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

  “Sorry, I meant they aren’t guilded with a legal guild. Just like there are rogue mythics, there are rogue guilds.”

  “Mythics gravitate toward group structures even without MagiPol’s rules on guilding,” Ezra told me. “It’s tough to go it alone. We naturally form groups, and the same goes for rogue mythics. They band together into loose guilds that don’t follow MagiPol’s regulations.”

  “They’re illegal as shit,” Aaron added. “MagiPol does its best to stamp them out, but they’re hard to pin down and harder to eradicate. Even if you take out some members, they form up again somewhere else.”

  Ezra tapped one finger on his stack of papers. “The sorcerer and the kryomage are probably part of the same rogue guild, but we can’t look it up in MagiPol’s guild registry since rogue guilds don’t officially exist, let alone file paperwork.”

  “How will we find them, then?” I asked anxiously.

  “MPD has ongoing investigations into every known rogue guild.” Kai clicked rapidly on his laptop. “I’m pulling up all the available information on the rogue guilds in the area, then cross-referencing records of their crimes and activities against Peters’s and Durov’s charges to see if anything lines up.”


  “See?” Aaron remarked breezily. “That’s why I let Kai do this stuff.”

  Since I was no help with the rogue research, I pulled out my laptop and got started on an assignment. After a few minutes, Kai retrieved a stack of papers from the monster printer in the corner. Highlighter in hand, he laid the pages across the table.

  I tapped away on my hypothetical business plan for a dog grooming salon—not my choice; I fully intended to become a crazy cat lady by middle age—while Kai worked, Ezra assisted, and Aaron played a game on his laptop. Aaron didn’t seem to be paying attention, but as Kai and Ezra quietly discussed possible connections between our culprits and the rogue guilds, Aaron piped up with further questions.

  As the guys methodically cross-checked their information, I lost my train of thought on a reasonable marketing budget for my grooming salon and found myself observing them instead. On the surface, Kai seemed to be doing all the work, but the closer I watched, the more I saw their flawless teamwork. Kai’s organization and intelligence, Ezra’s sharp insight, and Aaron’s outside-the-box probing.

  The icky nervous weight in my gut lessened for the first time since the sorcerer’s attack yesterday. Maybe this wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe I wasn’t giving Aaron, Kai, and Ezra enough credit. They knew what they were doing. They knew how to deal with this.

  But what about me? They could handle criminal mythics and rogue guilds, but I didn’t want to rely on them. Experience had taught me that relying on people led to trouble, pain, and failure. Nothing sucked more than counting on someone only to have them let you down. If I kept working here, even for a couple weeks, would I end up in trouble again? Aaron, Kai, and Ezra wouldn’t always be there, and I wasn’t equipped to protect myself.

  Sabrina’s voice rang in my memory, the spread of tarot cards clear in my mind’s eye. Though you’ve walked this far alone, others are waiting to join you.

  My attention roved across Kai and Ezra, then settled on Aaron. The Knight of Swords. Did the tarot card really mean them? Sabrina had warned that my past, my fears, would shape my fate. I wanted so badly to roll my eyes and call her reading a load of bullshit, but parts of it resonated with me in a way that was difficult to ignore.

  Was I seriously stressing over tarot cards?

  “Something wrong, Tori?”

  I blinked and focused on Aaron. “Huh?”

  He tapped a finger against my chin and I realized my mouth was hanging open like a gormless halfwit. I snapped it shut, but he was waiting expectantly.

  “Do you know Sabrina?” I blurted. Super-smooth subject change, oh yeah.

  “Sabrina? Of course. She’s a diviner. I know everyone in the guild.”

  “She asked me for your phone number. And Kai’s.”

  Aaron winced. “You didn’t give it to her, did you?”


  “Good. I don’t want her to know I blocked her.”

  “You blocked her?” I glanced at Kai and he nodded. “You too? Why?”

  Smirking, Aaron pulled out his phone, flipped to a messaging app, and passed the device to me. My brow furrowed as I stared at the screen for a long moment, then swiped up. Photo after photo flashed by, and my eyes got wider with each one.

  “Oh. Wow. Okay.” I cleared my throat. “She, um. She has … really cute … bunnies?”

  Every single photo, spanning months of messages, featured three floppy-eared rabbits. Eating lettuce. Wearing little hats. Posing amidst flowers. Sabrina had interspersed the images with probing inquiries about Aaron’s thoughts on her “bun-buns” and flirtatious invitations for him to come over some time to meet them. His responses, when he did respond, lacked enthusiasm for either subject.

  “You blocked her over bunny photos?” I asked skeptically.

  “Constant bunny photos,” he complained. “Plus she keeps trying to get me to ask her out, but yeah. Bunny photos.”

  Handing his phone back, I asked Kai, “Same deal for you?”

  “Yep. Half the guild are lucky recipients of her photography.”

  I frowned. “But not you, Ezra?”

  He shrugged, his attention on a printout. “She doesn’t like me.”

  “What? Why not?” How could she not like Ezra? His warm, quiet smile had won me over right away. He merely shrugged again, and only then did I realize I’d asked a damn rude question. Mildly embarrassed, I pulled my laptop closer.

  “Did Sabrina do a reading for you?” Kai asked as he shuffled papers around, tossing some aside.

  My gaze snapped up. “Uh … yeah. How’d you know?”

  “You had that look.”

  “The ‘this shit can’t be real’ look,” Aaron added knowingly. “Anyone who isn’t a diviner looks like that after a reading.”

  “Have you gotten a reading before?” I asked.

  “A few times, but I’d honestly rather let the future surprise me. Did anything interesting come up in yours?”

  “I don’t know. It was all about conflict and deception and ‘fear ruling my heart.’ I thought it was kind of stupid.”

  Aaron turned on his chair to face me, his expression thoughtful. “What are you afraid of?”


  “It would have to be a prevailing fear for the tarot cards to pick it up,” Kai remarked as he tossed a printout into his reject pile. “Something powerful or long term.”

  A chill washed over me. They didn’t think her reading was bullshit, and I didn’t like that. If they’d jumped on the skepticism bandwagon like I’d hoped, I could’ve discounted the whole freaky experience.

  Kai shoved the last of the papers aside and dropped a single sheet in the center of the table. “This is it.”

  “It isn’t Red Rum, is it?” Aaron asked warily.

  “No.” Kai spun the page toward me and Aaron. “Looks like a small operation. MPD records call them the ‘East Hastings Gang’ because that’s where they’re often seen. Eight to twelve rogue mythics, including a kryomage and at least one sorcerer who favors card-style artifacts.”

  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.

  Chapter Seventeen

  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 weapo
n 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.

  “Um.” I inched back, warily eyeing the double-ended spear. “How good is your depth perception again?” By “good,” I really meant “bad.”

  He twisted the two blades apart and sheathed them inside each other so it was once again an innocuous metal pole. “Terrible, as usual, but it’s rarely an issue in a fight. Moving people disturb the air, so I can tell how far away they are even if I can’t see them.”

  “Oh, right,” I said faintly as he slapped the weapon against his back. It stuck to the baldric on its own—magnets, maybe?

  “All right,” Kai called. “Any questions before we head out?”

  “Whose car are we taking?” Felix asked dryly. “I’m not riding in the back of Aaron’s pussy-mobile.”

  “Hey! Don’t insult my baby.”

  “We’re taking the van,” Kai said. “Anything else?”

  Zora folded her arm and cocked a hip. “Are any of the bounties DOA?”

  “Dead on Arrival?” I muttered questioningly to Aaron.

  “Dead or Alive,” he corrected. “Not common, but it happens.”

  “No,” Kai replied. “We take them alive, but don’t hesitate to defend yourself with whatever force is required. Your lives come first, always.”

  That sick, lightheaded feeling returned. I gripped the edge of the bar, my knuckles turning white.

  Kai waved at the team to follow him. “Let’s go.”

  “Ezra,” I said hoarsely as he moved to follow. “Be careful.”

  He smiled reassuringly. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

  Aaron stood and clasped arms with Ezra, then the aeromage hastened after the other seven mythics, Kai in the lead. The door shut behind them, and my shoulders drooped. No matter what Ezra said, for me it would be a long, long night.

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