Magic spiked around his wrist and coiled into the shape of a sorcery circle filled with ugly runes. A second ring sprang around his forearm, and a third formed around his elbow. In a continuous, dizzying flow, the runes shifted, faded, and reformed into new ones, all while crackling power built in the air.
Snarling, the demon lifted its arm, mirroring Ezra. Throbbing red power lit its clawed hand and writhed up its arm. Aaron and Kai braced themselves.
That’s when I realized they couldn’t take their attention off the enemy to worry about me—and I wasn’t supposed to be this close to the battle. Slipping on the wet pavement, I backed rapidly down the alley.
The air shuddered. Ice sheathed the ground around Ezra’s feet—then magic erupted from his palm.
Six spiraling spears of glowing red light hurtled toward the demon. Crimson light burst from the demon’s hand, and the two forces collided—and exploded.
Arctic wind hit me, followed by a shockwave of red-tinted smoke. I staggered and shielded my face as debris whipped across me. As I lowered my arms, the demon launched itself at the three mages.
Broken wing or not, the thing was fast. I didn’t even see what happened. Fire, a burst of lightning, then Aaron hit the ground, his sword skittering away. Kai shouted something—and then the demon charged Ezra.
His pole-arm was in his hands and he twisted it apart into two short swords. The demon changed direction, leaping past his blades. As Ezra whirled after it, the demon slammed its good wing into Kai, knocking him into a shop window. The glass shattered and he fell onto the display counter inside.
Aaron was back up and fire raced along his sword as he set his feet. Ezra circled the demon, his back to me. Crimson power snaked over his hands and forearms, and wherever he stepped, the damp pavement turned to frosted ice.
Beneath the demon’s feet, ice spread in the same broken fractals.
My headset crackled, and I almost screamed from fright.
“Tori?” Felix’s voice spoke in my ear. “Your GPS signal has stopped moving. Is everything okay?”
I gulped. Right. We were supposed to follow procedure. Kai and Aaron had told me to report the demon once they’d engaged it, because if they hadn’t killed it by the time backup arrived, then they probably couldn’t kill it at all.
“Demon sighted,” I squeaked, holding the mic button. “Demon sighted. My team has engaged.”
“What?” Felix gasped. The earpiece crackled, then his voice barked over the line as he relayed the message to all Crow and Hammer teams.
Dislodged glass shattered on the pavement as Kai stumbled out of the window. Two short knives were already in his hands, and he threw them with rapid snaps of his wrists.
They struck the demon’s back. One bounced off and clattered on the pavement, but the other stuck in place.
Kai whipped his sword up and pointed it at the streetlamp above his head. Electricity crackled over the pole and the casing burst. An electric bolt leaped from the shattered bulb to Kai’s sword. White light surged over him, then he cast his sword toward the demon.
Lightning slammed into the beast, hurling it across the street and into a wall. As chunks of brick rained down, Kai pulled more power from the streetlight and channeled a continuous stream into the demon. The other streetlights lining the road exploded in showers of sparks.
Holding the hilt with one hand, Aaron turned his sword sideways and pressed his palm to the spot just below the crossguard. The steel glowed with heat. Face tight with concentration, he slid his hand along the blade in a swift, purposeful motion.
A half circle of fire roared to life around the demon. The blue-white inferno stretched higher, then swept inward, closing the ring. Kai hurled more electric power into the obscuring flames, not letting up on his attack for an instant.
With fire igniting across his arms and shoulders, Aaron charged toward his fire, his blade extended to deliver a killing blow while their attacks had the creature pinned to the wall.
“Tori, an Odin’s Eye team is two blocks out,” Felix barked in my ear. “They’re on their way.”
Two blocks? Too close!
As Aaron reached the howling inferno, the flames bulged outward—and crimson magic blasted the fire and lightning away. The concussive force threw Aaron backward. He landed on his feet in a stumble, his sword weaving out of position.
The demon launched out of the hissing smoke. Steam rose off its skin and fury blazed in its glowing eyes as its claws slashed at Aaron’s face.
Ezra sprang into the demon’s path.
One of his swords hit the ground, cast aside as he grasped the second’s hilt with both hands and ran the blade through the demon’s outstretched palm. Red light surged down the steel and exploded.
The demon lurched backward, tearing its mangled hand off the blade. A snarl ripping from its throat, it grabbed Ezra’s sword and jerked it out of his hands. Without a pause, Ezra slammed his fist into the demon’s thick chest. Air boomed and the demon was thrown two yards back.
“Tori,” Felix said urgently. “The other team is around the corner. Do you copy?”
Panic whirled in my head. Around the corner?
Ezra thrust both hands out. Crimson power spread over his palms, sorcery-like sigils springing out of thin air to surround his wrists. Baring its fangs, the demon called on its magic as well. Aaron scrambled backward to get clear.
Instead of running away too, I ran toward the demon.
Yeah, I was crazy.
The combatants faced off perpendicular to me, the mages on the left and the demon on the right. Red magic crawled over Ezra, while the demon prepared its own deadly unleashing.
And approaching from somewhere behind me was a team of mythics I could not allow to see any of this.
I snapped an alchemy bomb off my belt, and with my other hand, I reached into a front pouch. As I closed in on the mages and demon, I flung the glass sphere behind me.
It shattered, and as though the sound were a signal, Ezra and the demon unleashed their attacks. The crimson powers collided, and just like last time, they exploded in every direction.
As howling red magic rocketed toward me, I thrust my Queen of Spades card toward the demon and screamed, “Ori repercutio!”
The wave of magic about to obliterate my flesh hit the rippling spell and rebounded—directly into the demon.
The redirected force blasted the demon sideways. As its wings flared for balance, magma eyes whipped in my direction. Ezra’s arm snapped back, red magic flaring around his arm in jagged spikes, and the temperature plunged below freezing.
That was the last thing I saw before a cloud of impenetrable fog rolled over us.
The spreading smoke screen from my alchemy bomb blanketed the entire street, and an instant later, red power detonated in the spot where I’d last seen Ezra. Icy wind blasted me, the demon howled furiously, then huge wings beat the air.
I gasped in the smoke and tasted something sweet and almost peppery. The thud of the demon’s wings faded, replaced by my rapid pulse thrumming in my ears. Adrenaline pounded in my blood and my hands trembled. I stuffed the Queen of Spades back in its pouch before I dropped it.
“Aaron?” Kai called through the impenetrable smoke. “Ezra?”
“Here,” Aaron answered close by.
From farther down the street, a hoarse voice I scarcely recognized as Ezra’s muttered, “Here.”
“Tori?” Kai asked.
“Here.” The word came out in a chicken-like squawk. I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m here. Guys, an Odin’s Eye team is almost—”
“Crow and Hammer!” The shout came from behind me. “Crow and Hammer team! Where are you?”
“We’re here!” Kai yelled back. “The demon already fled. Stay where you are. It’s impossible to see through the screen.”
The Odin’s Eye mythic agreed, then spoke to his teammates in a quieter tone.
A shadow materialized into Aaron. As he joined me, Kai limped out of the mist. Blood streaked his face, but I couldn’t see any glass sticking out of him. Thank goodness.
“Well,” Aaron whispered, fury and fatigue competing in his haggard expression, “that was a disaster.”
“Did we even injure it?” Kai growled. Sword in one hand, he pressed the other to his side. “I’m either badly bruised or my ribs are cracked.”
Aaron sheathed his sword over his shoulder, grunting with the movement as though the weapon weighed half a ton. “I knew the demon was fast and strong, but I didn’t expect it to be all but impervious to harm. If that’s what it can do—”
“That’s not what it can do.”
Ezra’s hoarse voice floated out of the smoke screen. Following the sound, I picked out his barely discernible shadow in the fog. He stood almost too still to see, making no move to come closer.
“The demon was holding back,” he rasped.
My blood chilled. That hadn’t been a demon fighting at full power?
Aaron and Kai exchanged wary looks.
“Why would it hold back?” Aaron asked, directing the question into the fog. “What does it want?”
A long, empty pause, then Ezra answered in a haunted whisper, the words tinged with cold fear.
“I don’t know.”
We returned to the guild, sore, exhausted, and defeated.
After debriefing with the guild officers, we got checkups from the healers. I was fine, but Aaron and Ezra got dosed with several potions to help with the bruising and pain. Kai got a turn on the gurney to have his cracked ribs mended.