He drove to the Crow and Hammer at a higher speed than strictly legal, but we were running late. This was our second visit to the guild today—the first had been at ten this morning so Aaron, Kai, and I could set things up for Halloween Party 2.0.
Yes, we were over a week into November. It had snowed last night—though the light dusting had already melted. Halloween was well over.
But our original party had been canceled under the worst circumstances. When I’d returned to work after having my broken wrist healed, Clara and I had put our heads together. Everyone was tired and stressed. They all needed a pick-me-up. And what better way to do it than revive the party they’d been looking forward to?
After parking in the back, I followed the guys around the building to the front door, nervously adjusting my tabard and rapier. Flashing a grin over his shoulder, Aaron pushed the door open.
A wave of noise rolled out. Yeah, we were definitely late.
The pub was crammed with mythics, music was thumping, and conversation rang through the room. Everyone in sight was in costume, wild colors mixing in a collage of fantasy, horror, pop culture, and randomness. The people nearest to the entrance cheered and waved at us to come in.
Holding the door with one hand, Aaron extended the other to me. Laughing, I grabbed Ezra and Kai, and together, we swept inside.
Humming quietly, I mopped a puddle of pink punch off the bar top. The party had wound down an hour ago. Colorfully costumed mythics had made their way out the door in twos and threes, and only twenty or so people were left.
I sighed, tired but content. I’d never seen the pub so packed. Not only our members, but spouses, plus-ones, and even a few mythics from other guilds had packed the building. The noise level had been deafening, filled with chatter and laughter. The lingering notes of stress and worry from the demon alert had vanished in the revelry.
Yep. It had been worth all the work—and the musketeer costume.
Giving the counter a final wipe, I headed along the bar to the end, where a tiered tray marred by smeared icing and crumbs held the last cupcake. I considered it carefully, glanced around to ensure no one was watching, then picked it up and bit into the icing-coated top.
“Isn’t that your fourth cupcake?”
I jumped guiltily. Ezra had just walked out from the short hall behind the stairs. His mismatched eyes sparked with amusement.
“So what if it is?” I asked mutinously.
“I only had one.”
“Oh.” I looked down at the cupcake, my taste buds crying for more cream cheese icing, then held it out. “You can have it. I only had one bite.”
He chuckled. “It’s fine. Go ahead.”
“You sure?” When he nodded, I took another bite. Oh my god, so good. These were too delicious to be legal. “I’m so glad we got more. Losing the first batch was a crime against desserts everywhere.”
“Maybe I should’ve kept them for self-defense.” He studied me somberly. “Demons can’t resist cupcakes.”
I arched my eyebrows. “Demons can’t? Or you can’t?”
His poker face was infallible. “I’m admitting nothing.”
Snickering, I took one more bite of the cupcake, then held it out again. He gazed at it longingly, then caved and took the half-eaten dessert. He bit the icing-covered top off and his eyes rolled back in bliss.
“That’s not how you’re supposed to eat cupcakes,” I chastised.
“Don’t tell me how to achieve nirvana.” He slid onto the nearest stool and rubbed a hand through his messy curls. His wide-brimmed musketeer hat had vanished a while ago. “Kai and Aaron should be tired by now, shouldn’t they?”
Amused, I looked past him. Across the room, Aaron and Cameron were having a mock sword battle—rapier versus lightsaber—and a cluster of guys egged them on. While Aaron ducked a swing from the plastic weapon, I scanned the scattered tables. Sabrina, Sin, Kaveri, and Kier were sitting together, listening raptly to a story Kier was telling. Darius, Alistair, Girard, and Clara had claimed another table and were deep in a serious discussion.
In the farthest, quietest corner of the room, two people were sitting together in the shadows, empty drinks on the table in front of them. I smirked.
An hour or two into the party, a group of Odin’s Eye mythics had joined us. And with them? Izzah, looking utterly ravishing in a Greek Goddess costume that featured a draping white dress, gold belt, and a golden laurel wreath on her head, nestled in her raven hair. Every single guy in the pub—and a few non-single guys—had stopped to stare.
Kai had made a beeline straight for her, and they’d been glued to each other’s sides since. Tucked in a corner by themselves, they’d been lost in conversation for hours.
“We need to do something about that,” I murmured thoughtfully, watching them.
“About what?” Ezra asked, casually licking the icing off the cupcake wrapper.
Ignoring his poor manners—if it were my wrapper, I’d be doing exactly the same thing—I gestured at the electramage. “We need to do something about Kai and his family not letting him be with anyone.”
Ezra peered into the corner. “What can we do, though?”
I tapped my lips. “I’ll think about it.”
He made a quiet sound of agreement, and my mind drifted to other impossible dilemmas … like the demon amulet hidden in my apartment. Ezra didn’t know I had it. Neither did Aaron or Kai. I’d told them what it did and that I’d given it to Burke’s demon, but I hadn’t mentioned how the demon had dropped it before escaping this world.
The words Ezra’s demon had whispered were carved into my brain. He is mine. His body and his soul.
Darius had told me that when Ezra died, so would his demon—but if the demon thought it would get Ezra’s soul, it clearly had a different opinion on the matter. I agreed that handing Ezra the amulet was all kinds of bad idea, but I had no intentions of ignoring his looming fate. I’d never thought much about souls, but if Ezra’s was in danger, then we needed to save him.
Kai’s family. Ezra’s demon. Both things I planned to think about.
Jarred out of my thoughts, I realized I was staring intently into Ezra’s face.
He canted his head. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I blurted, but he didn’t look convinced. Luckily, Kaveri and Kier called goodbye from the door, and I waved energetically. As they left, Sin and Sabrina wandered over.
I almost hadn’t recognized Sin at first. Her teal hair was now midnight black, and her eyes were done up in smoky makeup. Fitted black clothes covered her from head to toe, and an oversized postage stamp was pinned to her left shoulder.
Her costume had stumped me, Aaron, and Ezra, but Kai had guessed it immediately: blackmail.
“I’m exhausted,” Sabrina declared, sliding onto the stool beside Ezra. She’d gone for a classic gypsy fortuneteller costume and had spent half her night carrying around a crystal ball and pretending to see terrible portents of doom in its misty depths. “Tori, could I get a water?”
“Sure thing.” I hurried to my station, poured one, and returned as she was setting her crystal ball on the bar top.
“Bringing this was probably a mistake.” She rubbed her wrists. “My arms are aching.”
“Nah, it was perfect,” Ezra said, grinning. “Really made the whole costume. I loved your vision of ‘death by fire-breathing dragon’ for Aaron.”
She giggled. “I told Darius to beware of narrow bridges and whips.”
We laughed. Maybe hearing his name, Darius glanced at us from his table. A pointed gray hat was perched on his head, with matching wizard robes draped around him. Gandalf’s wooden staff was propped against the table, and whenever the mood had struck him, the luminamage had made the crystal on top glow dramatically.
I wondered what announcement Darius had been planning to make. Aaron had mentioned it several times, but the GM had made no attempts to speak at large to the partygoers.
Sin propped her chin on her hand, ignoring renewed shouts from the nearby battle reenactment. Aaron was now dueling Luke Skywalker and two Power Rangers, while complaining loudly that he needed musketeer backup. Neither Ezra nor I moved to aid him.
“Tori, when can we see the new menu?” Sin asked, squinting at the wall above my head where the chalkboard menu had been wiped clean and replaced with my terribly drawn pumpkins and bats.
“First of December,” I answered promptly. “Darius approved my proposal yesterday. He was busy before that. Though we’ll be lucky to have everything ready to go in three weeks.”
Darius had been in and out nonstop since rescuing me and the guys a week ago. I hadn’t had a chance to ask him how his hunt for the demon summoners had gone.
“I can’t wait,” Sabrina said brightly, absently tapping her crystal ball. “I hope there’ll be some less greasy options for—”
“Uh, Sabrina?” Sin interrupted. “Is it supposed to be doing that?”
The diviner looked at her crystal ball—and gasped. The white mist inside it was streaked with red. Eyes wide, she placed her hands on either side of the orb.
“That’s a real crystal ball?” I muttered nervously, watching as the scarlet streaks ebbed and flowed like ink in water.
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