A wave of heat rolled over my back, and Liam froze where he stood.

Aaron slung an arm around my shoulders, his skin almost hot enough to burn. “As much as I would love to see Tori beat your pathetic ass, Liam, the blood would upset Clara. So, how about you get the hell out?”

“I … have work to do, and—”

“Get lost.”

“You—you can’t tell me what—”

Aaron smiled, his side pressing against mine. “I can, and I am.”

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it. Pressing his lips together until they turned white, he spun around and stormed for the exit. His sunglasses flew off the floor and zoomed to his hand as he disappeared outside. Instead of following, Tom slunk to the farthest table and sat, clutching his drink.

Aaron slid his arm off my shoulders and stepped back. “Next time, go for his eyes. He needs to see to use his telekinesis.”

I redid my top button. “Am I fired for punching him?”

He laughed, back to his usual relaxed self like he hadn’t just terrified a telekinetic into fleeing the building. “Liam is a weasel. He deserved a good punch in the face.”

That wasn’t quite a “No, you’re not fired.”

Maybe sensing my doubt, he asked, “Do you know the first rule of the guild?”

I shook my head.

“It’s ‘Don’t hit first, but always hit back.’”

“Oh. That.” I frowned. “Didn’t I hit first?”

“Liam didn’t hit you, but you were defending yourself. With enthusiasm,” he added amusedly.

“Where’d you learn to punch like a pro?”

“I took a few years of taekwondo in high school.” Justin had dragged me with him while he was training for the police academy, but I hadn’t kept up with it. “If that’s the guild’s first rule, what’s the second?”

“Rule number two is, ‘Don’t get caught.’”

“Don’t get caught at what?”

“Anything.” He smirked. “You can’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught.”

My eyes narrowed. “Clara told me this guild is on the up-and-up.”

“We are.” He grabbed the laptop he must have gone outside to get before sneaking in through the kitchen. “Following the letter of the law and following the spirit of the law are two different things.”

“And which one does the Crow and Hammer follow?”

“Whichever is most convenient at any given moment.” He jumped over the bar and landed neatly on the other side. Setting his laptop down, he slid onto a stool. “I need something stronger than rum tonight.”

“What would you like?”

“Surprise me.”

While I poured him a double whiskey sour, he flipped open the laptop. I slid the drink over to him, then eyed the long, thin object he’d carried in, encased in heavy-duty black fabric.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Hmm? Oh, just my switch.”

“Your … what?”

He dragged his attention off his screen. “Oh right, sorry. Guess you wouldn’t know.” He pushed his laptop aside and drew the case closer. “A switch is a magical conduit. The real term is caduceus, but who wants to say that all the time?”

Unzipping it, he pulled the narrow bag open to show me what lay within. I looked from the glossy black sheath to the gleaming hilt, then back at him.

“That is a sword.” A freakin’ sword. Who walked around with a sword?

“Only useless mages train with wands. We train with weapons. If someone is trying to kill me, I’d rather have a sword than try to poke their eyes out with a piddly wand.”

I grasped the leather-wrapped handle and lifted it a few inches, its weight surprising me. “Do people try to kill you often?”

“Not usually.” He zipped the bag. “MagiPol doesn’t have the manpower to track down every rogue mythic across the globe, so they post bounties instead. Guilds do the tag and bag, then hand the perp over to MagiPol for trial.”

“Huh.” I remembered a passing remark he’d made on Sunday. “And you, Kai, and Ezra are after a bounty for a rogue … sorcerer?”

“Yep. Thought we had a solid lead this afternoon so I grabbed Sharpie, but the guy gave us the slip.”

“Sharpie? You named your sword Sharpie?”

“We’re supposed to be incognito, Tori. What if someone overheard me talking about my Fiery Deathbringer or Warblade of Murderous Doom?”

“They’d probably think you were talking about a video game.” I poked the sword bag. “So how does it work? You can make flames without this.”

“A switch is like a focus. It’s easier to control the elements through a tool, and using a switch lets you create more specific and targeted effects.” He shrugged. “I can light the room on fire easily enough, but if I want to create a concentrated band of flame, I need a switch.”

“Any switch, or only Sharpie?”

“A sword similar in size and shape to Sharpie would be functional, but we work best with the switches we’ve trained on.”

“Magic is complicated,” I informed him dryly.

“Try talking to an Arcaner. That’s complicated.”

Lucky for me, Liam the telekinetic weasel was the worst part of my day. Sylvia, the older woman I’d called a hag during my first shift, was a close second, though. Realizing she’d been insulted by a measly human, her hag level had increased by ten. We had another friendly chat about how I wasn’t serving her a damn thing until she proved she had manners.

Again, I was reluctantly relieved that Aaron was nearby, though he may have riled up Sylvia even more than I had.

Somehow, everyone knew I was human, but they didn’t all see me as a weak runt of a bartender. A friendly young woman who identified herself as a witch spent a solid twenty minutes talking about yoga and invited me to join her and her also-a-witch boyfriend on their weekly nature walk. A sweet old lady with turquoise-framed glasses and a knit cap offered to do a tarot card reading for me. A fortyish-year-old man with dark bronze skin and a fantastic goatee chatted with me about local restaurants—many of which I’d attempted to work at.

When a man approached—built like a tank, shaved head, heavy brow that shadowed his dark eyes—I almost shrank behind the bar. He looked like a mobster, but Aaron murmured distractedly, “Hey, Lyndon.”

“How’s the hunt going?” Lyndon asked in a deep, gravelly voice.

“The bastard is a slippery one. If we don’t hurry, someone else will nab him.”

“Have you asked Taye to scout around?” He gestured at the bronze-skinned foodie I’d spoken to earlier.

“We need a confirmed starting point first,” Aaron replied. “Kai will figure it out. He always does. Knowing him, he’s already got a new lead and he’s just letting me slave away here for nothing.”

Lyndon chuckled, then turned and offered me his hand. “Lyndon McAllister. Arcana, sorcerer.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” I said. “Tori Dawson. Human, bartender. Can I get you a drink?”

“Bourbon on the rocks, please.” He watched me pull out a glass. “How’s it going so far? This can’t be an easy adjustment.”

“Not bad. Aaron is entertaining, at least.”

The pyromage in question glanced up. “What does that mean?”

I smirked at him, just to be annoying, then said to Lyndon, “I admit I’ve been picturing sorcerers as old men with beards to their waists and giant spell books.”

He chuckled as I set his drink down. “Let me guess. Aaron has been telling you how boring and stuffy we are, and how lame Arcana magic is.”

“Hmm, yeah, pretty much.”

“I never called it lame,” Aaron muttered distractedly, eyes fixed on his screen.

Lyndon perched on the edge of a bar stool. “Sorcery is the most common Arcana order. I specialize in counter magic, meaning spells that affect other magic. I used to be a combat sorcerer but … those days are behind me.”

Curious, I asked, “Why the switch?”

He rubbed his jaw. “Counter magic is … safer. In some guilds, the line between legal and illegal spells can get blurry, especially when it comes to offensive magic. After the MPD dissolved my last guild, I decided a change was in order.”

They dissolved his guild? That sounded ominous. I decided to shift the topic away from his potentially sensitive history. “How long did it take you to learn counter magic?”

“A few years, but I was well past the apprenticeship stage by then.” He smiled whimsically. “Most sorcerers spend at least twelve years in training. Alchemist and healers take even longer to complete their apprenticeships.”

“Whoa.”

“It isn’t easy to learn, but it’s the most versatile magic and, for experienced practitioners, it’s the most powerful.”

Aaron scoffed.

“We’ll see who’s laughing next time Girard puts you on your ass,” Lyndon remarked cheerfully before tossing back the last of his bourbon. “I’ve got work to do. See you two later.”

***

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