Ezra didn’t move, frozen in place. Then he spun to face me. “Tori, get Aaron and Kai, and get out of here.”
“I’ll lure them away, distract them. They’re after me, but they might—I won’t let them hurt you. Just get Aaron and Kai away, please.”
He darted toward the dark warehouse. Laughing, the three familiar silhouettes jogged after him. Burke, Halil, and Fenton were in no hurry to catch Ezra. This was exactly what they’d wanted: a secluded battlefield where they could test themselves against a demon mage’s power.
They ran out of the SUV’s headlights and vanished in the darkness. I heaved myself out of the car and into the cold rain. Bracing against the crumpled hood for balance, I stumbled to the driver’s side, my legs weak and aching. Aaron’s window was broken too, and the frame was bent around the door. No matter how hard I heaved, it wouldn’t budge, and I wasn’t as strong as Ezra. It was jammed shut.
“Aaron?” I crouched to look through the window, panic twisting through me. He hadn’t stirred, slouched over the steering wheel with blood running from a contusion on his forehead.
I touched his face and was relieved to find his skin warm. He was unconscious and I shouldn’t move him. What if he had a spinal injury? What if—
Pounding footsteps on the gravel reached me through the rain. I jerked upright, terrified one of the Keys had come back. No one appeared in their SUV’s lights, but the footsteps were growing louder. I whirled around.
A man’s silhouette ran out of the darkness. He was dressed in black and carrying something round in one hand.
“Kai!” I wailed, so relieved I almost collapsed.
He dropped his helmet on the gravel and came to a panting stop, his horrified stare locked on the destroyed car. “Tori! You—Aaron? Ezra?”
I snatched his arm and hauled him over to the driver’s door. “Ezra led the Keys off that way. Aaron is unconscious and I can’t get the door open. We need an ambulance. We need—”
“The Keys? It was them?” Kai grabbed the door and yanked, but he couldn’t open it either. “Ezra—he can’t—he needs—we should—”
He broke off with a heartfelt curse, and my fragile composure threatened to shatter as his shaky voice fell silent. The guys were always so steady, so tough. Nothing was supposed to frazzle them.
With a soft groan, Aaron lifted his head. Kai and I crammed ourselves against the window as he fell back into his seat, one hand pressed to his face.
“What …” he mumbled. “What happened?”
“Aaron, how bad are you hurt?” Kai asked urgently.
“Feel okay, minus my head.” He squinted around, horror dawning on his face. “Shit, I remember. We flipped—I felt Ezra buffer us with his magic, but—where is he?”
As I explained where Ezra had gone, he unbuckled his seatbelt and tried the door handle. Kai pulled from the outside while Aaron pushed from the inside, but it was well and truly jammed. Giving up, Aaron crawled across the center console and clambered out the open passenger door. He and Kai rushed to the trunk, and Aaron wrenched it open.
“We have to get to Ezra.” He threw Kai his armored vest and katana. “Uninjured and full strength, he might be able to take them, but not—”
He cut himself off as though he didn’t want to finish the thought. He lifted out Sharpie. With his other hand, he passed me my new combat belt. Three alchemy bombs had miraculously survived, but I didn’t have a chance to check for the missing one before Aaron thrust Ezra’s pole-arm at me. I caught the heavy weapon and commanded my trembling limbs to steady. Rain ran down our faces.
“Which way, Tori?” Kai demanded as he slid his vest on.
I pointed at the warehouse, and they started running while still buckling on their weapons. I took a few steps after them, then pulled up short, clutching Ezra’s weapon. Darting back to the open passenger door, I reached inside. My searching fingers found my purse jammed under the dash.
My hand met a round sphere, and I pulled it out. “Hoshi?”
The silvery-blue orb shuddered but didn’t uncoil. Praying the sylph wasn’t hurt, I stuffed her into the back pouch of my belt and sprinted after the guys as they vanished around the corner of the warehouse. My limbs throbbed painfully.
Around the corner, minimal light from the SUV penetrated the darkness, but a faint glow flickered out of a steel door hanging open with the handle broken off. I ran inside. Two dozen yards ahead, firelight cast a sharp silhouette over Aaron, the flames dancing above his palm as he and Kai jogged across the room.
Metal pillars, concrete walls, railings, and overhead beams broke up the massive space. It wasn’t a warehouse but a factory—though judging by the garbage strewn across the floor, the rust, and the water leaking through the roof, it had been abandoned for years. Aaron and Kai passed a disused forklift, then skirted around something on the floor.
Light very different from Aaron’s fire flashed.
The magical glow swept across the floor and both guys fell as though their feet had been yanked out from under them. They hit the concrete and skidded across it, dragged by an invisible force. Scrabbling in vain for purchase, they slid to a dark patch on the floor and fell into blackness.
“Guys!” My cry echoed off the bare walls.
A stomach-turning crunch answered me, and I sprinted to where they’d disappeared. The magical glow faded and darkness plunged over the space.
Firelight erupted again, emanating from a ten-foot-wide hole where the floor had collapsed. Glinting near its edge was a silver pyramid—the artifact that had dragged its victims into the hole.
Aaron and Kai were twelve feet down, hemmed in by old machinery and a concrete wall. A rusted steel beam lay amidst the debris—it must have fallen and punched a hole through the floor, years ago by the looks of it. Holding a palmful of fire, Aaron was crouched beside Kai, who was lying on his back.
“Aaron! Kai!” I dropped onto my hands and knees and set Ezra’s pole-arm aside. “Are you okay?”
“I landed on him,” Aaron said tersely. “Shit, I’m sorry, Kai. Are you hurt?”
“I’ll live,” Kai panted. “You—”
A boom shook the floor. Equipment rattled and dust drifted from the ceiling.
Aaron’s pale face looked up at me, his eyes wide and jaw clenched. “That’s Ezra.”
I glanced deeper into the building, seeing no sign of the battle that had triggered the explosion, then looked back at Aaron and the twelve-foot wall of the pit. “Can you get up that?”
In answer, he backed up as far as he could, then ran at the wall. Leaping, he scrambled up the vertical surface. I lunged forward and caught his wrist. His shoes scuffed the wall, but he slipped and fell backward. His weight wrenched my arms, then he dropped back into the pit.
I grabbed the edge, stopping myself an instant before I fell in after him. Another distant explosion shook the floor.
“Try again!” I cried desperately.
Aaron backed up, then sprinted a second time. He sprang at the wall, scrambled up it, and I grabbed his wrist again—but my grip instantly started to slip. I wasn’t strong enough. He didn’t have enough room to get a running head start, there was nothing to grab on to, and I couldn’t—
Hoshi burst out of my belt pouch in a whirl of silver and blue. She dove over my head and grabbed the back of Aaron’s shirt.
Half his weight disappeared. I heaved, my muscles screaming. Tail lashing, Hoshi pulled. Aaron grabbed the edge with his free hand. He hauled himself out and we sprawled across the dirty ground.
Aaron sat up, and we both turned back to the pit. Panting, Kai grabbed a piece of machinery and pulled himself to his feet—without putting any weight on his left leg.
“I’m stuck,” he said shortly. “Go help Ezra.”
“Go!” he shouted.
Aaron gave a sharp nod and pushed to his feet. My lungs squeezing at the thought of leaving Kai trapped in that hole with an injured leg, I sprang up after Aaron.
Whirling around, he grabbed me and crushed me to his chest.
Fire exploded—but not from Aaron. Scorching flames tore over us in a red and gold maelstrom, their roar deafening. Heat pounded against me, sucking the air from my lungs. Aaron’s arms and magic were all that was keeping me alive.
He thrust his hand out. The flames scattered, releasing us from their suffocating embrace. Pushing me away, he whipped around.
Halil walked toward us, fire coating his massive sword. He was so tall, so strong, that the heavy length of steel seemed weightless in his grasp. The brass knuckles on his other hand glinted in the firelight as he rubbed his jaw.
“Thought I heard something,” he remarked. “Looks like my little spell caught one of you.”
I was tempted to glance at the pyramid artifact, but I kept my glare locked on him. “Where’s Ezra?”
“Burke and Fenton are having fun with the demon mage.” Halil smirked. “It’s a shame, actually. The boy got too banged up in that rollover, we think. Not moving as fast this time. Burke is disappointed.”
“You almost killed us all,” I hissed.