Three Mages and a Margarita (The Guild Codex: Spellbound Book 1) by Annette Marie

  “I know how to use my cards.” Sabrina straightened the deck with more violence than necessary. “Butt out, Rose.”

  Glare vanishing, Rose bestowed a gentle smile on me, her wispy white hair sticking out from beneath her knitted cap. “I’d be happy to do a reading for you, dear. Sabrina is a young diviner still learning her craft. I have many years of experience with which to—”

  “Butt out, Rose!” Sabrina growled. “Tori, take a seat.”

  “Uh …” I looked from Rose’s smug face to Sabrina’s pleading stare and reluctantly sat. “I’ve never, um, had a reading … before.”

  “If a real diviner didn’t do it, then it would have been useless anyway,” Sabrina said cheerfully, shuffling her deck with mesmerizing speed. “A reading doesn’t predict the future like those charlatans claim, but it shines light on the forces moving around you and it can reveal the path—or one of many paths—that lies before you.”

  Rose tittered. “Without cleansing her deck, Sabrina’s reading will be tainted with the energies of her previous reading. And doing a reading here, in all this noise and activity? Useless.”

  “It’s fine,” Sabrina snapped. “I know my cards, Rose.”

  The old lady scoffed.

  Sabrina set the deck in front of me. “First, shuffle the cards to imbue them with your energy.”

  I eyed them warily. “Um, will this take long? I can’t be away from the bar for—”

  “Only a few minutes, don’t worry. Go ahead, shuffle them. While you do, think about the question you most want answered.”

  I picked up the worn cards, still warm from Sabrina’s hands. As I clumsily shuffled them, I tried to think of something. A question immediately bloomed in my mind: What next?

  It felt like I was settling in here … like I was fitting in. I enjoyed it. I could relax instead of dance across thin ice each shift, waiting for the guillotine to drop and my job to get cut out from under me. But it was only temporary. Once Darius got back from his conference thing, he’d sign off on my paperwork and MagiPol would give me the boot back into the human world.

  Even if they didn’t boot me, I’d already faced more danger at this job than at any other. Aaron’s attackers were on the loose, their identities unknown. On top of that, Tabitha hated my guts—and she wasn’t the only one.

  What was I supposed to do? What came next?

  “That should be enough,” Sabrina told me. “Now cut the deck.”

  I cut it and passed it to her. She stroked the top card, her eyes losing focus. “Very good. Your energy has suffused the cards.”

  With dreamy movements, she pulled the top card and laid it face down on the table, then drew a second. One after another, she laid seven cards on the table in a V shape.

  Rose sniffed. “I would have done a Celtic Cross spread for a more in-depth—”

  “Shut up, Rose! This is the spread the cards want.” Sabrina settled in her chair and placed her fingers on the first card. “This one represents your past.”

  She turned it over, revealing a painting of jeweled goblets. It faced me, making it upside-down for Sabrina.

  “The Six of Cups, reversed. That suggests your past is holding sway over your future.” She turned over the next card, revealing a tumbling building. “Your present, the Tower. Sudden, dramatic change has toppled your stable patterns.”

  Sudden, dramatic change? Oh, definitely. This job had thrown everything in my life out of whack. I wasn’t complaining, though.

  Sabrina turned the third card, revealing an array of blades. “The Seven of Swords. Hmm.”

  “What does it mean?” I asked.

  “The third card in the spread represents hidden influences in your life, and the Seven of Swords suggests … deception. Someone is misleading you.”

  Rose scoffed and Sabrina shot her a glare before touching the next card.

  “This one represents your self.” She flipped it. “The Hermit.”

  I wrinkled my nose at the artistic rendering of a bearded old man. “That’s flattering.”

  “The Hermit is a card of wisdom and proud independence. But it’s reversed.” Sabrina pointed and I realized the card was facing me, not her. “The reversal warns that the strengths of the Hermit may also be weaknesses.”

  A chill ran down my spine. Okay, I was getting creeped out. “What’s the next card?”

  “The fifth card represents the people in your life.” She turned it over to reveal an armored man with a sword. “The Knight of Swords. Loyalty, determination, courage. This is what surrounds you. Ah, but …” She turned over the next card. “Eight of Swords. You fear commitment. You’re holding back.”

  I sucked in a deep breath to calm my racing heart. “And the last card?”

  “The last card is the outcome—the end of this path. Keep your question in mind, now.” Sabrina touched the card, her eyes distant, then flipped it over. “Oh.”

  Rose gasped.

  I stared, feeling cold all over. A lovingly detailed grim reaper with a bloody scythe graced the card. “Uh … is that what I think it is?”

  Sabrina coughed delicately. “This is the Death card, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to die. It’s the card of transformation—of endings and beginnings.”

  Yeah, not particularly comforting.

  Hovering her hands over the tarot spread, Sabrina sat quietly, her vacant stare moving from card to card. “Conflict surrounds you. You’re caught in the midst of a violent change, and deception lurks in the shadows, calling the conflict ever closer. Your past stands in the way of your future, but though you’ve walked this far alone, others are waiting to join you. Even greater change awaits you, but its form”—she lightly touched the Eight of Swords—“will be shaped by the fear that rules your heart.”

  Ominous silence fell over the table. My focus shifted from the crumbling tower to the chilling specter of death to the armored knight with his sword raised, then darted to Aaron and Ezra, shoulder to shoulder as they battled aliens on the laptop.

  “Conflict, yes, but the Swords deliver a different message,” Rose declared. She tapped the Six of Swords, the Knight, then the Eight of Swords. “Secrets. Truth. Risk. Dangerous secrets will challenge the loyalty of your strongest allies, and if you seek the truth”—her gaze dropped to the Death card—“it will not be your fate alone bared to the reaper’s blade.”

  Sabrina slapped Rose’s hand away, huffing furiously. “You can’t read another diviner’s cards properly. Even an amateur knows that.” She gathered up the seven cards and returned them to the deck. “Tori, what question did you ask the cards?”

  I swallowed hard. “What comes next for me.”

  Sabrina and Rose exchanged a long, mysterious look that made me even more nervous.

  “Ah,” Sabrina muttered. “Um, well, you should know the cards don’t determine the future. They reveal the path you’re currently following, but you have the power to shift your destiny. Change your heart and you will change your path.”

  “Right.” I forced a smile. “My question wasn’t very specific anyway. The thing coming next for me is a shopping trip on Robson Street tomorrow. Maybe someone will try to rip me off.”

  Sabrina laughed. “I doubt the cards can predict something like that, but you’re right. No need to worry. Just keep the reading in mind.”

  “She should take my warning seriously,” Rose insisted. “That reading was fraught with conflict and danger. Life and death are bound to a secret she must uncover before—”

  “Where are you planning to shop?” Sabrina asked loudly, drowning out Rose. “My favorite store is down by Burrard Street.”

  Grinning, I launched into a description of my favorite shops. Rose stalked off, shooting flinty stares at her young divination rival the whole way. I chatted with Sabrina for a few minutes, then got back to work, trying not to dwell on her reading—but the ominous words kept repeating in my head.

  I would’ve loved to discount it as complete bullshit, but I’d seen too
much magic in the last couple weeks to ignore the reading, no matter how unsettling it might be.

  Chapter Fourteen

  I wasn’t broke anymore, and it was time to splurge—just a bit. Friday had been payday, and thanks to my new-and-improved hourly wage, I had some cash flow. Rent for the month was paid, my bank account was comfortably outside the danger zone, and I was buying one brand-new top.

  The limit on my purchasing power didn’t bother me since I enjoyed the process of shopping a lot more than spending money. Yeah, I know, shopping is a girly activity, but I’m allowed to like one of those, right?

  I strolled down Robson Street, moving with the flow of foot traffic. The sun beamed down and the air smelled of salty ocean water. I’d tempted fate by leaving my umbrella at home, but so far, so good. Not a single cloud marred the vivid blue sky, and half the city was outside enjoying the warm Sunday afternoon before the weekend tragically perished from a terminal case of Monday.

  My phone chimed. Slipping it from my pocket, I quickly replied to Sin’s text. We’d chatted this morning, and she was meeting me for lunch and a movie. I loved spontaneous plans, and I was long overdue for girl time. Making new friends was a skill I hadn’t practiced since elementary school, and the coworkers I’d gotten friendly with at previous jobs had dropped me like moldy bread once I was fired.

  Picking up my pace, I zipped through packs of tourists with cameras hanging around their necks and power-shopping prima donnas with six bags on each arm—or on the arms of her unlucky male partner. Flip-flops slapping on the sidewalk and oversized sunglasses perched on my nose, I headed for my favorite clothing shop.

  Its doors were propped open and an assortment of tired boyfriends stood like sentinels on either side. Why they didn’t wait in the air-conditioned interior, I had no idea. Maybe they were afraid they’d catch shopping cooties or something.

  Breezing past a guy clad in head-to-toe black with a ball cap and sunglasses, I swooped toward the first sale rack and sorted through the tank tops. Picking out a blue one with fancy straps, I held it up to my chest, checking how it went with my cutoff jean shorts. Once, they had been my favorite pair of jeans. Now they were my favorite pair of shorts, and I would wear them until they unraveled around my ass.

  I spent fifteen minutes loading up on discount tops, gradually making my way toward the changerooms at the back. My phone chimed again—Sin, checking in. I texted that I was almost done and would meet her at the café in twenty minutes. As I shoved my phone back in my pocket, I spotted Mr. All-in-Black leaning against a pillar, all alone, his sunglasses pointed at his phone. His unlucky girlfriend must’ve been avoiding association with him in public. Couldn’t blame her.

  Skipping to the changerooms, I locked the door and stripped off my flower-patterned tank top, then tried on the blue one. Not bad, except with my red hair I looked like Mystique. Maybe not.

  I tried on a few more shirts, separating them into “probably not” and “what the hell was I thinking when I picked this up?” piles. As I pulled on a deep purple top with a neckline that plunged way deeper than expected, the changeroom door rattled.

  “Occupied,” I called as I squinted at my girls on full display, the edges of my red bra peeking out. Probably not a work-appropriate top. I bet Aaron would like it, though.

  The door rattled again—then burst open. I yelped, jumping back before it hit me. “I said occu—”

  Mr. All-in-Black shoved into the changeroom and grabbed me by the throat.

  Choking, I clutched his wrist as he elbowed the door shut and locked it again. He pressed me into the wall, knocking hangers onto the floor, then lifted his sunglasses up.

  “Remember me?” he growled.

  Oh shit. It was the sorcerer guy—the Queen of Spades’ original owner.

  Fingers squeezing my throat, he pinned me against the wall with his body so I couldn’t kick him. “I’d like my artifact back, girl.”

  I raked my fingers over his wrist, scoring bloody tracks. He hissed, then stuck his hand into his pocket. I felt him press a card against my stomach.

  “Ori torqueo male.”

  Heat flashed through my body—then agonizing pain raked across my nerves, lighting my bones on fire. I convulsed, his grip on my throat choking off my scream.

  “That doesn’t feel good, does it?” He loosened his hold and I sucked in a trembling gasp. “Where’s my artifact?”

  I stared at him, unable to respond, my vision blurred and my body shaking from the aftershock of the torment. I felt freezing cold all over.

  “Where is my artifact?” he snarled, squeezing my throat again.

  Jaw clenching, I tipped my head toward my purse. As soon as he turned, I flung my fist up and punched him in the ear. He grunted in pain and shoved me into the wall, but I rammed both arms down on his wrist, breaking his weakened grip on my throat. Air rushed into my lungs and a violent coughing fit racked my body.

  He shoved me onto the floor. Silver flashed in his hand—a medieval-looking dagger, the blade pointed at my face.

  Someone rapped on the changeroom door. “Everything okay in there, miss?”

  I didn’t dare look away from the sorcerer. He flicked his gaze to the unseen woman, then brought the dagger closer to my face. The warning was clear—if I said the wrong thing, he’d shove the blade into my eye socket.

  “Fine,” I rasped. “I just dropped my bag.”

  “Let me know if you need anything,” the saleslady replied, her tone unconvinced.

  Neither me nor the sorcerer moved, waiting to see if she said anything else. The normal bustle of the shop went on uninterrupted, our life and death scuffle unnoticed.

  The sorcerer lowered the tip of his knife until it hovered just below my eye. “Ori calefacio.”

  The blade glowed cherry red, the heat scorching my cheek.

  “Where is it?”

  Pressing into the floor to get away from the hot steel, I whispered, “My purse.”

  His lips pulled back in a malicious grin and his arm tensed, the dagger’s point dipping toward my throat.

  My phone chimed loudly.

  He started, his head snapping toward the sound. I shoved his wrist upward, pushing the lethal blade away from my skin. My other hand slapped his hip—right over his pocket of card artifacts.

  “Ori torqueo male,” I gasped.

  A strangled cry erupted from him, his muscles spasming from the pain spell. He crumpled on top of me, the dagger clattering to the floor. With a surge of panic-heightened strength, I shoved him off and scrambled up. He grabbed me and we toppled into the door.

  The door gave way, dumping us onto the hard floor tiles. Shoppers cried out in shock. Flailing wildly, I tore free. As I shoved backward on my ass, he lunged into the changeroom. Someone yelled to call the police.

  The sorcerer reappeared with my purse under his arm, his dagger in one hand and a playing card in his other. His lips moved in a near-silent incantation and the air rippled. Invisible force hit me like a football tackle, and the spell hurled me into a rack of plus-size bras.

  As the bras and I crashed to the floor in a tangle of pink and white lace, the sorcerer bolted for the door. Panting, I burst out of the mess and charged after him. He could take his stupid card back if he wanted it that bad, but he was not stealing my purse!

  The sorcerer raced out the open doors and bowled through the afternoon foot traffic. As unfortunate tourists went flying, I tackled the sorcerer from behind. He went down with a furious shout. Before I could pin him, he slammed me onto the sidewalk. Screaming people fled as he raised his dagger. He slashed the blade at my stomach.

  A foot in a pink sandal swung out of nowhere and kicked his hand. The knife caught my shirt with a loud tearing sound.

  Rearing back, the sorcerer pulled out a new playing card. “Ori—”

  His shout cut off and his face went slack. He tipped over backward, head smacking the pavement.

  I blinked dazedly at the pretty pink sandals that had sav
ed me. My stare rose up the woman’s legs, over a cute sundress, and found Sin’s blue hair. She stood with her hand extended over the sorcerer, a vial held upside-down over his unconscious form.

  The vial disappeared into her purse as she crouched beside me. “Are you okay?”

  “Um.” I pulled a jumbo bra off my wrist and tossed it away. “Now I’m okay.”

  A crowd gathered around us, and three saleswomen from the store hung out the door, their faces ghostly white.

  “We called the police,” a woman said. “They’re on the way. Do you need an ambulance?”

  “I’m fine.” My voice sounded like crunching gravel and I massaged my sore throat.

  Sin pulled me up, her arm around my shoulders. Someone handed me my purse and I clutched it to my chest. My purse. No one was allowed to steal my purse. It had my wallet in it.

  “We need to leave before the police arrive,” Sin whispered in my ear.

  “But I haven’t paid for this top.”

  “I don’t think they care. The shirt is trash.”

  Okay, that was mean. It wasn’t the most tasteful shirt, but my boobs looked fantastic.

  Sin pulled me into motion. “She needs to sit down,” she announced. “There’s a bench this way. Come on.”

  People moved aside for us, then closed the gap again, imprisoning the sorcerer behind a wall of captivated bystanders. Sin steered me away from the commotion, her pace increasing the farther we got. I stumbled along, my knees trembling.

  Two blocks away, she pushed me onto a bench and dug out her phone. As she dialed a number, I hugged my purse and squinted at the bright street, trying to pull myself together.

  “Hurry,” Sin was saying into her phone. “I think she’s in shock … I don’t know yet! Just hurry!”

  She stuffed her phone back in her purse and crouched in front of me. “Tori, what happened?”

  “That jackass ambushed me in the changeroom. He wanted his card back.”

  “His what?”

  “The artifact I stole when I helped Aaron.”

  Her eyes widened. “He was one of the rogues from last weekend?”

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