Tapping his headset again, he huffed angrily.
“KS teams?” I prompted cautiously. “The Keys of Solomon?”
Pushing his dark-rimmed glasses up his nose, he nodded. “They aren’t following the grid or communicating with other guilds. They want the demon kill for themselves.” His hand flew to his headset. “Copy that, Team Two. Proceed … northeast to Grid 33.”
I rubbed my hands over my face, my eyes burning. It was way past my bedtime, but there was no way I could sleep. Aaron and Kai weren’t the only ones I was worried about. The MPD had the regular police force helping with this operation, which meant my brother was out there too. Unlike the mythics, Justin had no idea the danger he was in.
After my dramatic induction into the mythic community at the beginning of September, things with my brother became … strained. I’d told him almost everything, from my first shift at the Crow and Hammer to my recent brush with the law. His knowledge of mythics was limited to what he’d learned after joining the force—meaning he knew very little—and he was highly prejudiced since the police only ever encountered mythics who were causing havoc.
Needless to say, he wasn’t happy about me joining a “magical street gang”—his words, not mine. He was convinced it was dangerous and excessively illegal, but most of all, he was hurt that I’d lied to him for months. Rogue witches had attacked me right in front of him, but instead of coming clean, I’d doubled down on the deceit.
Twisting my lips, I held my phone for a long minute, then sent a brief message warning him to be extra careful. Maybe it would help.
I glanced at the big clock on the wall: 4:23 a.m. In another hour or two, the morning rush hour would begin—a mass migration of humans the MPD couldn’t hope to stop. Thousands upon thousands of people would flood downtown, putting themselves in the demon’s path and making the search all the more difficult.
I was still staring at the screens, my stomach churning as I watched the blinking dots, when a male torso in a black “Winter Is Coming” shirt appeared in front of me.
“Tori.” With my name alone, Ezra’s silk-smooth voice lowered my anxiety levels by several degrees. “Here.”
I blinked at my laptop. “Huh?”
He set it on the counter and slid onto the stool beside me. “Let’s work on the new pub menu.”
“Now? I’d have more success concentrating on calculus equations. By the way, I failed calculus.”
“I need a distraction, and you do too. You’ve been fixated on those screens for hours. Give yourself a break.”
Like a moth drawn to a light, my head turned back to the TVs. “But …”
He tugged gently on my ponytail until I straightened, then nudged the laptop in front of me. I booted it up and opened a new document, then stared blankly at the white page. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“Let’s look up other pub menus for ideas.”
A quick Google search produced a list of the best bars and pubs in the city. I pulled up the number one restaurant’s menu.
Ezra leaned close to skim it. “Avocado mash. Avocado toast. And avocado … chili? Why didn’t Clara think of this strategy before? So much effort wasted in buying multiple ingredients.”
I snorted, half my attention on Felix’s voice as he directed Team One to a new grid. I scrolled through more dishes. “What’s with this menu? Salads? Perogies? Cheese boards? This isn’t real bar food. Where’s the greasy, deep-fried stuff?” I exited the window and tried the next restaurant on the list.
“Mediterranean stuffed chicken breast,” Ezra read off the new menu. “I tried to make stuffed chicken breasts once.”
My eyebrows shot up. “I thought you didn’t cook.”
“I don’t. I tried cooking for a few months, then I got banned.”
“Hmm.” His eyes brightened with rueful humor. “I never learned to cook when I was younger, so I’m awful at it. Kai and Aaron tried to teach me, but …” He propped his chin on his hand. “When I’m alone in the kitchen, I don’t knock things over because I remember where I put them. But with someone else, they move things around and I don’t know where everything is anymore, and …”
“And you knock things over,” I guessed, an easy conclusion to reach.
“Mm-hmm. After a tragic incident involving a plate of barbequed steaks, Aaron jokingly banned me from the kitchen, but I decided I wasn’t meant to be a great chef and took the ban literally. It was for the best,” he finished somberly.
“You just don’t like cooking, do you?”
“No, not really.” He grinned. “You’re a great cook. Who taught you?”
“I’m mostly self-taught, but I learned the basics from Justin, who learned from my mom. She made the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.” I scrunched my face. “Though I haven’t had it since I was a kid, so maybe it’s just really good in my memory.”
“Sometimes it’s better,” he murmured, “not tarnishing those really good memories with adult sensibilities.”
“Yeah, I think so. What about you? What’s your favorite childhood meal?”
“Me?” His eyes went distant with thought, and I held my breath, expecting him to evade the question or answer with a joke. “I would say my mother’s moqueca.”
“Moqueca? What’s that?”
“It’s a kind of fish stew eaten with rice and farofa. When she took the lid off the pot and all the steam escaped—the aroma.” He sighed wistfully. “Definitely my favorite.”
I couldn’t help grinning at his half-longing, half-starving expression. “I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds delicious.”
“It’s a Brazilian dish. I don’t know anyone here who makes it.”
I surreptitiously reexamined his beautiful bronze skin. “Is your mother Brazilian?”
He nodded. “She and my father moved to the US when they were eighteen. They cooked a lot of traditional dishes before …”
As he trailed off, his expression shuttering, I quickly asked, “Do you know how to make moqueca?”
“I sometimes watched my mother make it, but I don’t have a recipe.”
“We could look one up,” I said excitedly. “Not your mom’s version, but something similar, and we could try making it. It’d be fun!”
He blinked, and I froze, kicking myself for being insensitive. Then his face relaxed into a smile. “I think I’d enjoy that. We should try it sometime.”
Relieved that I hadn’t upset him, I returned to the laptop. We went through several pub menus and found little in the way of ideas, but we entertained ourselves by making fun of the weirdest dishes. Time slipped by faster and I stopped listening to Felix’s every word.
That is until a distinct change in his tone brought my head around. Ezra looked over as well, his tension returning in an instant—and a distracted part of me wondered how much effort he was putting into hiding his concern to alleviate mine.
“Yes, sir,” Felix said brusquely. “Yes. Right away.”
He tapped on his keyboard. “Attention all teams. MPD agents and the GMs have conferred on the search strategy. We’re switching to a rotation so teams can rest. Teams One and Three, return to the guild. Teams Two, Four, and Five, stand by while the MPD recalculates the grids.”
Felix muted his headset and turned around. “Okay, everyone,” he announced to the room. “We pushed our teams hard to track this demon down before sunrise, but it’s proving evasive. The good news is that the demon hasn’t attacked anyone yet. The bad news is that it’s making it difficult to find, and once dawn arrives, keeping humans safe will become a job in itself.”
“Are we sure there is a demon?” Sanjana, the apprentice healer, asked. “After six hours of searching, no one has confirmed a sighting or even a dead body.”
“That doesn’t make it any less dangerous, just more elusive.” He rose to his feet. “We’re one of the two closest guilds to the search area, so we’ll be taking half the teams who are going on rest, while the other half will go to the Seadevil’s headquarters. We’re about to have a lot of company. Clara, did you get the second level prepared for people to sleep? Good. Healers and alchemists, get ready with vitality potions and strength boosters. Tori, prepare hot drinks. How much food do we have?”
“The fridge is full of sandwiches,” I told him. “We’ll be good for a while. I can always make burgers if we need them.”
He nodded. “Get to it, guys.”
As he took his seat, I left Ezra at the bar and headed into the kitchen to put on more coffee. Relief mixed with my anxiety. Aaron and Kai were on their way back. They’d be safe for a while.
I’d just emptied the coffee machine and restarted it when a surprised shout burst from the pub. Dropping the coffee packet, I flew through the saloon doors as half the room rushed toward Felix’s monitors.
“What?” I demanded, racing up to Ezra. “What happened?”
“The demon is five blocks from here,” he said tersely, stretching onto his toes to see over people’s heads. “Odin’s Eye just reported it—in an area that was already cleared.”