I hesitated. Kai had been clear, but … Ezra sounded as unruffled as always. Not only would I feel stupid leaving him down in the lobby, but I didn’t want to be alone.
“Dial 1187 on the number pad and I’ll buzz you through. My unit is 909.”
I disconnected, and a second later, my phone rang. I pressed 9 to unlock the lobby’s security entrance, then unbolted the apartment door. Kneeling beside Aaron again, I waited, my stomach twisting.
Ezra was on his way up, and I really hoped Kai was just paranoid.
With a quick rap on the door, Ezra pulled it open. His dark brown curls were tousled from sleep, his black t-shirt wrinkled like he’d put on the first clothing article he’d spotted. I got up from the floor, but he didn’t pause as he strode straight to Aaron. I wasn’t sure he even saw me.
He crouched beside the sofa, his back to me as he surveyed his friend. My nerves prickled, my heart rate increasing. Gooseflesh rose on my arms and legs and I shivered. Was it just me or was it cold in here?
I exhaled and the air puffed white. Holy shit, it was freezing.
My gaze snapped to the doorway, searching for Ice Guy, but there was no one in sight. It was just me, Aaron, and … Ezra. My breath turned to white mist as the temperature kept dropping.
“Ezra?” I whispered.
His head twitched in my direction, and the lamp on the end table brightened, flooding the room with light. I frowned. When had it gone so dim?
The inexplicable chill lessened, and Ezra rose, facing me. For a moment, he looked normal—quietly unfazed, his brown eye warm and his colorless iris as unnerving as usual. Then his mismatched eyes widened in horror.
“Tori!” he gasped, reaching for me. “What happened to you?”
I blinked in confusion as his hands, hot compared to the chilly air in the apartment, gently took my wrist and lifted my arm. I blinked again when I saw the blood streaking my forearm, having run from the nasty road rash that had taken the skin off my elbow.
“Ow,” I said in surprise.
Ezra’s hands tightened painfully around my wrist, then gentled again. “Have you looked in a mirror?” he asked with forced amusement. “Your eye will swell shut soon.”
I gingerly pressed my fingers to my cheek. Damn, it throbbed. If my injuries were that spectacular, I wondered why he was only just noticing—but as he searched my face, I understood. I’d been standing on his left when he came in, and he was blind in that eye.
He turned my arm over to check for more scrapes. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Um. Face. Elbows.” I glanced down, bemused to see my knees were mincemeat too. Why didn’t it hurt more? Adrenaline was a hell of a drug. “Knees. I think that’s it.” Well, that and the bruises and soreness that would set in soon.
“I didn’t realize they had attacked you too,” he muttered. “If they were after Aaron, they had no reason to hurt you.”
“Well, maybe not, but they didn’t like it when I started beating them with my umbrella.”
“When you … what? Didn’t Aaron tell you to run?”
“Of course he did,” I growled. “But I followed him because there were six of them, and when the ice guy got Aaron on the ground, I couldn’t just stand there and watch while they …”
I trailed off as Ezra’s face went eerily blank. The temperature plummeted again, the air chilling like the dead of winter. The lamp dimmed until only a faint glow leaked from the bulb, shadows deepening throughout the room.
My heart pounded and I wanted to pull my wrist from his hands, but I didn’t dare move.
Then the front door banged as Kai swept in.
“Ezra.” His voice cut through the room like a whip. “Walk. Now.”
Light bloomed as the lamp recovered. Ezra’s expression didn’t change as he released my arm, strode right past Kai and the woman who’d come in behind him, and vanished out the door. I inhaled unsteadily as warmth returned to the room, then peered at Kai’s guest.
My hackles rose. It was none other than Blue-hair, the girl who’d “accidentally” spilled green dye all over my bar.
“What are you doing here?” I snarled.
She pressed her lips together, clutching a wooden case with a carry handle.
“Sin is an alchemist.” Kai leaned down to check on Aaron. “I picked her up on my way. She’ll sort out this poison.”
“Apprentice alchemist,” Sin corrected, brushing past me to join Kai. “Let me see what we’ve got.”
As she knelt beside Aaron, Kai’s dark eyes flashed over me from head to toe, and his all-business attitude faltered. “Why are you covered in green? Is that an alchemic potion?”
I shot a glare at Sin.
“That’s my fault,” she muttered, her shoulders hunching guiltily. “I spilled some dye earlier.”
Kai’s eyes narrowed. Without comment, he pulled a stool out from the kitchen peninsula and guided me to it. “Tell me what happened.”
While explaining how Aaron had walked me home and the resultant stalkers, I watched Sin open her case. It unfolded into an intricate construction of small shelves and cubbies, all filled with vials, pouches, cloths, papers, and other tools. She swabbed Aaron’s yellow-stained arm and dropped the cotton into a clean vial.
“Then the ice guy and Aaron started fighting, and it was … ugly,” I told Kai. “He had a big dagger thing … that would make him a mage, right? Since he was using a switch?”
“A kryomage, yes,” Kai said tersely.
And the others had been sorcerers—their incantations were a big giveaway.
“What happened next?” he prompted.
As best I could recall, I described the initial fight until Aaron went down. At that point I had to pause and breathe, adrenaline whipping through me at the intensity of the memory—the terror I’d felt for Aaron.
“That kryomage must have been very powerful,” Sin murmured as she poured a few drops of liquid into the vial with the yellowed cotton. “A pyromage like Aaron should’ve been able to take him out easily.”
Kai folded his arms. “Depends on the circumstances. The kryomage had a proper switch, and Aaron had five others to defend against.”
I nodded. “Six against one was completely unfair. I wasn’t much help, but I bashed the potion guy with my umbrella, and I gave the ice mage a good whack too, but—”
“Wait.” Kai spun to face me. “You fought them?”
“What, do you think I got this banged up from running away?”
“But you … never mind. Please continue.”
I finished the tale, but even though I glossed over my role, Sin stopped working to gawk at me. Kai’s expression hardened, and I stuttered as I got to Aaron’s explosive wall of fire. “I helped him get up here and he passed out. Then I called Ezra with his phone.”
Kai gave a slow nod, then rubbed both hands over his face like he was trying to wake up. “Well?” he asked Sin.
She held up her vial. The yellow cotton had turned purple. “Looks like a basic sleeping tincture—a powerful one. The only reason he didn’t immediately pass out was his fire evaporated most of it, and the smaller dose was slow to take effect.”
“Do you have a counter?”
“I do, but it’s safer to let it wear off naturally. I’ll clean him up so his skin doesn’t absorb any more.”
“So he’s going to be okay?” I asked, an edge of anxiety in my voice. “It’s not a poison?”
“Any potion with a harmful effect is considered a poison,” Sin said. “But yes, he’ll be fine. He should wake up in a few hours. Do you have a spare towel so I can clean him up?”
I pointed her toward the linen closet. As she wet a cloth in the kitchen sink, Kai picked up the first aid kit from the floor. “Come on, Tori.”
“To the bathroom. Your injuries need attention.”
“I’m fine. I can—”
No arguing with that tone. Scowling, I headed for the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub. He crouched in front of me, pulled out a chemical ice pack, and gave it a hard smack to trigger the cold reaction.
“Put that over your eye.” He passed it to me, then ripped open an alcohol swab. I bit my lip as he scrubbed the dirt from my scraped knee with a lot more confidence than my attempted ministering of Aaron’s injuries. Fresh blood ran down my leg. Owww. Kai bandaged it up, then cleaned my other knee and my elbows. Not fun.
When I was all band-aided, he set the kit on the counter. “You probably saved Aaron’s life. Thank you.”
I hunched, embarrassed. “I did what anyone would’ve done.”
“No, you did what one in a million people would do.”
He offered his hand. I clasped it and he pulled me up. Back in the main room, Sin had finished cleaning the sleep potion off Aaron and was tending to his cut arm with supplies from her alchemy tickle trunk.
“Where is Ezra?” I asked Kai in a low voice.
“Out in the hall, most likely.” He pressed his lips together. “I warned you not to let him in.”
The temperature was back to normal, but I couldn’t forget the sudden, bone-deep chill. “Isn’t he an air mage? How did he make the room so cold?”
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