with it, report to MagiPol, and see if they can get compensated. It’s hit or miss, but sometimes you land a jackpot.”
“Interesting.” I squinted at the screen, then pointed. “What about that one?”
“‘Missing girl from Arbutus Ridge, suspected mythic involvement,’” Aaron read. He clicked the listing and a new page opened, dominated by a photo of a brunette with short hair and hollow cheeks, around sixteen years old. “Missing person cases are difficult, especially when they’re human. As mythics, it’s tricky to get involved. We can’t just walk into a police station and demand to see the case file.”
He resumed scrolling. “Me, Kai, and Ezra prefer hunting rogues. Excellent bonuses, opportunities to beat someone’s ass, and no one else’s safety to worry about.”
I nodded absently. I could understand them not wanting to take on the responsibility of saving lives like that, but how could he forget that girl’s face, her hopeless eyes? I couldn’t shrug it off that easily.
“Someone else will take the job,” Aaron added reassuringly, snapping my focus back to him. “There are guilds that specialize in this stuff.”
“That’s good.” Somewhat relieved, I folded my arms on the bar top and pillowed my head on them. “How much longer until the guys get back, do you think?”
“Tough to say. If it went smoothly, another hour or two. If they have to chase down the rogues, could take all night. Kai will want to question these guys before turning them over to the MagiPol satellite office.”
I closed my eyes, my head and neck throbbing from tension. “I want to know how that sorcerer tracked me down while I was shopping.”
“Yeah, that’s been bugging me too. I’ve also been wondering about their attack on the way to your apartment.” He snapped his laptop shut. “They waited until I was alone—not with Kai or Ezra, I mean—but how did they know to target me that night? I’d never walked you home before, so how could they have known?”
“It seemed like they were waiting for us to show up.” I raised my head. “Two guys followed behind, but the other four were ahead of us.”
“It’s weird. I can’t even guess how they could’ve predicted our movements.” He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his jaw. “They waited until I was basically alone to attack me the first time, but breaking into our house … and just the one guy, too? I don’t get it.”
“Maybe they thought you’d be alone again? They must know they’d have no chance against three mages, right?”
“But Kai and Ezra live in the damn house. Why would the kryomage think …” He frowned. “Actually, now that you mention it, Kai and Ezra were talking about scouting Stanley Park on Sunday night. There was a werewolf sighting, and they even cleared their plan with the Stanley Coven on Saturday. They ditched the idea after you were attacked.”
We stared at each other.
“So,” I said slowly, “if the sorcerer hadn’t attacked me, and Kai hadn’t brought me back to your place, and he and Ezra hadn’t decided to stick around for the night, you would’ve been alone when Ice Guy snuck in.”
Aaron nodded, unease shadowing his usual confidence. “He was using stealth spells to get around. Ezra is probably the only one who would’ve noticed him before he attacked.” He pursed his lips. “Even then, Ice Guy might have made it through the house without anyone noticing if you hadn’t woken Ezra.”
My nerves twisted at what might’ve happened if not for a fortunate clash of coincidences. “Stealth spells are a sorcerer thing, though, aren’t they?”
“Anyone can buy artifacts off a sorcerer. Same thing for alchemic potions. Sharpie—my sword—is technically an artifact.” He drummed his fingers on his laptop. “Damn. Kai better catch that kryomage. I want to know how they know so much about our movements.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Otherwise, I’m going to develop an ulcer from all the anxiety.”
Aaron’s disquiet melted into a smile. “Don’t worry, Tori. We’ll protect you.”
My stomach fluttered. Goddamn it. I didn’t want protection. I wanted to not be hunted by murderous rogues. Aaron and his chivalrous declarations were messing with my head.
“Knight of Swords,” I muttered under my breath.
He propped his chin on his hand. “Oh, your tarot reading, right? Figured out any more of it?”
“What’s there to figure out? It’s so vague it could mean anything.”
“Have you thought about what you’re afraid of?”
“I dunno,” I drawled. “Being murdered in my underwear by a knife-wielding sorcerer, maybe?”
“In your underwear?” he repeated with interest.
“I was in a changeroom. I could easily have been down to my undies when he burst in.”
Aaron grinned as though enjoying the mental image. “The tarot reading wouldn’t pick up on that kind of fear. Like Kai said, it’s something that’s been bothering you for a while.”
“I have no idea what the reading means.”
Chin in hand, he tilted his head, blue eyes meeting mine. “I think you know.”
My stomach flipped again, but in a very different way—a not-fun way. Sabrina’s warning about being blinded by my past flashed through my head. “Why do you say that?”