“I forgot to ask,” I began in a whisper. “What happened to the guys in the alley? When we took off, the police were coming this way.” Even out of sight in an alley, we’d caused more than enough commotion to draw attention from the surrounding condo buildings.

“Unless they dragged their sorry asses out of there in time, they were either questioned by the cops and released immediately, or they were arrested and released later.”

“How do you know they were released?”

Aaron helped himself to a chocolate. “Our existence isn’t public knowledge, but it isn’t a complete secret either. Certain people at various levels of government and law enforcement know about mythics and keep in contact with MagiPol. Police are trained not to arrest anyone with the MPD logo on their IDs. Instead, they take down our info and submit it to MagiPol, and they go after the culprit.”

“Seriously? Do the cops have any idea why they aren’t allowed to arrest certain people?”

“No idea how it’s explained to them, but they don’t normally know about mythics. It’s safer that way.” Aaron selected another chocolate. “Think about it. If human cops tried to arrest a rogue mage, the mage could seriously hurt them or worse. Better if they stay out of it. Even if we get arrested, guilded mythics know better than to cause a fuss. MagiPol will step in and we’ll be released within a few days.”

“Huh.”

“That doesn’t mean those guys who attacked us get off scot-free. I already reported them to MagiPol. Normally, I’d have you file a report too, but then we’d have to explain why you were with me and that might bring up awkward questions about why you’re working at my guild.”

“Yeah, let’s not do that.” I picked out a second chocolate. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Me too.” His hand closed around mine, the caramel-filled goodie between my fingertips. “Thanks for coming back for me, Tori.”

Our eyes met, his blue stare so intense that my heart skittered wildly behind my ribs. Then he drew my hand up to his mouth and stole the chocolate from my fingers, his lips brushing my skin.

“Hey!”

“Mm,” he said around the stolen mouthful of delicious caramel I’d been about to eat. “Good choice.”

“That was mine!” I yanked the box away from him. “They’re all mine. Last time I share with you.”

He grinned and stood up. “I’d better go before I eat the whole box.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” I followed him to the door, and as he stepped into the hall, I handed him his phone. “Don’t forget it again.”

“It would give me an excuse to come back.”

“And risk another staring contest with my brother? Nuh-uh. I’ll see you at work on Tuesday. Oh, but first.” I pulled my phone from my pocket. “Can I get your number? And Kai’s and Ezra’s too?”

His initial smile faded at the mention of his friends. “A gorgeous girl asking for my number is less exciting when she asks for three numbers at once.”

I snorted. “I need emergency contacts.”

“I know.” He took my phone and entered the three numbers. “There you go. One of us is always available, even if you have to call a few times.”

“You didn’t put Ezra under ‘Cyclops,’ did you?”

He laughed. “No, I just did that on my phone to annoy him.”

I hesitated, then plunged in. “Does Ezra normally get a bit … strange in those sorts of situations?”

“He’s protective of his friends,” Aaron said with an airy shrug. “Who isn’t? Take it easy until Tuesday, ’kay? And if you don’t feel up to your shift, let Clara know.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Once he was safely in the elevator, I returned to my apartment and surveyed the assortment of gifts. Humming thoughtfully, I carried the beer-glass vase to the end table, then unbundled the lightweight blanket and curled up on the sofa with it, the box of chocolates on my lap.

Snuggling into the blanket, I popped another chocolate in my mouth, feeling spoiled as hell. I’d never admit it to Aaron, but I did have a favorite gift—and I didn’t plan to tell a soul which one I preferred.

Chapter Thirteen

Beyond the unnecessary gifts the guys had lavished on me, my Saturday-night adventure produced an added bonus. When I arrived at the Crow and Hammer on Tuesday for my shift, my entrance was met with cheers. Before I knew what was happening, a dozen semi-familiar faces surrounded me, offering congratulations on kicking mythic ass and asking how I was doing. My black eye had faded to yellow-green, but it was still too hideous to hide.

I eventually made it into the kitchen, blinking stupidly. Ramsey looked up from the counter where he was slicing tomatoes.

“How are you doing?” he asked. “Heard about your escapade over the weekend.”

“How does everyone know already?” I grumbled, stashing my purse and new hot-pink umbrella in the office. “You guys gossip like seniors at a bingo hall.”

Ramsey flicked his dark hair out of his eyes. “News travels fast. Sin told the other alchemists, who told the sorcerers, who told everyone else.”

“Sin?” I repeated warily. “What exactly did she say?”

“The story I heard is that Aaron was ambushed and outmanned when you saved his butt with nothing more than an umbrella and a stolen artifact.” Faint skepticism crossed his features. “Did you really attack six mythics on your own?”

I twisted my mouth, embarrassed by all the attention. “I suppose, but what else was I supposed to do? Let them drag him off?”

“You’re one tough cookie, Tori.” His expression grew oddly intense. “What artifact did you steal?”

“Huh? Oh, you mean the card.” I finished tying my apron, then pulled the Queen of Spades out of my pocket. “I snatched it from a sorcerer. He used it to shoot Aaron’s fire back at him.”

Abandoning the tomatoes and stripping off his latex gloves, Ramsey took the card and examined it. “A reflector spell?” He whistled. “That’s rare stuff. What’s the incantation?”

“Uh. Ori repercutio.”

“Wow. Crazy.” His eyes brightened. “I specialize in this kind of Arcana—weapons to counter other magic—and this thing is throwing off arcane vibes like you wouldn’t believe. It’s no minor trinket.”

Frowning, I slid the card from his hands. “Throwing off arcane vibes? It feels like a regular card to me.”

“It’s safe to say you have no latent arcane talent, then, but anyone can use an artifact like this. You don’t need magical ability.”

“It’s not very reliable. It only worked once when I tried it.”

“Different spells work in different ways.” Leaning against the counter, he gestured at my card. “Arcana harnesses the energies of the natural world and gives them shape and purpose. Building spells can take hours, weeks, months, or even years, depending on the complexity of the result.”

Huh. How long had the Queen of Spades spell taken to make? “That doesn’t sound practical.”

“It isn’t, which is why combat sorcerers rely on specific tools, the most common being hexes and artifacts. A hex is a cantrip that—sorry, let me back up. A cantrip is a single-rune spell that can be cast with a brief incantation. Here, I’ll show you.”

He stepped into the office, grabbed a sticky note and a pen, and drew a strange symbol on the paper. Returning to the kitchen, he held the sticky note over the sink.

“Igniaris.”

The paper burst into fire, the hungry flames way bigger than the little paper should have produced. Ramsey snatched his hand away as the burning note fell into the sink.

“So, that’s a cantrip. A hex is a pre-prepared one that can be reused instead of drawing it each time. If it isn’t drawn perfectly, it won’t work, so it’s not something you want to do on the fly.” He pulled a small object from his pocket and held it out—an oversized coin with a symbol etched in the center. “This is guaranteed to work every time. Hexes are the fastest magic a sorcerer can produce, but they lack power.”

That fire spell had seemed powerful to me, but maybe that was because my standard for magical power was “zilch.”

“An artifact is an enchanted object that contains a complex spell. Days or weeks of work goes into creating it, and it’s far more powerful than a hex. Multi-use artifacts are the most valuable, but they can’t be triggered over and over like shooting a gun. They passively gather energy to fuel the spell, and once you use it, you need to wait for the spell to recharge.”

“Ooh, that explains why it didn’t work every time. How long does recharging take?”

“Depends on the spell. For some, a minute or two. For others, days or weeks.”

The sorcerer had used the Queen of Spades, then I had used it, but I wasn’t sure how much time had passed. More than two minutes, less than seven, I was guessing.

Ramsey tapped the card. “All artifact incantations begin with ‘ori,’ which awakens the spell. Then you speak the command word or phrase. ‘Repercutio’ means to rebound or strike back.”

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