East Hastings Street was only a few blocks south of our location. I shifted nervously.
“Any connection to the last rogue sorcerer we turned over to MagiPol?” Aaron asked.
“Not that I can see. Based on their known activities, I don’t think they’d be after a ransom from your family, either. I’m betting someone hired them to muddy their tracks.”
“So we need these guys to reveal who hired them, and why.” Aaron cracked his knuckles. “Sounds like fun.”
“Should be interesting,” Kai agreed as he gathered the other printouts and chucked them in a recycling bin. “But you won’t get to find out, because you’re staying right here.”
“What? No way!”
“You’re their target. You’d be walking right into their hands. Ezra and I will handle them.”
“Not alone,” Aaron growled.
“I have a few people in mind. I’ll get a team ready to go for tomorrow night.”
Grumbling, Aaron sagged in his chair. “I should come. I owe them payback.”
“Deal with it,” Kai said implacably. “Besides, Tori works tomorrow. You need to be here with her.”
While they talked, I pulled the single page closer, scanning the list of known and suspected criminal activity committed by the rogue guild’s mysterious members. Magic mumbo jumbo took up most of the page, but some disturbingly familiar words jumped out at me: Assault. Arson. Robbery. Abduction. Murder.
This wasn’t a sloppy group of troublemakers and minor criminals. This was organized crime. This was a gang in the real sense. They were hardened criminals who weren’t afraid to kill—and they used weapons more dangerous and unpredictable than guns.
“Are you …” I hesitated, then forced the question out. “Are you sure confronting these guys is a good idea?”
Halfway through standing, Kai gave me a searching look. He sank back into his seat, his dark eyes meeting mine. “The Crow and Hammer has a poor reputation. We’re casual, disorganized, irreverent, and disobedient. Our ranks are filled with outcasts and former rogues. But every member of this guild brings something special to the table. We have some of the strongest mages, the most skilled sorcerers and alchemists, and the rarest psychics in the city. And none of us tolerate losing.”
“Don’t hit first,” Ezra murmured.
“But always hit back. And we hit damn hard.” Aaron grinned at his fellow mages. “Tori, they overpowered me last time because I was outnumbered, unarmed, and unprepared. But against our guild? Kai and Ezra aren’t the only ones who are pissed that they jumped us. These East Hastings guys won’t know what hit them.”
My gaze shifted from Aaron’s blazing blue eyes to Kai’s dark stare to Ezra’s mismatched irises. Under his simple black t-shirt were scars from injuries that would’ve killed most people. Behind Kai’s cool competence was scary, calculating intelligence. Beneath Aaron’s teasing grins was fiery confidence backed up by raw power I’d only glimpsed.
Releasing my fear on a long exhale, I gave Kai a fierce smile. “Give that bastard sorcerer an extra kick to the balls from me.”
His answering smile was downright malevolent.
I like to think I’m a pretty chill person, but right now? I was fretting worse than a granny with her best china in a room of hyperactive toddlers.
Anxiously straightening the bottles in my well, I eyed the pub’s patrons. Only a few were here for pleasure. The rest were ready and waiting for Kai and Ezra to arrive: the team that would be hunting down a rogue guild tonight.
Zora, the petite blond vampire hunter with a penchant for big-ass weapons, wore leather pants and a tank top, and strapped to her back was a sword that should be called Skull Crusher. It was probably called Skull Crusher. That’s what I was calling it from now on.
At her side was Felix, her husband and the guild’s third officer. He carried a backpack instead of a sword, and with his thick glasses and a comb-over to hide his receding hairline, he just … yeah. Officer or not, he was nowhere near as daunting as his wife.
Sorcerer number three was Gwen, a tall, thin woman with a sleek ponytail who normally looked like she’d stepped out of a Fortune 500 executive office, complete with designer shades and tailored business clothes. Tonight, she wore black leather and carried a dozen sticks hooked on her belt—eight-inches long, glossy black, and inscribed with runes.
The last sorcerer on the team was Ramsey. He’d left off the eyeliner and his dark hair was tied back. Black clothes—as usual—but he was decked out in an odd assortment of weapons and magicky artifacts.
Kai hadn’t recruited only sorcerers for his team. Two psychics completed their ranks: Taye, a suave man with warm umber skin and a South African accent, had an ability called telethesia that, according to Aaron, allowed him to “track” people; and Drew, a telekinetic like the unforgettable weasel Liam.
Said weasel was in the house tonight, holed up in the corner with his bookworm pal Tom, and seeing the two telekinetics in the same room was like looking at before and after pictures of Captain America: short, thin, and weedy versus tall, buff, and ready to beat up bad guys.
The four sorcerers and two psychics would join Kai and Ezra, and together the team of eight would hunt down as many members of the East Hastings Gang as they could catch before sunup. Kai was confident he’d pinpointed the rogues’ location, but he didn’t know how many mythics the gang included.
I nervously straightened my liquor bottles again, turning each label forward and angling the pour spouts.
“Relax, Tori,” Aaron told me from his stool, laptop screen flashing as he blasted alien spaceships. “They know what they’re doing.”
“But what if there are more rogues than Kai’s anticipating?” I muttered.
“They’ll be fine. Damn it!” His screen flashed red as his spaceship exploded into pixelated flames. He shut his laptop and glanced across the casually chatting team. “Kai has all his bases covered. He, Ezra, and Zora make up the offensive point—they’re bringing the firepower. Felix specializes in magic detection and dissolution, so he’ll head off any traps or ambushes, and Ramsey’s counter-magic game is insane. He has an artifact to counter almost anything. Taye’s job is to track anyone who makes a run for it, and Drew and Gwen are the flex members—they can join in on the offensive or switch to defense as needed.”
Biting my lip, I nodded. “I guess that’s … but only three offensive team members against a dozen?”
“If there’s a dozen.” Aaron grinned. “Besides, you haven’t seen Kai in action. Ezra is no pushover either.”
As though summoned by his name, Kai walked through the front door. The cleaning cloth fell out of my hand.
Gone was the “well-dressed, high-class model” Kai that I knew. He wore lightweight boots and dark clothes, the long sleeves interrupted by small throwing blades strapped to his upper arms. A slim-fitting black vest held more small weapons, and two katanas hung from his hip—one short, one long.
I dragged my stare from the swords up to his face, reexamining the exotic features I’d never quite been able to place. But now I knew. Japanese heritage blended so smoothly with Caucasian that he didn’t obviously resemble either, but instead had a unique look all his own.
Ezra came in behind him, and he had shed his boy-next-door guise. A thick strap crossed his chest, holding an unfamiliar weapon against his back. Dark, fingerless gloves ran up his arms, the knuckles shining with steel and the elbows reinforced with more metal. A black bandana was tied over his hair, and with the scruffy shadow of a beard edging his jaw, his face had a more dangerous cast to it than I’d ever seen before.
Kai headed toward his team and, gulping back my shock, I pulled myself together as Ezra joined me and Aaron.
The pyromage heaved a dejected sigh. “Can’t believe I’m stuck here while you guys have all the fun.”
“We’ll tell you all about it when we get back,” Ezra replied with a cheerful lack of sympathy, adjusting his glove.
“Are you sure you’re … properly armed?” I asked him doubtfully, eyeing his lack of weapons compared to Kai. The thing on his back looked like a two-foot-long black pole with silver caps on the ends and a silver section in the middle. “Shouldn’t you have a sword too?”
“We aren’t planning to behead anyone. MagiPol strongly discourages dead bodies.”
“Show her the Twin Terrors,” Aaron suggested. “She’ll love it.”
I scrunched my nose. “The what now?”
Stepping away from the bar, Ezra reached over his shoulder and pulled the short pole arm off his back. He spun it easily in his hand, and remembering how hard Ezra could hit with his bare fists, I wondered if maybe this weapon should be called Skull Crusher.
He grabbed each end of the pole and twisted. The weapon split in the middle and pulled apart with a metallic slither, revealing two foot-long blades attached to black handles of equal length. With terrifying grace, he whirled the blades, the steel whistling in the air, and brought the butt ends together with another twist. Just like that, it was one weapon again—except now it was four feet long with deadly blades at both ends.
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