Weldon had also come in, but I didn’t know him particularly well—mainly because I didn’t care to. An old man who always wore a greasy cowboy hat and matching boots, he’d gotten on my bad side during my first shift, when he’d given his drink order to my boobs. I was especially displeased to be standing in my underwear in front of him, but to my surprise, he seemed as focused on the markings as the others.
The final two sorcerers were a pair I’d barely spoken to: Lim and Jia Chen, an elderly couple who rarely drank anything but herbal tea. With wispy white hair, wizened faces, and thick glasses, they were tiny and hunched and looked like a mild puff of wind would blow them over. But they were the first ones Kai had called.
After calling Darius, I should say. That had been a fun conversation. The guild master wasn’t present, only because he was already dealing with the Red Rum angle—and the very real threat that the notorious rogue guild would retaliate against the Crow and Hammer.
Rounding out the group of voyeurs were all five of the guild’s witches. Chewing her lip worriedly, Kaveri finally broke the silence. “I can’t detect the fae. Can anyone else?”
Sitting beside her, Kier—her boyfriend—shook his head. With a beefy build, rugged features, and longish hair tied up in a man-bun, he reminded me of a super-Zen Jason Mamoa.
Philip, the middle-aged leader of our witches, rubbed his stubbly jaw. “The fae must have withdrawn as far as possible. Perhaps the binding magic exhausted him.”
“It’s disgusting.” Delta tossed her braided hair over her shoulder, their decorative beads clattering noisily. “Stealing a fae’s will is utterly profane.”
“Can we worry about morality later?” Aaron cut in, halting to glare at the witch. “We’re here to break the connection between Tori and this fae.”
“Lim and Jia,” Kai said quietly, “what do you think?”
Jia took her glasses off and folded them, her dark eyes nearly lost in wrinkles. “It’s a complex amalgamation. I suspect elements of Arcana, Spiritalis, and Demonica.”
“Demonica?” I repeated nervously.
“The binding elements are related to the contracts that subjugate demons,” she explained. “When a demon is summoned, its contractor gains near full control over its power.”
“You’d need something equally binding to control a fae like this,” Lyndon said, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. “I’d bet this fae is even more powerful than a demon.”
Jia levered herself out of her chair and hobbled over, scanning the markings. “Arcana and Demonica are not what concern me. They are simple in their complexity. Two plus two always equals four.”
She poked a big rune that spanned most of my right hip. “What worries me are the Spiritalis elements. These are not as simple to unravel.”
Philip joined the ancient sorceress. “It’s not just Spiritalis. The silver sphere relic Tori described was fae-created. Even witches don’t understand fae magic. It follows rules we can’t grasp.”
Jia tapped another rune on my side. “Fae magic combined with a dark Arcana ritual. This is beyond my knowledge.”
“Mine as well,” Lim agreed in his gravelly voice.
Around the room, every mythic agreed that they didn’t know enough to undo the bond. Sick dread sank through me and I wrapped my arms around myself.
Aaron appeared at my side and handed me an oversized sweater. I pulled it on gratefully, then put on the sweatpants he offered next.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “This doesn’t mean we’re giving up.”
“We will begin researching immediately,” Jia announced. “Lim and I will visit our friends at Arcana Historia. They are very knowledgeable.”
“I’ll put out feelers among my old comrades,” Lyndon offered, rising from his chair. “They’ve done their fair share of dabbling on the edge of illegal magic. They might have a few ideas.”
“Be careful what you ask,” Kai warned. “We don’t want to reveal too much.”
“I will.” He headed to the stairs.
Andrew stretched, stifling a yawn. “I know you were hoping I’d seen something like this before, but I’m sorry to say I haven’t. I’ll ask around too and see what I can find out.” He left, followed by Jia and Lim.
Philip rubbed his hands together, the gesture more nervous than thoughtful. “Those O’Conner sisters are downstairs, correct? I’ll speak to them before I leave.” He offered me a reassuring smile. “We’ll sort this out, Tori.”
Keeping my doubts about the O-sisters’ usefulness to myself, I nodded as he and the other witches headed off. Olivia and Odette were waiting in the guild’s basement, presumably too scared of Kai to leave without permission.
Weldon, the sometimes-creep, got up. “The others can ask around all they want, but this ain’t your next-door conjurer’s type of magic. You need a dark-arts master.”
“We don’t have one of those on speed dial,” Aaron snapped.
Weldon held his wide hands up placatingly. “I’m just sayin’, boy. Without a fae-magic expert or a dark-arts practitioner, you won’t get far.”
“You’d know something about dark-arts practitioners, though, wouldn’t you?” Kai asked sharply. “That’s why I called you.”
“So would you, eh, Yamada?” Weldon shot back. “I don’t know nothin’ about this fae crap. Good try, though.”
With a farewell shrug, he slouched down the stairs and out of sight.
“I can’t think of a single time Weldon has been useful,” Aaron growled. “I don’t even know why he’s a member.”
“He’s useful, I promise.” Felix scrubbed a hand through his short blond hair. “There are a few dispelling techniques I could try on Tori, but I’m not keen to start experimenting right off the bat. She seems safe enough for now, so let’s see what the others come back with. Kai, make sure Tori isn’t left alone.”
Once he was gone, Tabitha also headed toward the stairs. She paused at the top, her cool eyes sweeping over us. “Not here, however. Miss Dawson can’t be at the guild while the MPD investigation is ongoing.”
“I’m aware,” Kai replied, his voice even chillier.
She left. I sneered at the spot where she’d vanished, then asked, “Do I need to leave right now?”
“Not yet,” Aaron answered. “Ramsey should arrive soon. I want to see if he knows of any artifacts that might be helpful.” He fought back a yawn. “I need caffeine. I’ll go put on a pot of coffee.”
His departure left just me and Kai in the large room, plus Ezra and Sanjana in the corner. She’d drawn fancy sigils all around his injured arm and was chanting quietly.
I slumped into the chair near Kai’s laptop. Sitting as well, he tapped a key to wake the machine and turned it toward me.
“Does Llyr Llediaith sound like the fae’s name?”
Echo had spoken the fae lord’s name several times, but with all the chaos and adrenaline, we couldn’t quite remember it. I peered at the short Wikipedia article on the laptop screen.
“It was Llyr-something, but that doesn’t sound quite right.” I scanned the article, anxiety clenching my stomach. A Welsh sea deity from ancient legends, and the name was close enough that I had to assume it was the same being. “I really screwed this up, didn’t I?”
Kai braced his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his palm. “Actually, this is probably the best outcome we could have hoped for. If the fae was already caught in the binding and had to be tied to someone, better you than a Red Rum witch.”
“Why do they want this fae so badly?”
“I have a few theories. Red Rum is so difficult for MagiPol to fight because they run their operations from international waters. Their highest-ranking members live on luxury yachts, plus they command a veritable fleet of smaller vessels. Controlling a sea god would make their ships unassailable.”
Oh, yay. Didn’t that sound like a fun guild to piss off? I glanced at my palm glowing with runes. “I’m glad Red Rum didn’t get the fae, but I’m not feeling so great about me getting it instead.”
“We’ll figure it out.” He pulled me close to his side. “Together, there isn’t much we can’t handle.”
I leaned my head against his shoulder and closed my eyes wearily. Keeping me tucked under his arm, he clicked on his laptop with his other hand. I listened to Sanjana’s quiet incantation, trying to calm the twisting dread lodged under my heart.
Kai’s arm was warm and comforting. He wasn’t really the affectionate type, which made me all the more grateful. After too few minutes, his shoulder shifted under my cheek.
“Looks like Sanjana is almost done. We’ll head out soon. Why don’t you find Aaron and Ramsey?”
“Sure.” Sliding out of my seat, I trudged down the stairs to the bar. The sight of scattered chairs and dirty glasses stacked on the back counter should have been irritating, but longing rolled over me instead.
Male voices rumbled out of the kitchen, so I circled behind the bar and reached for the saloon doors.