Hands trembling, I withdrew my phone one more time. Why oh why hadn’t I called Kai sooner? Thirty-five minutes until Darius was supposed to show up at the shipping yard.
I minced down the hall, moving farther from the psychics, and opened my messaging app. Barely seeing Kai’s recent texts—asking where I was and promising to call after Aaron was safe—I typed into my phone and sent the same message to him and Ezra: the address of the office, and three words.
I found Aaron.
Holding my breath, I waited. Would Kai check his phone, or was he already on his way to one of the locations? Twenty seconds passed, then thirty, then a minute. No response. My finger hesitated over the call button. Tom was here. If I called Kai, no matter how quietly I spoke, the clairaudient would hear.
“Rigel,” a man called from the main room.
Jumping in fright, I shoved my phone into my purse and slunk toward the voices.
“Ivan just messaged me. A Crow and Hammer team is closing in on our Cypress office.”
I peeked out as a man rose from a leather office chair and straightened his tailored suit jacket. His black hair was combed back, the style enhancing his stark features and the deep creases around his mouth.
“Then it’s time,” he murmured in a crisp English accent.
He positioned himself across from Aaron, who was uncannily still with the mentalist’s hand on his head, keeping him under her control. From my angle, I couldn’t see what Rigel was doing—then the sound of a phone ringing on speaker broke the silence. The psychics in the room waited, unmoving.
The line clicked.
“Have you decided to return my pyromage?” Darius’s calm, deep voice echoed from the phone.
“Darius,” Rigel said, ignoring the question. “I am disappointed.”
“A mutual sentiment, Rigel.”
“Guild etiquette is simple. We do not interfere in one another’s business. Isn’t that your personal maxim as well? Don’t hit first?” A sneer coated Rigel’s tone. “You broke your own rule, my friend. You struck first, and now I’m hitting back.”
“I could remind you of the personal standards you once held,” Darius replied coolly. “But I suppose the days we shared the same ideals are long past.”
Rigel barked a laugh. “Those ideals you still cling to are the reason you’ll never be able to challenge my place in the mythical and mundane hierarchy.”
“Our estimations of your position in that hierarchy might differ.”
“My firm’s clients rule this city. Yet you chose to interfere with us. With me.” His voice took on a quiet, dangerous edge. “You should have known you stood no chance against my guild. No power is sacrosanct when psychics can sway the people who wield it. Just look at your promising young pyromage, reduced to a puppet.”
“Rigel—” Darius began, anger tingeing his voice for the first time.
“Perhaps watching him die will drive home the ridiculous arrogance that motivated you to strike at me. Are you watching, Darius?”
Rigel advanced on Aaron, helpless in the chair, and I realized it wasn’t a call on speaker phone but a video call. Oh god. I had to do something. But what? I didn’t have a weapon. Just my hot-pink umbrella and—
“You’re making a mistake.” Darius’s voice came through the speaker in a low growl. “Whatever lines you’ve trampled before, this isn’t one you want to cross.”
Keeping the phone camera pointed at Aaron, Rigel slipped a hand into his suit jacket and withdrew a black pistol from a hidden holster—and this one definitely wasn’t a paintball gun.
He leveled it at Aaron’s head.
I dug into my purse, spilling my belongings across the floor. The Queen of Spades card fluttered to the carpet between my feet. The spell reflected magic, but it couldn’t reflect bullets.
“You started this war, Darius.” Rigel waved the mentalist aside, and she shifted out of the way, keeping one hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “And you’re three thousand miles too far to save anyone.”
My head jerked up. Rigel knew Darius was on the east coast? Then he’d never intended to spare Aaron. The last two hours had served no other purpose than to make Darius and the guild frantic—a farce to punish them even more.
Card in one hand and umbrella in the other, I braced myself.
“If you kill him,” Darius snarled, fury breaking through his calm, “I’ll teach you what it means to fear power.”
Rigel didn’t react to the threat. “Any final words for your protégé? He can’t respond, but he can hear you.”
“No? Very well.”
Rigel handed his phone to a nearby psychic, who stepped back to bring both Aaron and his executioner into frame for Darius. Rigel pointed the gun between Aaron’s blindfolded eyes.
“Rigel!” Darius roared.
I sprinted into the psychics’ midst.
Flying past the watching mythics, I whipped my umbrella up into Rigel’s wrist. The gun flew from his hand and I jammed the umbrella’s handle into his face. As he staggered, I lunged forward, umbrella held like a jousting lance, and jammed its metal top into the mentalist’s sternum. She jerked back, her hand slipping off Aaron’s arm.
“Aaron!” I screamed. “Light the room on fire!”
I was afraid he would hesitate, would delay for fear of hurting me, but he didn’t. With a sizzle of heat, flames burst from him and exploded outward in a howling maelstrom.
Holy shit. When Aaron had said he could light a room on fire, I hadn’t realized it would be this easy for him. I threw myself toward the bank of cubicles, and as the wall of fire rushed at me, I pointed the Queen of Spades at it. “Ori repercutio!”
The air rippled and the flames shot away from me. As Aaron lunged off his chair, the fire washed harmlessly over him and rolled toward the screaming psychics. The blindfold and gag had burned off Aaron’s face and flames ate holes in his shirt. Half the room was burning and Rigel had disappeared. Psychics fled in every direction—but not everyone was running.
A familiar figure charged through the flames. The telekinetic who’d almost killed Liam flung two daggers into the air and they shot at Aaron.
Aaron grabbed the metal chair and swung it, knocking one dagger off course. The other grazed his arm, his blood sizzling in the flames. As the telekinetic waved his hands wildly, bringing the weapons back under control, I popped out from my hidey hole under the desk, grabbed a brand-new keyboard, and threw it at the telekinetic.
Snapping a hand toward the projectile, he brought the keyboard to a halt in midair—but, distracted, he let his two knives drop to the floor. Aaron tackled him, flames bursting everywhere. The man went down with a shriek.
A flash of movement in the corner of my eye. The mentalist, her face contorted with either pain or fury, reached for me.
“Oh no you don’t!” I yelled as I grabbed the next piece of equipment off the desk.
Her eyes widened and she frantically backpedaled. Not fast enough. I smashed the shiny new computer monitor into her head and she dropped like a rock. She wouldn’t be using me as a hostage against Aaron a second time.
Another psychic ran out of the smoke and rammed me into the desk. The cubicle wall collapsed, the whole desk smashing into the floor. As his hands closed around my throat, sound blared through my ears and light flashed in my vision. Screams of terror, hideous screeching, splatters of red blood, wide staring human eyes, glowing red monster eyes, vicious snarls—
The hands around my neck disappeared and the horrific sights and sounds evaporated from my mind. I gasped in a lungful of smoke as Aaron hauled the mythic off me and threw him into a burning cubicle.
I grabbed Aaron’s offered hand and he pulled me up. Fire had completely consumed his shirt but his pants were still in one charred piece. The spreading inferno was out of control and smoke billowed from the burning walls. Eyes stinging, I searched for our next opponent but the dumb ones were on the floor and the smart ones had already fled.
“This way,” I coughed, my throat burning as the smoke thickened. “We can escape out the window.”
With Aaron on my heels, I shot into the hall and scooped my purse off the floor. Halfway through shouldering it, I hurtled through the door into the half-renovated office.
And almost ran into the gun aimed at my chest.
Tom, his bandages blackened and his eyes blazing with hatred, clutched the pistol in a white-knuckled grip.
“Um,” I whispered, staring at the barrel too close to my heart. Behind me, Aaron radiated heat. “Hi, Tom.”
“Don’t move, Aaron!” Tom snarled. “If you even twitch, I’ll shoot you both!”
I didn’t move. I didn’t even breathe.
“Bitch,” Tom hissed bitterly. “Do you have any idea how exclusive this guild is? What it takes to get a chance to join? This was supposed to be my big break!”
I leaned back from the gun but he stepped forward, bringing it closer.
“Tori,” Aaron said. He sounded calm. Way too calm when my innards were about to decorate the white walls.
“Shut up!” Tom barked, jerking the gun side to side like he wasn’t sure if my heart was in the center of my chest or on the left. I waited for my life to flash before my eyes, but all I felt was terror so intense it hurt.