I hung around the bar for another hour, dispensing unappealing sandwiches to the mythic teams that arrived in trios and quartets, wet, dirty, and exhausted. They’d eat, have a drink, then traipse upstairs to sleep.
When all the expected teams had settled in, I headed up the stairs. Passing the open doorway to the second level, I glimpsed the dark room filled with cots and mats, still bodies stretched out under thin blankets and gear piled around them.
I continued to the third level and headed down a short hall. In the room at the end, the three officer desks were buried in folders and papers, all work abandoned when the alert had gone out.
Ezra sat on Girard’s desk, feet resting on the seat of his chair, and stared out the rain-streaked window. As I walked in, he glanced over, his face dimly lit by the single lamp glowing on Tabitha’s desk. His expression was a mystery.
I stopped beside him, at a complete loss for what to say. How did I broach the topic of his scars? How did I ask if a demon had inflicted them? Should I suggest he hadn’t joined the search because he couldn’t handle confrontation with demons? Should I point out that he fled whenever Mario showed up because the man was a demon contractor?
I didn’t want to ask any of those things, so I said nothing. Sitting on the desk beside him, I too stared out the window at the street beyond, illuminated by the first gleam of dawn. In silence, we watched the wet pavement brighten with shades of orange and gold.
It had been a long night, but the dawning day promised to be even longer.
Sleepless Tori is a grumpy Tori.
I squinted blearily at the clock. 6:35 p.m. Over eighteen hours since the alert had gone out, and everyone’s energy was flagging. I’d napped for the afternoon, curled up in Clara’s chair in the office at the back of the kitchen, but it hadn’t helped much.
Aaron and Kai were due back from their third rotation at seven. A couple dozen mythics were sleeping on the second level, and another ten were hanging around the pub, too wired to sleep.
At one table, a pair of older men and a woman were poring over a map. According to Felix, they were the GM of Odin’s Eye, the GM of Smoke & Mirrors, and the first officer of the Pandora Knights. Their teams were sleeping, but they couldn’t rest.
I filled three mugs with steaming black coffee and carried them over.
“Thank you,” the woman murmured as I set them down. “The movement patterns don’t make sense, Lee. The demon could only have reached this point by flying directly there and attacking immediately.”
She jabbed at the map. All the locations where the demon had been spotted were highlighted. The creature was jumping all over the Eastside, an expansive and disreputable neighborhood with a mix of low-income housing, small businesses, and industry. Since ambushing Aaron’s team, the demon had struck three more times … and its victims hadn’t been as lucky as the Odin’s Eye survivor.
Three mythics had died in the streets. Another hadn’t made it to the healers in time. Two more were with the Seadevil guild’s healers, hanging on to life.
Lee folded his hands together and tapped them against his narrow lips. “These four locations are confirmed engagements with the demon.” He indicated the highlighter marks. “The rest are signs or sightings. They could be wrong.”
“Grand Grimoire is confident about the damage they found—only a demon could have inflicted it, and it was recent,” the woman said. “Either this demon is moving exceptionally fast, or there are multiple demons.”
“Um,” I interjected hesitantly. “There are multiple demons, though, aren’t there? Any of the contractors’ demons could have caused some damage, right?”
The two men looked at me like I was a moron, but the woman frowned thoughtfully. “Grand Grimoire wouldn’t report damage caused by their own demons, but … do we have any record about the Keys’ movements?”
They resumed their debate, and I headed back to the bar, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. Slipping into the kitchen, I checked on our food supply. An MPD agent had stopped by a few hours ago to see what we needed and promised a grocery delivery would arrive later this evening, but we were down to two sandwiches that had surpassed soggy and devolved into beige gelatin. I’d served most of our burgers—a bit charred compared to Ramsey’s cooking, but edible.
Sighing, I wandered out again, helplessness weighing on me. What use was I? I had two artifacts and a familiar with just enough magic to make puffs of wind. Hoshi was sleeping in my purse, where she spent most of her time when I was out of the house. She liked being close to me, and since I always kept my purse nearby, the arrangement worked well.
My phone buzzed against my butt cheek. I yanked it out, terrified it might be Aaron—or worse, the police department calling Justin’s emergency contact, which was me. I didn’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” My voice wavered with nerves.
“Hello, Tori Dawson? This is Puffs & Pastries Bakery.”
I wilted in relief. “Oh. Yeah.”
“I’m just calling to see if you’re coming for your order? Your invoice says you planned to pick it up at three.”
“Uh, right.” Baked goods for the Halloween party—which, safe to say, wasn’t happening anymore. I glanced around the pub but couldn’t see any of my jack-o’-lanterns. I wondered where they’d ended up. “About that. I’ve had a, uh, family emergency so I’m not sure when …”
I trailed off, considering our barren kitchen. I’d thrown out a lot of food today, but fresh-baked cupcakes might tempt the tired mythics to eat.
“I’m not sure when I can come,” I said quickly, “but I’ll try to get over there. How late are you open?”
“Okay. Thanks.” Ending the call, I strode over to Felix, who was manning the command center with bloodshot eyes and a mug of black coffee.
“Felix.” I pulled out the chair beside him. “You know how I ordered eight dozen cupcakes for the Halloween party tonight?”
“No.” He smiled tiredly. “But okay. What about it?”
“Can I go get them? We’re almost out of food, and something sweet and easy to snack on might wake up some appetites.”
“Where’s the bakery?”
“It’s in Gastown—a ten-minute walk west of here.” I pointed at the map screen, which showed that all the demonic activity was to the east. “That should be okay, right? Gastown isn’t closed down or anything.”
“The area is in the clear, but we’re keeping all members under cover.” He rubbed his goatee. “We do need something to snack on, and it isn’t far. Take Ezra with you. It’d do him well to get out for a few minutes.”
“Great. We’ll go right now.”
He nodded. “If they have muffins or buns, buy those too.”
I hurried up to the third level to wake Ezra from his nap on the floor by the officers’ desks, his head pillowed on his folded jacket. I grabbed my coat and purse, and checked that Hoshi was snoozing in orb form at its bottom. Two minutes later, we were stepping out into the crisp evening air.
The streetlamps were already lit, their orange lights gleaming on the wet pavement. The rain had let up, but the air was so damp it was like breathing underwater. Ezra and I walked fast, looking over our shoulders every few steps, but all was quiet. I clamped my arms around myself, shivering from nerves and cold.
Within a few minutes, we’d entered the better-lit neighborhood of Gastown, and suddenly, the streets were full of people. As laughing groups and costumed partiers filled the sidewalks, I remembered that Halloween festivities hadn’t come to a screeching halt for the rest of the populace. A handful of tense police officers were scattered around, presumably to prevent people from wandering off, and I scanned them for any sign of Justin.
As the sidewalk grew crowded, Ezra shifted behind me, and I led the way through droves of revelers. The cafés were bursting with lines out the door, their patios filled despite the chilly air. Dodging teenagers in anime costumes, I tugged my thin jacket tighter around me. How could those girls stand wearing such short skirts in this weather?
Catching my arm, Ezra pulled me out of the flow of foot traffic and into a shop, so fast I didn’t see what store we’d entered. Warm air washed over me, and I blinked at the shelves of toys.
“This isn’t the bakery,” I pointed out dryly.
“I know.” He raised his eyebrows. “But I saw these.”
Stepping over to the window display, piled high with Harry Potter collectibles, he plucked a red- and gold-striped scarf off a rack and looped it around my neck. I picked up the end to examine the embroidered coat of arms. “Gryffindor?”
“It’s perfect for you.”
With a goofy smile I couldn’t quite squash, I lifted a second one off the hook. “You too, then.”
He took it away before I could put it over his head. Hanging it back up, he chose a yellow and black one and slung it around his neck.
“Hufflepuff? You’re not a Hufflepuff.”
“How would you know?” I teased. “You don’t even like Harry Potter—which I don’t understand at all, by the way. What don’t you like?”
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