“And what’s all that about grids?” I asked.
“We’re doing a grid search of the area. The MPD has assigned every guild to a section of the grid, based on how many teams we can provide.” He turned to Ezra. “Can you bring two TVs from the second floor? I need larger screens.”
Ezra nodded and headed upstairs.
Watching him go, sympathy flickered across Felix’s features. “There’s nothing more difficult than being left behind.”
Footsteps thumped, but it wasn’t Ezra returning with a TV. Darius trotted down the stairs—and the GM had transformed. He now wore leather gear, his belt weighed down by two sets of long knives, their silver hilts gleaming. Girard followed, decked out in sorcery artifacts, and last was Alistair, carrying a heavy bo staff carved with runes, his tattooed arms bared by his leather vest. As a volcanomage, the rain and cold probably didn’t bother him.
“All right, we’re off,” Darius declared. “Felix, you’re in charge. Keep me informed of any developments.”
“Yes, sir. Good luck.”
Alistair chuckled with dark humor. “Luck is for beginners.”
Slapping stickers on their shoulders, the three men marched outside. The door banged shut behind them.
“That’s the most terrifying team I’ve ever seen,” Felix muttered almost too quietly for me to hear. “I pity the demon that tries to go through them.”
Over the next few minutes, Ezra brought down two TVs and Felix hooked them up to the laptops. An image filled each screen. On one was a map showing a square of city blocks twenty across, the Crow and Hammer on its northeastern edge. A big red X glowed in the center, and all around it were blinking dots. Red squares highlighted different sections, and two squares had turned to a solid green.
“The dots are teams from all the guilds. The GPS updates every few seconds.” Felix sat at the table and pulled on an over-the-ear headset with a mic. He pointed to the other screen. “The green areas have been checked by a team. See the update?”
On the second TV, messages scrolled upward like stuttering movie credits. The last two read, “OE T2: Grid 6 clear. GG T1: Grid 2 clear.”
“OE,” I murmured. “Odin’s Eye?”
“GG is Grand Grimoire. They’ll be out in force since the entire guild is contractors and champions.”
“Those are—hold on.” He pressed a button on his headset. “Copy that, proceed east to Grid 11. Over.”
His fingers flew across the keyboard, and a second later, “CH T3: Grid 8 clear” popped into the update feed. Twenty seconds after that, another square on the map went green.
Clara rushed down the stairs, sweeping her escaping hair into a bun and twisting a rubber band around it. “All right. We don’t know how long this will take, so Tori, can you put on coffee and boil water for tea? After that, please make as many sandwiches as we have ingredients for. Ezra, why don’t you help her?”
Without waiting for a response, she moved on to the other loitering mythics, giving more instructions—clean up this, set up that. Felix sat at the command station, manning the headset and laptops.
I grabbed Ezra’s arm and pulled him into the kitchen. The saloon doors swung shut behind us, offering a semblance of privacy.
“You’re injured?” I asked sharply as I turned on the giant coffee maker and pulled out packets of dark roast.
“Not precisely.” He scrubbed a hand over his face and into his hair, tangling his brown curls. His shoulders slumped forward, his gaze skittering away from mine. “This sort of thing … I don’t do well with it. Darius knows that, so he …”
“So he made an excuse for you.” Dumping the coffee grounds into the filter, I wondered if this was related to Ezra’s temper or the terrifying crimson magic he could command in emergencies. What did Darius know? All this time, I’d assumed only Aaron and Kai were in on Ezra’s secrets.
“Demons,” I said hoarsely. “I know nothing about demons.” I’d had lots of opportunities to ask over the past months, but honestly, I hadn’t wanted to know how scary they were.
Apparently, Ezra had a similar distaste for the topic, because he let out a long, weary breath like he’d prefer to discuss literally anything else. “Demons are kind of like fae, but they come from a world that’s completely separate from ours. We don’t know anything about it or even what demons are … aside from powerful and vicious.”
I pulled out loaves of bread and counted the deli meat packs in the fridge. The pub’s “super club sandwich” wasn’t a popular item. Note to self: propose cutting it off the menu.
“Why do people summon them, then?” I asked as I piled tomatoes on a cutting board.
He leaned against the counter, staying out of my way. “Because it’s a power that anyone, human or mythic, can acquire. The only requirement is their willingness to pay the price for it.”
“A lifetime contract binding you to an evil creature that wants to kill you. And your soul.”
I looked up, expecting one of his deadpan jokes, but his eyes were dark with an emotion I couldn’t read. “Your soul?”
“It’s called the banishment clause, and it’s part of every demon contract. Once a demon is summoned, it’s stuck here. It needs a contractor—or rather, the contractor’s soul—to leave this world. When the human dies, the demon takes their soul and returns home.”
I stood with my knife poised above a tomato, trying to remember how to rehinge my jaw. “That’s … insane. Why would anyone ever enter into a demon contract if they have to give up their soul?”
Ezra shrugged and shifted over to the sink to wash his hands. “What can I do to help?”
“Lay out the bread for me, please.” I finished slicing tomatoes. “How does a demon get loose like this?”
He placed a dozen slices of bread across a large cutting board. “The summoner made a mistake. They let it loose without a contract.”
“And now it’s going to kill people,” I finished in a whisper, feeling ill.
“They say unbound demons kill because they’re trying to go home. They want a soul, but it doesn’t work without a contract.” He went quiet as he slathered mayo on the bread. “Every guild has sent combat teams to the area. They’ll find the demon.”
“And then what? What did Darius mean about following procedures?”
“Our teams will call in the demon’s location, then wait for the nearest contractors to arrive. It takes a demon to kill a demon.”
Mario had said that too. “Why?”
“Because it’s so dangerous. No one wants to fight a demon, especially not an unbound one, which is in full command of its magic, strength, speed, and wit. Plus, a demon can survive a lot of damage. They’re difficult to kill. Defeating one …” He trailed off, his hands unmoving, mayo dripping off the knife.
A nauseating chill washed over me and I shivered. “Aaron and Kai … and everyone else … Ezra, how much danger are they in?”
Ezra stared at the half-made sandwiches, then lifted his haunted stare to mine. “I don’t want them to find the demon. I don’t want them anywhere near it.”
The cold in my veins deepened. Ezra wasn’t a coward and he knew what Aaron and Kai could do, but if he was afraid … Even if it was selfish, even if it meant it took longer to stop the demon, I hoped Aaron and Kai never laid eyes on it.
How long did it take to find a demon on a killing spree?
A long-ass time, that’s how long.
I slumped at the bar, an empty plate in front of me. I’d eaten half a sandwich just so Clara would stop nagging me, but I was too anxious to be hungry. The last four hours had crawled by, and a portion of my attention was always tuned to Felix’s voice. Waiting for Aaron’s next check in. Waiting to see an update from the other Crow and Hammer teams—all people I knew and cared about.
Well, mostly people I cared about. I wouldn’t cry if Sylvia got tossed around a bit, but I still wanted everyone, including the insufferable sorceress, to come back safely.
Swiveling on my stool, I scoured Felix’s screens again. The ever-changing map now featured three X’s: the original one, plus two more. Suspected sightings of the demon. As squares turned green, red ones appeared elsewhere. The search kept shifting, but despite every combat mythic in the city out there looking, they couldn’t find the demon.
It was starting to feel unreal, like maybe it was all a disgusting Halloween prank. I might have believed that, except the MPD had no sense of humor.
Felix sat at the table, his attention moving from screen to screen. “Copy that. Proceed northeast to Grid 31. Wait—repeat that.” A pause. “North of you? Team Three is north of your position.” Another longer pause. “Okay, I’ll relay the message.”
He typed on the keyboard, then spoke again. “Aaron, do you copy? I have a message from Tabitha. Two KS teams just passed her location, heading north toward your position. If they interfere in your search, cede your grid and move to the next.”