Getting up, I poured four rum and cokes, then carried them back to the table and set them out for the guys. As I sat, Kai picked up Ezra’s glass and put it on his other side.

“Thanks,” Ezra murmured, picking it up with oddly careful movements.

I glanced questioningly between him and Kai.

“He would have spilled it all over our stuff.” Kai gestured at the map spread over the table, then added, “He’s blind in that eye.”

“He … oh.”

As I tried not to stare at the scar cutting down his face over his strangely pale eye, Ezra smiled ruefully. “My depth perception sucks. I have to be careful about knocking things over.”

I hesitated, unsure if questions might offend him. I might be ruder than a pirate with a broken peg leg, but I wasn’t a total jerk. “What happened?”

His expression sobered. “An accident. There was this ice cream truck—”

“Not that story again,” Kai interrupted. “You need a better one.”

“You don’t like the shark attack one either.”

“That scar looks nothing like a shark bite.”

“Maybe it was a one-toothed shark,” Ezra suggested seriously.

Aaron leaned toward me. “The actual story is that he was running with a pair of scissors and—”

“I hate that one,” Ezra complained. “I sound like an idiot.”

“And you don’t sound stupid talking about an ice cream tr—”

“Okay, okay, forget I asked,” I said, waving my hands. “What I really want to know is …” I trailed off, unsure where to start.

“You want to know about mythics and guilds and how much of the conspiracy theory bullshit is real,” Kai guessed.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“How do you even explain it from scratch?” Aaron took a gulp of his drink. “There’s so much.”

Kai rubbed his jaw. “Should we explain it? If this job is temporary, the less she knows, the better.”

“Even with Aaron watching out for her, she needs to understand the basics,” Ezra said. “Ignorance is dangerous. She should know about magic classes and their most common orders.”

Oh, so that’s why they’d kept asking me what my “class” was?

“The coolest and most powerful class is Elementaria,” Aaron told me smugly. “It only has one order: mages.”

“And you three are all mages,” I observed. “Fire, air, and … lightning?”

“Electramage.” Kai cradled his drink in one hand. “Aaron is a pyromage. Ezra is an aeromage.”

“Arcana is the commonest of the classes.” Aaron pulled a face. “Boring as shit. Spellcasting is the most tedious magic you can imagine. All sorts of rules, you need to learn ancient languages and memorize runes, and their incantations sound ridiculous.”

“Arcana requires a lot of study,” Ezra told me. “But it can be very powerful.”

“The other common one is Psychica.” Aaron wrinkled his nose derisively. “You know, psychic powers and stuff. They can be useful, but most psychics are little more than charlatans with a minor gift.”

Kai stirred his drink with his straw. “The last two classes are Spiritalis and Demonica, but we only have five witches and no—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Demonica? As in demons?”

Kai and Aaron nodded.

“Demons are real? Like, ‘sell me your soul,’ devil-with-pointy-horns demons?”

“Not quite like that, but …” Kai pressed his lips together. “Whatever you’re picturing, a real demon is far more terrifying.”

I may have paled.

“We don’t have any demon summoners or contractors in the Crow and Hammer,” Aaron assured me. “No Demonica mythics at all.”

“That’s good,” I said faintly. Maybe I should take notes. I already felt overwhelmed.

Ezra noticed my dazed look. “There’s an easy acronym for the classes. SPADE—Spiritalis, Psychica, Arcana, Demonica, Elementaria.”

I arched an eyebrow at Aaron. “If Elementaria is the best class, why is it last?”

“Because ESPAD sounds dumb.”

“How do you keep all this hidden?” I asked. “Guys who can light themselves on fire—”

“That’s not the only thing I can do.”

“—or make gusts of wind or cast spells or whatever. Why is magic just a rumor people scoff at?”

“You can thank the MPD.” Kai drummed his fingers on the table. “MPD stands for Magicae Politiae Denuntiatores and they—”

“Magi-what?” I interrupted, boggled by the dozen or more syllables of whoa-shit-was-that-Latin?

“Exactly,” Aaron agreed with obvious amusement. “That’s why we usually call them MagiPol. You know, like Interpol, except for magic shit instead of criminals. They’re hella strict. Everything is regulated.” He downed the last of his rum and coke in one gulp. “I need another drink before I even start on that.”

With a brief smile, I returned to the bar, but before I could start another round of rum and cokes, a few people from the second floor came down searching for food and drinks. By the time I took their orders, made their drinks, rang them up, and called the order back to Ramsey, another group had wandered in through the main entrance.

As I made their drinks, I wondered what sort of mythics they were. Mages? Psychics? Arcana spellcasters? Hadn’t Aaron mentioned witches too?

At least there were no demons among them. Everything else, sure, but I was not okay with literal hellions.

Then again, I wasn’t sure I was okay with any of this. Guilds. Mythics. MagiPol. Strict rules and regulations. Nervousness fluttered through me but I squashed the feeling down. I could handle it. A couple weeks of work, then I’d be on my merry way to a nice, normal job where standing up for myself meant getting fired—not barbequed by a pyromage.

I glanced at Aaron, flanked by Kai and Ezra as they pored over their map. The pyromage was my guardian, but the fact I needed a protector was a big flashing danger sign I really shouldn’t ignore.

I would have loved to lounge around on Monday, enjoying my day off work, but I had classes. I was up by 9:30 and out the door by 9:45. And, since it took twenty minutes at a fast walk to reach the community college, that meant I was late for my ten-o’clock class.

Considering what I was paying per course, I should have been focused on every word coming out of the instructor’s mouth, but my attention kept wandering. Tax law for small businesses wasn’t quite as riveting as it had been on Friday—not compared to the hidden world of magic I’d discovered over the weekend.

I hadn’t seen Justin yet and I had no idea what to tell him. He was already a magic conspiracy theorist, which I did not understand since policemen were supposed to be down to earth and all that, but sharing what I’d learned didn’t seem smart. He’d either think I was crazy, or he’d think the job was way too dangerous. Or he’d think I was on drugs.

As the instructor flipped to the next slide in his presentation, I absently blew my bangs out of my face and squinted at the text. I needed to pay attention if I ever wanted to own a business.

Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t stupid. Impulsive and temperamental, but not stupid. I knew I had issues with regular employment. No matter how hard I tried, I always ran afoul of either customers or management, then poof! My job was gone. I hated the uncertainty of imminent termination hanging over my head.

I wanted a job where no one could fire me. I wanted a paycheck that couldn’t be docked. I wanted to buy my own place where no one could kick me out. I wanted to work hard and earn a living and support myself, and I didn’t want anyone to have the power to take that away from me.

In other words, stability. Seriously, was that so much to ask for?

That goal was the reason I was sitting in this classroom. Courses on small businesses—planning one, starting one, running one. Everything I needed to know to start up a business where I could be my own boss. As for what sort of business I wanted to run, I hadn’t figured that out yet. The important part was me running it. Alone.

I tapped my pen against my lower lip. Maybe an online business. Then I’d have time to think about my response before telling customers I’d rather swallow a puffer fish whole than give them a refund.

My thoughts drifted back to the Crow and Hammer. Keeping half an eye on the instructor’s presentation, I opened a private browser tab and squinted at the search bar. Hmm.

Five minutes of Googling illustrated this shit wasn’t searchable. Any combination of the words mythic, guild, mage, arcana, and magic produced millions of hits—all books, games, movies, TV shows, and comic books. I’d have to sift through fan Wiki pages for hours to find a single real result, and even then, how would I separate fact from fiction?

I popped onto the Wikipedia page about magic conspiracy theories and read through all the sections. Most of it sounded as cuckoo as it had before I’d learned magic was real, but I noted a few tidbits about government surveillance and a powerful international organization suppressing all information about magic. The MPD—Magicae Politiae … something—was the easiest concept to grasp out of everything Aaron had explained. Discussing magic made my head spin, but red-tape bureaucracy was familiar to anyone who’d ever filed taxes.


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