“So, Ezra is a di-mythic? Elementaria and Demonica?”
“Not precisely. He wasn’t born a demon mage.” Aaron drew in a deep breath. “The MPD regulates as much magic as they can, and they have to decide what can be controlled and what has no place in a civilized society. Certain branches of magic are forbidden, and some types of magic-users are forbidden to exist.”
Kai pressed his fist into his opposite palm. “Vampires, for example. They don’t fit into human society, so we exterminate them whenever we find them.”
Words in red pen, scrawled on the police report. 4 months after extermination.
“Demon mages are the same,” Aaron continued. “They’re too dangerous to coexist with other mythics, let alone humans. It’s an automatic death sentence.” His jaw flexed. “Demon mages are so rare and deadly that, to hunters like the Keys, killing one is the ultimate trophy.”
I clasped my hands to hide their trembling. “What is a demon mage?”
Aaron opened his mouth but couldn’t summon the words. His gaze dropped, his expression tight.
“In regular Demonica contracting,” Kai explained grimly, “the demon’s spirit is housed inside an infernus. With a demon mage, the contractor himself is the infernus.”
My entire body tensed. “You mean …”
“Ezra carries a demon inside him.”
My limbs shuddered, shaking me from head to toe. A demon … inside him. “Is it … permanent?”
“Like all demon contracts, it’s irreversible. It’ll only end when he dies.”
My chest hurt. I rubbed my eyes, denying the stinging tears.
“There are other differences between demon mages and contractors,” Kai went on, sounding businesslike except for the slight hoarseness of his voice. “Ezra can’t call his demon out. It’s bound inside his body.”
“And,” Aaron added heavily, “Ezra’s demon, unlike a contracted demon, isn’t powerless. It has its own will—which you saw tonight when it overpowered Ezra to take that amulet.”
The vision of Ezra going rigid, of glowing crimson swamping his warm brown eye, flashed through me. The amulet in my pocket pressed against my leg. No one had seen me take it.
I looked at Kai. “So that’s why you … you …”
He nodded, and a pained grimace ghosted over his features. “I had to hit him hard. If Ezra had lost consciousness but the demon hadn’t …”
Uneasy quiet settled over us.
“The more angry or upset Ezra gets, the more vulnerable he is to the demon’s influence.” Aaron braced his arms on his knees. “It’s one reason demon mages are so dangerous compared to contractors.”
I gripped my thighs, fingers digging in. “What are the other reasons?”
“You saw that already. Ezra has full access to his demon’s magic. His power is on par with an unbound demon’s.”
Whereas a contracted demon, devoid of its own willpower, had little to no magic.
“It’s why they’re called demon mages,” Kai revealed bleakly. “They wield magic like a mage. Ezra being an aeromage is a lucky coincidence.”
“He can blend in with other mythics without raising too much suspicion, since he has magic independent of his demon’s.”
I nodded, feeling sick. Questions should have been racing through my mind, but only a shocked buzzing filled my head.
Ezra was a demon mage. He had a death sentence on his head. He had a demon inside him. All those times his face had gone blank, I’d thought he was restraining his temper … but he’d been resisting his demon.
“Does Ezra even have a bad temper?” I blurted.
Aaron smiled weakly. “He’s the most laid-back guy I know.”
It made so much sense. I’d never understood how Ezra could give off such calming vibes while battling an anger management problem.
“Did he …” I hesitated. “He had to have chosen this, right? Contractors are made, not born, so a demon mage … Ezra must’ve chosen it.”
Aaron pressed his lips together. “That’s something you’ll have to ask him.”
My eyes darted to my bedroom door and back. With a shuddering breath, I attempted to pull myself together. “All right. Ezra is a—a demon mage. You two have been hiding it, but now the Keys know. What’s the plan?”
Aaron and Kai exchanged another long, meaningful look. I watched anxiously, my hands twisting in my lap.
Finally, Kai regarded me. “Burke wants all the glory of killing Ezra for his team, so I doubt he’s told anyone else or reported his discovery to the MPD—yet.” His expression flattened. “I would prefer to kill the three of them now, before they can—”
“But,” Aaron cut in sternly, “Ezra won’t agree to it. He already told us what he wants to do.”
Kai gave a slow nod. “Yes, I know. We planned for this eventuality.”
“Is everything ready?”
“It’d be better if we could stop at the house first, but the Keys will be watching it. We’ll have to make do with—”
“You’re running away,” I whispered.
They looked at me, Kai’s dark eyes unreadable, Aaron’s tight with unhappiness.
“We have no choice, Tori,” Aaron murmured. “Once it gets out what Ezra is, me and Kai will be branded as rogues. Harboring a demon mage is illegal. We’ll face the most severe punishments the MPD can give.”
My mouth went dry. I tried to swallow but couldn’t.
“You’re fine,” he added reassuringly. “You didn’t know long enough to get more than a slap on the wrist.”
“Like I said, Tori,” Kai told me, “we won’t be here long. We need to make it out of the city before the Keys can organize a chase.”
“But—but—” My gaze darted desperately between them. “There must be another way. There must be … something.”
They didn’t reply, their silence my answer. There was nothing else they could do. The Keys team knew. If Ezra stayed, they would attack him again, but as soon as he fled, they would reveal him to the mythic world. The entire Keys of Solomon guild would hunt him, as would every other guild equipped to hunt demons.
I thought of the MPD alert about the unbound demon. Would they send an alert about the illegal demon mage in their midst? Would thirty teams of combat mythics set out to hunt Ezra down? Izzah and Mario from Odin’s Eye, that Robin girl and her freaky demon from the Grand Grimoire, even Crow and Hammer members?
Panic squeezed my lungs. I pushed off the coffee table with trembling hands.
“Bathroom,” I mumbled, hurrying past the guys. I ducked into my small bathroom and locked the door, then grasped the sink’s edge and allowed myself to hyperventilate for a solid two minutes.
This was it. This was the end. Aaron and Kai were planning to take Ezra and flee, to drop off the map and disappear forever.
How could I have ignored this for so long? I’d known Ezra’s secrets were dangerous, but I’d never imagined something like this. The queen of delusion, Kai had called me.
Gazing at my reflection, I saw shadows of my younger self. She’d learned to fake normalcy to survive. She’d pretended everything was fine until it stymied her ability to act. When you refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong, you couldn’t fix it.
I was done being that girl.
Scrubbing my hands over my face, I pushed away from the counter and slipped out of the bathroom. I marched purposefully to my bedroom. Aaron and Kai’s low conversation broke off, but neither called out to stop me.
I faced the closed door. Deep breaths. I rapped lightly on the wood, then opened the door without waiting for an answer.
Ezra sat on the floor, his back against my bed and knees drawn up. Surprise flickered over his features at my appearance. As I stepped into the room, I saw both parts of him for the first time.
The Ezra I knew best: soft-spoken, with that straight-faced humor that could catch me off guard, even when I was expecting it. His calm compassion, his unjudging acceptance, his gentle smile that had won me over the moment I met him.
But now I understood his other side. The crushing strength, the enhanced reflexes. The flashes of anger, of power, of violence. The cold and the darkness. The savagery that slept inside him.
It was a demon chained inside his body and bound to his soul.
His gaze dropped away from mine. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For everything.” He didn’t look up. “Hiding it from you. Involving you. Putting you in danger. Lying to you.”
“You never lied to me.”
“When you asked if I was a demon … I denied it.”
My hands tightened into fists. Inside him was a beast like the winged demon, its spirit imbued with bloodthirsty brutality. How often did it look out of his eyes? Could it see me right now through his pale, blind iris?
Fear trickled through me, gaining strength and chilling my limbs. I wanted to move, but I didn’t know in which direction—toward him or away? I felt chained to the spot, unable to—
Chained. An image of Sabrina’s tarot card rose in my mind: the Devil, its illustration showing a man and a woman in the beast’s chains. Those two helpless figures … Ezra and me.