I froze, my wide eyes flicking between Aaron and Mario. Everyone in the guild had gone still, surprise and unease written on every face. In perfect unison, we all reached for our phones. Screens lit up across the pub.
On my phone’s screen, a message glowed brightly.
MPD Emergency Alert: --CODE BLACK-- Suspected unbound demon active in your area. All CM assemble at GHQ ASAP. NCM take shelter. PROCEED WITH UTMOST CAUTION.
The words glared mockingly. This was a joke, right? Because we’d just been talking about how rare and horrific unbound demons were? It was a joke message … sent to every mythic cell phone in the pub.
Aaron looked up from his phone, his face white. “Guess I spoke too soon.”
I was still sharing a look of dread with Aaron when footsteps thudded rapidly down the stairs.
Darius jumped the last step, Clara right behind him, followed by the guild’s second and third officers, Tabitha and Felix. The latter carried a white tub with a laptop balanced on the lid.
As the guild master strode into the pub, his voice rang out like a whip crack. “Combat mythics—if you’re sober, gear up and report to Tabitha. If you’re not sober, down to the basement. Venus, dose them with cleansing drafts, then tally our stock of potions and make more if you’re short. Non-combat mythics, report to Felix. He’ll divvy out assignments.”
The mythics at the tables went from shocked stillness to scrambling action in two seconds flat. Mario was already making a beeline to the door, and Izzah called a hurried farewell to Kai. The two mythics disappeared outside, presumably rushing back to their guild.
All CM assemble at GHQ ASAP. Translation: All combat mythics assemble at guild headquarters as soon as possible.
“Tori.” Darius’s commanding voice made me flinch. “No more alcohol until the MPD lifts the alert. Everyone needs their wits about them tonight.”
“Yes, sir,” I said quickly.
Aaron and Kai joined the five mythics heading into the basement, leaving me alone at the bar. Darius stood in the center of a swirl of activity, giving orders.
“Felix, organize the non-combats into teams and have them contact every member who isn’t present. Prioritize combats first. All healers and alchemists to the guild immediately. Apprentices can wait on standby. Anyone who isn’t combat trained needs to take shelter, no exceptions. Ensure they don’t travel alone.
“Clara, choose two assistants and set up the main floor as our command center and emergency intake. Tabitha, while you wait for the combat members to gear up, collect extra laptops from upstairs. Felix, do you have enough communication gear to equip five or six team leads?”
He pulled a tablet out of his tub. “I’ll check my spreadsheet.”
Clara waved me over. “Tori, help me. Ramsey, you too.”
Ramsey, who came out of the kitchen following the alert, turned to the guild master. “Darius, I request to join the combat teams. I’m only a few months from completing my apprenticeship.”
Nodding, he jogged toward the basement stairs.
Clara looked around, but the remaining mythics were getting assignments from Felix. “You and me, Tori. Let’s go.”
I raced around the bar to join her. “Just tell me what to do.”
Together, we cleared an open space in the middle of the pub, then set up three separate areas: a group of tables for Felix’s helpers, a healers’ corner with two tables and a line of chairs to keep people out, and a “command center” of four tables pushed into a row, on which Tabitha had set three laptops.
“Once Darius submits our team numbers,” Clara explained breathlessly as we stacked spare chairs in a corner, “MPD will assign our grid. We’ll use the computers to track the teams’ movements and progress.”
I nodded as though I understood. The corner for Felix’s helpers was already filled with bustling noise—six mythics on their phones, papers spread in front of them as they methodically contacted every guild member. About twenty people were in the building, leaving another thirty to call. Presumably, they’d all received the text alert, but Darius wasn’t relying on that.
By the time Clara and I finished arranging the command center, another half a dozen members had arrived. They swept in and were immediately sent to either gear up or set up. Sanjana, our apprentice healer, arrived alongside a huge man with rich teak skin and a shaved head. Miles had enough muscle to be a combat mythic, but he was one of our two experienced healers—as well as a renowned surgeon. Arcana magic required intensive study to master, but healing Arcana was by far the most demanding; many healers completed med school alongside their apprenticeships.
Sanjana and Miles joined Venus, an alchemist, in preparing the healers’ corner—and their work had anxious butterflies tickling my stomach. They laid out two gurneys, lined the table with various potions, and produced a surgery cart. Yeah, an actual surgery cart full of surgical tools straight from an emergency room.
Just what were they expecting to happen?
The geared combat mythics started gathering in the middle of the room—Aaron and Kai, decked out in leather, armored vests, and weapons; petite Zora with a huge sword on her back and other weaponized artifacts strapped to her thin limbs; Lyndon with his belt lined with artifacts, even though he didn’t normally go on combat missions; Darren, sobered up by a potion and adjusting his leather duster; and Laetitia, our hydromage, sporting a pair of steel batons.
I scoured the group again. Where was Ezra?
As though summoned by my thought, the aeromage descended from the upper level, one hand trailing on the banister as he glanced across his comrades. His expression was calm, but tension lined his shoulders.
“Rowe,” Tabitha barked at him, “why aren’t you geared? Get moving.”
Darius looked up from the laptop Felix was working on. “Ezra is off on injury. He stays.” The guild master straightened as he looked across the non-combat mythics. “I know it’s difficult to stay behind, whether injured or inexperienced or the wrong class to fight. We all want to protect our homes, loved ones, and the innocent strangers at risk tonight. Protect them, and our fighters, by staying safe and helping here.”
Nods circled the group. Ezra slunk to my side, his hands jammed in his pockets and misery in his eyes. Before I could ask when he’d been injured and why no one had told me, Aaron and Kai broke away from the combat mythics and hastened over to us.
Aaron clapped Ezra on the shoulder. “It’ll be a boring march around downtown anyway.”
As Ezra muttered a reply, Kai took my elbow and drew me away. “Tori,” he said in a low voice, “keep an eye on him, okay? He’ll worry about us and he might be tempted to sneak out, but he needs to stay inside the guild.”
“I’ll watch him, but I don’t understand why—”
“The grid is posted,” Darius announced. “Teams! Tabitha, you’re leading Weldon, Zhi, and Ming. Andrew, you’re leading Zora, Ramsey, and Darren. Aaron, you’re leading Kai, Gwen, and Drew. Sylvia, you’re leading Laetitia, Lyndon, and Philip.”
Whoa, wait. Philip? Wasn’t he a witch? I didn’t know combat witches were a thing.
“If your team isn’t assembled yet, wait for them,” Darius continued. “If you’re ready, get your grid point from Felix—and don’t forget your stickers.”
Kai gave my arm a squeeze. “Time to go.”
I grabbed his wrist as he stepped away. “Kai—” My voice cracked. I scarcely understood what was happening, but only a dumbass would fail to recognize the level of danger. “Be careful.”
“We will.” Aaron pulled me against his side in a quick hug. “This will be over before you know it. Just hang in there.”
Heart in my throat, I watched the two mages, Gwen the sorceress, and Drew the telekinetic march over to Felix. The officer pointed at something on the laptop screen and handed Aaron an earpiece with a coiled cord, which he plugged into his cell. He tapped on the screen, then stuck his phone in the chest pocket of his vest. Felix stuck a reflective diamond sticker on each mythic’s shoulder.
“Remember,” Darius told them, “stay in the open. Be vigilant. Expect an ambush. At the first sign of the demon, call it in and follow procedure.”
Aaron nodded. Then they were out the door and into the rainy streets where a monster lurked.
The last combat mythics arrived in a rush, and all I could do was stay out of the way as they geared up, formed a team, and received their instructions and stickers. Ezra stood beside me, unhappiness rolling off him in waves.
The fourth and final team sped out into the rain, and the noise level dropped significantly. I rubbed a hand over my face, taking in the healers and alchemists waiting quietly in their corner and the non-combat mythics sitting at their tables, a few calling the last members they hadn’t gotten through to yet.
“What’s with the stickers?” I muttered. Not the most pressing question I wanted to ask, but what the hell was the point of stickers?
“They identify mythics,” Felix answered. I’d been asking Ezra, but I hadn’t realized the guild officer was walking up on my other side. “A Code Black means the MPD has brought in human law enforcement to help. They’re closing roads and clearing all humans from the area where the demon is suspected to be, and the stickers keep the police from stopping our teams.”