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

  I found Aaron.

  Holding my breath, I waited. Would Kai check his phone, or was he already on his way to one of the locations? Twenty seconds passed, then thirty, then a minute. No response. My finger hesitated over the call button. Tom was here. If I called Kai, no matter how quietly I spoke, the clairaudient would hear.

  “Rigel,” a man called from the main room.

  Jumping in fright, I shoved my phone into my purse and slunk toward the voices.

  “Ivan just messaged me. A Crow and Hammer team is closing in on our Cypress office.”

  I peeked out as a man rose from a leather office chair and straightened his tailored suit jacket. His black hair was combed back, the style enhancing his stark features and the deep creases around his mouth.

  “Then it’s time,” he murmured in a crisp English accent.

  He positioned himself across from Aaron, who was uncannily still with the mentalist’s hand on his head, keeping him under her control. From my angle, I couldn’t see what Rigel was doing—then the sound of a phone ringing on speaker broke the silence. The psychics in the room waited, unmoving.

  The line clicked.

  “Have you decided to return my pyromage?” Darius’s calm, deep voice echoed from the phone.

  “Darius,” Rigel said, ignoring the question. “I am disappointed.”

  “A mutual sentiment, Rigel.”

  “Guild etiquette is simple. We do not interfere in one another’s business. Isn’t that your personal maxim as well? Don’t hit first?” A sneer coated Rigel’s tone. “You broke your own rule, my friend. You struck first, and now I’m hitting back.”

  “I could remind you of the personal standards you once held,” Darius replied coolly. “But I suppose the days we shared the same ideals are long past.”

  Rigel barked a laugh. “Those ideals you still cling to are the reason you’ll never be able to challenge my place in the mythical and mundane hierarchy.”

  “Our estimations of your position in that hierarchy might differ.”

  “My firm’s clients rule this city. Yet you chose to interfere with us. With me.” His voice took on a quiet, dangerous edge. “You should have known you stood no chance against my guild. No power is sacrosanct when psychics can sway the people who wield it. Just look at your promising young pyromage, reduced to a puppet.”

  “Rigel—” Darius began, anger tingeing his voice for the first time.

  “Perhaps watching him die will drive home the ridiculous arrogance that motivated you to strike at me. Are you watching, Darius?”

  Rigel advanced on Aaron, helpless in the chair, and I realized it wasn’t a call on speaker phone but a video call. Oh god. I had to do something. But what? I didn’t have a weapon. Just my hot-pink umbrella and—

  “You’re making a mistake.” Darius’s voice came through the speaker in a low growl. “Whatever lines you’ve trampled before, this isn’t one you want to cross.”

  Keeping the phone camera pointed at Aaron, Rigel slipped a hand into his suit jacket and withdrew a black pistol from a hidden holster—and this one definitely wasn’t a paintball gun.

  He leveled it at Aaron’s head.

  I dug into my purse, spilling my belongings across the floor. The Queen of Spades card fluttered to the carpet between my feet. The spell reflected magic, but it couldn’t reflect bullets.

  “You started this war, Darius.” Rigel waved the mentalist aside, and she shifted out of the way, keeping one hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “And you’re three thousand miles too far to save anyone.”

  My head jerked up. Rigel knew Darius was on the east coast? Then he’d never intended to spare Aaron. The last two hours had served no other purpose than to make Darius and the guild frantic—a farce to punish them even more.

  Card in one hand and umbrella in the other, I braced myself.

  “If you kill him,” Darius snarled, fury breaking through his calm, “I’ll teach you what it means to fear power.”

  Rigel didn’t react to the threat. “Any final words for your protégé? He can’t respond, but he can hear you.”


  “No? Very well.”

  Rigel handed his phone to a nearby psychic, who stepped back to bring both Aaron and his executioner into frame for Darius. Rigel pointed the gun between Aaron’s blindfolded eyes.

  “Rigel!” Darius roared.

  I sprinted into the psychics’ midst.

  Flying past the watching mythics, I whipped my umbrella up into Rigel’s wrist. The gun flew from his hand and I jammed the umbrella’s handle into his face. As he staggered, I lunged forward, umbrella held like a jousting lance, and jammed its metal top into the mentalist’s sternum. She jerked back, her hand slipping off Aaron’s arm.

  “Aaron!” I screamed. “Light the room on fire!”

  I was afraid he would hesitate, would delay for fear of hurting me, but he didn’t. With a sizzle of heat, flames burst from him and exploded outward in a howling maelstrom.

  Holy shit. When Aaron had said he could light a room on fire, I hadn’t realized it would be this easy for him. I threw myself toward the bank of cubicles, and as the wall of fire rushed at me, I pointed the Queen of Spades at it. “Ori repercutio!”

  The air rippled and the flames shot away from me. As Aaron lunged off his chair, the fire washed harmlessly over him and rolled toward the screaming psychics. The blindfold and gag had burned off Aaron’s face and flames ate holes in his shirt. Half the room was burning and Rigel had disappeared. Psychics fled in every direction—but not everyone was running.

  A familiar figure charged through the flames. The telekinetic who’d almost killed Liam flung two daggers into the air and they shot at Aaron.

  Aaron grabbed the metal chair and swung it, knocking one dagger off course. The other grazed his arm, his blood sizzling in the flames. As the telekinetic waved his hands wildly, bringing the weapons back under control, I popped out from my hidey hole under the desk, grabbed a brand-new keyboard, and threw it at the telekinetic.

  Snapping a hand toward the projectile, he brought the keyboard to a halt in midair—but, distracted, he let his two knives drop to the floor. Aaron tackled him, flames bursting everywhere. The man went down with a shriek.

  A flash of movement in the corner of my eye. The mentalist, her face contorted with either pain or fury, reached for me.

  “Oh no you don’t!” I yelled as I grabbed the next piece of equipment off the desk.

  Her eyes widened and she frantically backpedaled. Not fast enough. I smashed the shiny new computer monitor into her head and she dropped like a rock. She wouldn’t be using me as a hostage against Aaron a second time.

  Another psychic ran out of the smoke and rammed me into the desk. The cubicle wall collapsed, the whole desk smashing into the floor. As his hands closed around my throat, sound blared through my ears and light flashed in my vision. Screams of terror, hideous screeching, splatters of red blood, wide staring human eyes, glowing red monster eyes, vicious snarls—

  The hands around my neck disappeared and the horrific sights and sounds evaporated from my mind. I gasped in a lungful of smoke as Aaron hauled the mythic off me and threw him into a burning cubicle.

  I grabbed Aaron’s offered hand and he pulled me up. Fire had completely consumed his shirt but his pants were still in one charred piece. The spreading inferno was out of control and smoke billowed from the burning walls. Eyes stinging, I searched for our next opponent but the dumb ones were on the floor and the smart ones had already fled.

  “This way,” I coughed, my throat burning as the smoke thickened. “We can escape out the window.”

  With Aaron on my heels, I shot into the hall and scooped my purse off the floor. Halfway through shouldering it, I hurtled through the door into the half-renovated office.

  And almost ran into the gun aimed at my chest.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Tom, his bandages blackened and his eyes blazing with hatred, clutched the pis
tol in a white-knuckled grip.

  “Um,” I whispered, staring at the barrel too close to my heart. Behind me, Aaron radiated heat. “Hi, Tom.”

  “Don’t move, Aaron!” Tom snarled. “If you even twitch, I’ll shoot you both!”

  I didn’t move. I didn’t even breathe.

  “Bitch,” Tom hissed bitterly. “Do you have any idea how exclusive this guild is? What it takes to get a chance to join? This was supposed to be my big break!”

  I leaned back from the gun but he stepped forward, bringing it closer.

  “Tori,” Aaron said. He sounded calm. Way too calm when my innards were about to decorate the white walls.

  “Shut up!” Tom barked, jerking the gun side to side like he wasn’t sure if my heart was in the center of my chest or on the left. I waited for my life to flash before my eyes, but all I felt was terror so intense it hurt.

  Aaron lunged for Tom—and the psychic pulled the trigger.

  The gun clicked, then Aaron ripped it out of Tom’s hand. As I bailed out of the way, Aaron dropped the gun and grabbed Tom by his bandaged neck.

  “Interesting thing about guns,” the pyromage said, his flippant tone marred by a growl. “Firing a bullet requires fire.”

  Tom gawked, panic straining his features. With a flex of his muscular arm, Aaron flung Tom into the wall. The clairaudient slid to the floor.

  I picked myself up, hacking as tears streamed from my burning eyes. Too much smoke. The flames on his skin dying down, Aaron pulled me to the open window. I clambered out and sucked in a desperate lungful of clean air.

  “You can suppress gunfire?” I asked incredulously.

  “With effort, concentration, and close proximity.” He pulled me across the rooftop—not toward the pile of junk I’d climbed up, but toward the street. “Not something I normally count on.”

  Leaving me standing at the rooftop’s edge, he jumped. Hitting the ground in an easy roll, he shot up and held his arms out to me, one streaked with blood from the knife wound. I sat on the edge and pushed off. He caught me, set me on my feet, then sprinted across the access road.

  I didn’t question his rush—I had no intention of stopping either. We weren’t out of danger yet. Over half the psychics had escaped the burning room and could be anywhere.

  As we raced toward the bridge, I glimpsed the second-floor windows dancing with the light of flames, then a gunshot rang through the silence. Aaron flinched at the sound but didn’t stop, leaping onto the bridge deck and hauling me after him.

  From the office entryway, people streamed out—more mythics than had populated the upstairs room. My whole body went cold as I realized more of the guild must have been waiting on the lower level. And now they were chasing us down.

  More shots rang out as Aaron and I sprinted up the bridge. Why did they have so many freaking guns? They were mythics! Where the hell was the magic? I’d really prefer fireballs and ice shards to bullets right about now!

  Lungs burning, throat on fire from smoke inhalation, I clung to Aaron’s arm as we crossed the midpoint of the bridge, a quadruple set of train tracks running beneath it. Dark blocky shapes spread out before us—the shipping yard.

  More gunfire, muzzle flashes erupting as the psychics chased us onto the bridge.

  I tripped and fell, my hands and knees scraping across the pavement and my purse tumbling away from me. Aaron grabbed my waist and heaved me up, but my left knee decided it didn’t want to hold my weight anymore. Pulling me against his side with one hand, he flung the other backward, casting a wall of flame behind us.

  Lunging toward the bridge rail, he pulled us onto it and jumped. Ten feet below, massive shipping containers were stacked five high. We landed on top, the metal booming from the impact, and my leg buckled.

  “Hang on, Tori,” Aaron panted, dragging me up again.

  Clutching his arm, I glanced down at my lame-ass knee that didn’t want to work—and saw the shiny wetness coursing down my calf. Blood. Oh, shit. I’d been shot?

  Half carrying me, Aaron launched into a sprint. The container boomed as more people jumped onto it, and Aaron flung fire behind us, more to blind the enemy than to stop them. We ran the length of two containers, then jumped down to a lower stack—but we were still forty freaking feet above the cement quay.

  Leg crumpling under me, I slumped back into the side of the container. Aaron launched another wave of bright flames at our pursuers, but the shipping container wasn’t flammable and he couldn’t keep the flames burning indefinitely.

  I pressed a hand to my leg, blood squishing between my fingers, and wondered why I felt no pain. Too much adrenaline? Dizzy and shaking, I scanned the shipping containers and spotted a stair-like stack farther along where we could climb down, but we’d be exposed to our pursuers the whole way. If they had any bullets left—

  “Tori.” Aaron yanked me toward the container’s edge. “Jump!”

  “What? No! We can go that way and—”

  He pushed me toward the edge and I dug in my heels, clawing at his arms.

  “No!” I screamed, fighting for traction on the steel, the forty-foot drop to unforgiving concrete right behind me. “Let me go!”

  Aaron grabbed my jaw with one hand, forcing my eyes to meet his as firelight flickered across his features. “Tori, trust me.”

  Trust him? No, no, no. I didn’t do that. It never worked out for me, ever. Other people didn’t save me. I saved myself.

  A gunshot blasted through the night and Aaron reeled, blood spraying from the graze across his shoulder. Flinging fire at the gunmen, he shouted, “Jump!”

  I pried my hands off his arm, cast a terrified look across him, then spun around and leaped.

  Screaming, I plunged downward. Wind howled, then gusted beneath me with insane force. My drop slowed, then I crashed into something much softer than concrete.

  Arms closed around me, pulling me tight against a warm chest.

  Light flared above and Aaron jumped off the container pile. As his shadow plunged down, Ezra flung his hand out. The wind whipped into a dense updraft, and Aaron landed in a neat roll—then flopped out of it with zero grace. Panting for air, he scrambled up.

  Without a word, Ezra and Aaron bolted into the labyrinth of shipping containers. I hung in Ezra’s arms, gawking uselessly. Where had he come from? How had Aaron known he was there, waiting to catch us?

  We whipped around a corner, then Aaron and Ezra skidded to a stop.

  Spread in a line, blocking our path, was the rest of the psychic guild. They must have crossed the bridge and entered the yard from a different direction—cutting off our escape.

  Rigel, his face blistered and bleeding, stood in the center of the line holding a shiny pistol, and a new telekinetic waited behind him, daggers floating at the ready. Two other psychics pointed guns our way.

  “You thought you could escape?” Rigel sneered. “I have telethesians who can track you no matter where you run. I have clairsentients who can see you no matter where you hide. I have clairaudients who can hear you no matter how quietly you whisper. I have telepaths to coordinate our every move.”

  Aaron stepped in front of me and Ezra, shielding us from the gunmen. Heat radiated off him, but he didn’t summon his flames. The psychics were too far. They’d shoot us before he could burn them.

  Footsteps clattered behind us and Ezra turned as our pursuers from atop the shipping containers ran out of the darkness, sealing off our escape route. Ezra set me down and pushed me between him and Aaron, their backs to me as they faced the two forces.

  Mouth opening in a silent laugh, Rigel aimed his gun at Aaron. “It was futile from the beginning, boy.”

  All the hair on my body stood on end.

  Lightning leaped out of the darkness in a blinding flash and slammed into Rigel’s pistol. The bolt forked and struck the two other guns. The three men holding firearms went down, convulsing.

  A black-clad figure shot from between two containers, sprinting toward the psychics with e
lectricity rippling over his arms. Kai’s hands bristled with small throwing knives, and he hurled them at the psychics without breaking stride. The blades found the vulnerable flesh of the mythics, striking legs and shoulders—then lightning leaped from Kai’s hands to the conductive metal.

  Behind me, Ezra launched toward the other group of psychics, yanking his pole arm off his back. A gust of wind whipped dust into the psychics’ faces, then he hammered the weapon into the first mythic, throwing him into the nearest container. The hollow metal boomed louder than gunfire.

  Kai spun through the larger group, his movements swift and decisive. A telekinetic sent a knife flying at him, but the electramage darted aside with eerie, silent grace. He closed in on the telekinetic—and executed a flying double kick straight out of a martial arts movie. Landing neatly, he cast his hand wide. Lightning burst off him, seeking his metal knives. It tore through the psychics again, half of them falling to the ground in convulsions.

  Gunshots rang out but Kai was a flickering shadow, impossible to hit. Ezra smashed his last opponent into the ground, then ran toward Kai’s larger group. The aeromage whipped his weapon in an arc, and a concentrated gust of wind swept the legs out from under another three mythics. Breaking under Kai and Ezra’s combined onslaught, the psychics fled into the dark passage between shipping containers.

  Light flashed.

  A yellow glow spiraled up the monstrous sword held by a petite woman with a blond pixie cut. Zora stood with her feet planted, the point of her blade resting on the asphalt as she waited for the psychics to run within her weapon’s reach. Arrayed behind her were six more sorcerers.

  The psychics pulled up short. Kai and Ezra blocked any possible retreat. Trapped, the mythics clustered together, then with their heads drooping, they put their hands up in defeat.

  “But,” I gasped, goggling at Zora as I huddled against Aaron. “Where … how?”

  “The psychics aren’t the only ones with a telepath to coordinate their teams,” Aaron said, sounding smug despite his hoarse exhaustion. “Bryce has been yammering in my head since we hit the bridge.”

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