“I am not a—” I broke off, distracted by the thought of my Queen of Spades artifact. I had stolen that … and my fall-spell crystal too.
“The thief keeps secrets and moves with stealth.” Sabrina considered the card. “Paired with the Magician, which is the power to enact your goals, this card is telling you how to reach the outcome you desire.”
She gave me a long look. “By embodying the virtues of the thief—caution, cunning, discretion, and deception.”
I wasn’t great at the first one, or the second, or … well, any of those things. Lovely. I pointed at the last card. “That one is the outcome, right?”
“Yes.” She glanced at The Fool and Death cards, sitting by themselves like kids in timeout, before touching two fingers to the back of the final card in the spread. Hesitating, she again peeked at the Death card as though making sure it was still there, then turned the last card.
A crumbling tower struck by lightning and lit by flames sparked recognition through me. I recognized it from my first reading.
“The Tower.” She sighed unhappily. “A foreboding omen. Chaos and upheaval are coming—soon. Even if you succeed, your life will irrevocably change.”
In the card’s illustration, a man and a woman had leaped from the burning tower and were plunging toward the dark abyss below. Gooseflesh erupted across my skin and I sucked in an unsteady breath. “Your cards never have anything good to say.”
She cleared her throat. “Well, I mean … the Tower is also a card of redemption, so there’s that.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied sarcastically. “That makes it all better.”
Her gaze traveled across the spread, and she lightly touched a finger to the Devil card. “Do you know who the Devil represents?”
I studied the cards. The Devil holding a man and a woman in chains. A woman casting judgment. Two victims falling from a broken tower.
A heart pierced by three swords.
The tarot cards or the universe or whatever mystical force powered a diviner’s fortune telling was sending damn strong signals my way, and I could almost grasp it. The meaning hovered within reach—but the harder I focused on the elusive message, the higher my anxiety spiked.
I jumped off my stool. “Thanks, Sabrina.”
Her forehead wrinkled with concern. “Tori—”
“I need to check on the guys.” Squashing my guilt, I rushed to the stairs.
I should’ve known better. Aaron had once said he’d rather the future surprise him than heed the warnings of a tarot reading. Every time Sabrina’s cards got anywhere near me, bad stuff happened. This was the most ominous reading I’d had yet—and that was including the times the Death card had literally stalked me.
On the second level, I crept over to the corner where Aaron and Kai slept. They didn’t so much as stir. I lingered for a few minutes, then hurried away, feeling like a voyeur. Creeping down the stairs, I craned my neck to see if Sabrina was still waiting at the bar.
“Who are you hiding from?”
I jolted in surprise and almost fell down the stairs. Sin stood behind me, a tub of potions in her hands and a tattered leather-bound book tucked under one arm. Her blue hair was tied in a messy ponytail, and a colorfully stained apron covered her plain sweater and jeans.
“Sin!” I gasped, clutching my chest. Though her sudden appearance had startled me, I wasn’t surprised to see her. She’d arrived a couple of hours ago, escorted by two combat mythics, to relieve Venus as the on-duty alchemist. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
She arched an eyebrow. “So? Who are you hiding from?”
“Sabrina,” I grumbled. “Can you check if she’s at the bar?”
Sin descended halfway down the steps. “She’s sitting with Felix at the command table.”
Good enough. I followed Sin into the pub and we sat at the farthest end of the bar. She set her tub of bottles on the counter and rested the old book on her lap.
“Why does Sabrina have you spooked?” Sin frowned. “Is she supposed to be here?”
“No. She came to do a reading for me.”
I picked at a chip in the wooden bar top. “Apparently, her cards had an urgent message to deliver.”
“What was the message?”
“I have a life-altering decision to make. Also, someone might die.”
I shrugged miserably. “That’s the only concrete thing I got out of it.” Mostly, I’d gotten a big fat dose of anxiety. Thanks, universe.
She tugged her apron straight. “Tarot reading is imprecise at best. Your future changes with every decision you and other people make. Try not to worry about it.”
“Speaking of worry …” Her eyes narrowed. “I heard all about how you went demon hunting with Aaron, Kai, and Ezra. I have to ask … what the hell were any of you thinking?”
“You aren’t combat trained, and demons are the fiercest, deadliest opponents out there! Why would Darius even approve it? You’re all idiots.”
I managed a bleak smile. “Thanks, Sin. Appreciate the vote of confidence.”
She sniffed angrily. “You know you aren’t ready for that, and I’d really prefer my friend not get herself killed.”
Couldn’t argue with her there. I’d also prefer not to get killed.
Lifting the tattered book off her lap, she smacked it down on the bar. “We need to look at options.”
“Uh … options for what?”
“Defensive alchemy.” She cast me a flinty stare. “Since you’re all for the dangerous jobs now, you need to be armed with more than a couple of artifacts. I heard you used a smoke screen. What else did you take?”
Bemusedly, I watched her flip the book open. “Just flash-bang potions. What is that thing?”
“My grimoire. All Arcana mythics have one—where we record all the spells or transmutations we’ve learned or invented.” She turned several spotted, liquid-stained pages covered in handwriting and diagrams. “I can make smoke bombs and flash-bangs easily enough, but you need something to stop an opponent. Personally, I don’t like sleep potions. It’s easy to get it on your own skin and then you’re asleep instead of them.”
“Yeah, that’d be bad.”
She skimmed a few more pages. “Enhanced strength is useful, but it doesn’t last long, and unless you’re in excessively good shape, you’ll crash hard afterward. Let’s see … amnesia, no. Fasting potion, no. Enhanced speed, no.”
“What’s wrong with speed? I’d like to be faster.”
“It’s hopelessly impractical. Your body gets faster, but your reflexes don’t, so it’s difficult to control without training and practice. You’ll spend the potion’s duration tripping over your own feet and running into things.”
“Oh.” Too bad. “What’s a fasting potion?”
“Drink it and you won’t need food, water, or a bathroom for about forty-eight hours. Good for certain situations, but you pay for it afterward.” She perused more recipes. “Enhanced perception, air buffer, true sight, anti-emotionalizer, allure-fume—none of these are useful.”
“Allure-fume?” I repeated. “What’s that?”
She winced. “Uh, it’s a … um … perfume.”
I stared at her pointedly, waiting for an explanation, and her cheeks turned pink.
“A few drops on the skin will make the wearer especially alluring to the opposite sex. Like pheromones.”
“Why do you know a potion like that?”
“I tried it out when I was younger, okay?” she muttered defensively. “Lesson learned. You don’t have to lecture me.”
“I wore it on a first date with this guy I really liked.”
“Did it work?”
“It worked on him, plus every male who got within twenty feet of me. I spent our entire dinner date pushing random men out of our booth. I’ve never been hit on so many times in one evening. Most of the men were twice my age and married.”
Fighting back a snicker, I asked, “Did you go on a second date with your crush?”
“No.” She hung her head over the grimoire. “An early sign that my love life was doomed.”
I snorted. “You just need to stop acting shy around cute guys you like.”
“I can’t help it. My brain freezes.” She fidgeted with the edge of a page. “Your brother is nice. I should’ve given him my number.”
Another snort escaped me. A couple of months ago, Sin and Justin had met during an eventful night on the town. I’d told Justin to ask for her number but he hadn’t, probably because an on-duty cop asking for a girl’s number was taboo.
“Do you want me to give it to him?” I asked. It was like junior high all over again.
“N-no. I’m good.” She coughed uncomfortably and turned another page. “Immunity booster … freezer potion—it causes any surface it’s poured on to freeze,” she added at my questioning look. “Oh! How about this one? A babbler potion. It numbs the tongue and vocal cords, inhibiting speech. Great against sorcerers. It only takes a drop or two, but you need to get it in their mouth. That part might be tricky.”
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