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


  “That is a sword.” A freakin’ sword. Who walked around with a sword?

  “Only useless mages train with wands. We train with weapons. If someone is trying to kill me, I’d rather have a sword than try to poke their eyes out with a piddly wand.”

  I grasped the leather-wrapped handle and lifted it a few inches, its weight surprising me. “Do people try to kill you often?”

  “Not usually.” He zipped the bag. “MagiPol doesn’t have the manpower to track down every rogue mythic across the globe, so they post bounties instead. Guilds do the tag and bag, then hand the perp over to MagiPol for trial.”

  “Huh.” I remembered a passing remark he’d made on Sunday. “And you, Kai, and Ezra are after a bounty for a rogue … sorcerer?”

  “Yep. Thought we had a solid lead this afternoon so I grabbed Sharpie, but the guy gave us the slip.”

  “Sharpie? You named your sword Sharpie?”

  “We’re supposed to be incognito, Tori. What if someone overheard me talking about my Fiery Deathbringer or Warblade of Murderous Doom?”

  “They’d probably think you were talking about a video game.” I poked the sword bag. “So how does it work? You can make flames without this.”

  “A switch is like a focus. It’s easier to control the elements through a tool, and using a switch lets you create more specific and targeted effects.” He shrugged. “I can light the room on fire easily enough, but if I want to create a concentrated band of flame, I need a switch.”

  “Any switch, or only Sharpie?”

  “A sword similar in size and shape to Sharpie would be functional, but we work best with the switches we’ve trained on.”

  “Magic is complicated,” I informed him dryly.

  “Try talking to an Arcaner. That’s complicated.”

  Lucky for me, Liam the telekinetic weasel was the worst part of my day. Sylvia, the older woman I’d called a hag during my first shift, was a close second, though. Realizing she’d been insulted by a measly human, her hag level had increased by ten. We had another friendly chat about how I wasn’t serving her a damn thing until she proved she had manners.

  Again, I was reluctantly relieved that Aaron was nearby, though he may have riled up Sylvia even more than I had.

  Somehow, everyone knew I was human, but they didn’t all see me as a weak runt of a bartender. A friendly young woman who identified herself as a witch spent a solid twenty minutes talking about yoga and invited me to join her and her also-a-witch boyfriend on their weekly nature walk. A sweet old lady with turquoise-framed glasses and a knit cap offered to do a tarot card reading for me. A fortyish-year-old man with dark bronze skin and a fantastic goatee chatted with me about local restaurants—many of which I’d attempted to work at.

  When a man approached—built like a tank, shaved head, heavy brow that shadowed his dark eyes—I almost shrank behind the bar. He looked like a mobster, but Aaron murmured distractedly, “Hey, Lyndon.”

  “How’s the hunt going?” Lyndon asked in a deep, gravelly voice.

  “The bastard is a slippery one. If we don’t hurry, someone else will nab him.”

  “Have you asked Taye to scout around?” He gestured at the bronze-skinned foodie I’d spoken to earlier.

  “We need a confirmed starting point first,” Aaron replied. “Kai will figure it out. He always does. Knowing him, he’s already got a new lead and he’s just letting me slave away here for nothing.”

  Lyndon chuckled, then turned and offered me his hand. “Lyndon McAllister. Arcana, sorcerer.”

  “Pleasure to meet you,” I said. “Tori Dawson. Human, bartender. Can I get you a drink?”

  “Bourbon on the rocks, please.” He watched me pull out a glass. “How’s it going so far? This can’t be an easy adjustment.”

  “Not bad. Aaron is entertaining, at least.”

  The pyromage in question glanced up. “What does that mean?”

  I smirked at him, just to be annoying, then said to Lyndon, “I admit I’ve been picturing sorcerers as old men with beards to their waists and giant spell books.”

  He chuckled as I set his drink down. “Let me guess. Aaron has been telling you how boring and stuffy we are, and how lame Arcana magic is.”

  “Hmm, yeah, pretty much.”

  “I never called it lame,” Aaron muttered distractedly, eyes fixed on his screen.

  Lyndon perched on the edge of a bar stool. “Sorcery is the most common Arcana order. I specialize in counter magic, meaning spells that affect other magic. I used to be a combat sorcerer but … those days are behind me.”

  Curious, I asked, “Why the switch?”

  He rubbed his jaw. “Counter magic is … safer. In some guilds, the line between legal and illegal spells can get blurry, especially when it comes to offensive magic. After the MPD dissolved my last guild, I decided a change was in order.”

  They dissolved his guild? That sounded ominous. I decided to shift the topic away from his potentially sensitive history. “How long did it take you to learn counter magic?”

  “A few years, but I was well past the apprenticeship stage by then.” He smiled whimsically. “Most sorcerers spend at least twelve years in training. Alchemist and healers take even longer to complete their apprenticeships.”

  “Whoa.”

  “It isn’t easy to learn, but it’s the most versatile magic and, for experienced practitioners, it’s the most powerful.”

  Aaron scoffed.

  “We’ll see who’s laughing next time Girard puts you on your ass,” Lyndon remarked cheerfully before tossing back the last of his bourbon. “I’ve got work to do. See you two later.”

  As I committed Lyndon’s information about Arcana magic to memory, I entered his drink in the till. Each guild member had a running tab and hardly anyone paid cash, which didn’t bode well for my poor, empty tip jar.

  “Hey, Aaron,” I said after a minute.

  “Hmm?”

  “You said you’re hunting a rogue sorcerer, right?”

  “Yeah.”

  “What if he’s a really powerful one?”

  He looked up from his laptop, an amused sparkle in his eyes. “Don’t worry about me, new girl. Lyndon meant one on one, but a single Arcaner against me, Kai, and Ezra? Even an experienced combat sorcerer would have a hell of a time beating us, and this rogue is far from the best.”

  “Strength in numbers, huh?” I murmured. Not my thing. No one on the planet was as invested in saving my butt as I was, and I didn’t like counting on someone else to be there when I needed them only to find myself alone.

  Aaron didn’t notice my doubtful expression as he focused on his laptop, strong fingers zipping over the keyboard. I glanced at his sword, hidden in its black case. For a supposedly easy opponent, he’d brought along an awfully big weapon.

  Well, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. His ability to navigate dangerous situations inspired minimal confidence, but Kai oozed competence and I had yet to see Ezra appear anything less than utterly unfazed. If they wanted to chase down dangerous rogues with deadly magic, that was their business.

  Me, I was just here to tend the bar—and I planned to keep my nose out of anything that wasn’t a cocktail recipe book.

  Chapter Eight

  To my disappointment, Kai and Ezra didn’t make an appearance on Wednesday. My shift passed much like Tuesday’s, with a few ugly encounters, a few pleasant ones, and a whole bunch of people who didn’t care to speak to me beyond ordering a drink. Liam didn’t return but Tom showed up for the better part of the evening, taking the same seat in the far corner and nursing drinks while he read a thick sci-fi paperback.

  Sylvia came in and we had a slightly more polite snarling match. I made her a proper Manhattan, and she seemed pleased that I’d learned it for her. Not that I’d studied up for her—just so I didn’t look stupid again.

  I was getting an idea of the regulars and the less-regular regulars. Many members I’d glimpsed during the big meeting hadn’t returned,
but others showed up every day. They’d grab a few drinks and a meal, then head upstairs or downstairs depending on what they needed to do.

  According to Aaron, the second level was for work—planning and executing jobs, completing paperwork, coordinating with team members, and research. Rogue hunting wasn’t the only work mythics could take on to earn extra cash—or bonuses, as Aaron called them—but no one went into detail about it. Probably a not-for-human-ears topic.

  The basement level was for training, both magical and physical. Aaron mentioned a gym, a sparring room, a bunker for practicing magic, and an alchemy lab. The third level, where I’d met the guild officers, was off-limits for most members—the territory of the guild master, assistant guild master, and officers.

  Aaron was late again but I didn’t give him too hard a time—he was clearly exhausted. He, Kai, and Ezra had pulled an all-nighter tracking the rogue sorcerer. Instead of working on his laptop, Aaron lined up a row of chairs along the wall and lied across the makeshift bed, covering his eyes with a borrowed dish towel. At least he didn’t snore.

  Clara checked on me each night around six or seven, praising my efforts and gushing about how much work she was getting done, before heading home for the night. Felix popped in once to see how Aaron was handling his new assignment—triggering a lecture about sleeping on the job—but I saw no sign of the other two officers.

  Friday’s shift went the same. I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, especially Aaron … but getting the cold shoulder from most of my customers was wearing on me. They weren’t rude enough to yell at, but neither were they friendly. Aaron napped through my shift again, even more tired than the day before.

  For a magical guild, it wasn’t all that fun, yet I could see glimpses of how it might have been if I were a mythic instead of an unwelcome human. I could hear laughter from other levels, and I got to watch the smiles fade off mythics’ faces when they approached the bar. The sociable members were in the minority.

  For my Saturday shift, I had high hopes the weekend would mean a busier night—and maybe friendlier faces. The afternoon weather was hot and balmy, so I picked out bright red shorts almost the same shade as my hair, a tank top with a strappy back, and cute white sandals. For a change, I wore my hair down, my usual wild waves straightened into sleek locks that fell almost to my elbows.

  I was feeling good. Tips had been shit all week, but maybe I could charm some generosity out of my customers tonight.

  Once again, Aaron was late, but I had no issues setting up. I was just laying out my freshly cut garnishes when he breezed in, a bounce in his step.

  “We got him!” he announced before I could ask. “Tagged him in the marina, five minutes before he would’ve booked it straight for international waters.”

  “Nice!” I said, my earnest relief surprising me. Had I been worrying about the guys that much? “Glad it’s over with.”

  “Same.” He dropped onto his favorite stool just to the left of my station, the circles under his eyes offset by his grin. “Looking good today, Tori.”

  Huh. I’d expected him to be too oblivious to notice I’d put extra effort into my appearance. “Thanks.”

  He caught a lock of my hair and slid it through his fingers. I froze, my thoughts thrown completely off track.

  “I kind of miss the crazy curls, though.”

  I arched my eyebrows. “What are you implying?”

  “Nothing?” he said uncertainly. Aware enough to notice I’d dressed up, but oblivious of how he was treading on thin ice with that comment.

  I decided to spare him a bout of female insecurity. “How are Ezra and Kai?”

  “Kai is fine, as always. Ezra took a nasty hit, but he’s just bruised. The sorcerer came out way worse.”

  I poured two rum and cokes and passed him one. “A toast to a successful job?”

  “Damn right!” We clinked glasses and he took a long gulp. “After a tough job, we usually hit the bar for a few celebratory drinks, but Ezra wanted to take it easy and Kai has a date. So it’s just me tonight.”

  “Well, you and me.” I nudged his glass with mine. “I’ll celebrate with you!”

  His grin flashed again and I returned it, a flutter in my stomach.

  He downed half his drink in a few swallows. “Man, I’m going to sleep like a rock tonight. I haven’t had a good night’s rest all week.”

  I finished straightening my garnishes. “How does Kai have the energy for a date?”

  “He’s been getting his sleep while I’ve been here,” Aaron grumped. “Slacker.”

  “Does he have a girlfriend?” I asked curiously, trying to imagine what sort of girl Kai would go for. With his exotic looks and classy style—from what I’d seen, anyway—he could attract almost any woman.

  “Girlfriends,” Aaron answered, emphasizing the S. “I don’t know where he finds them, but he goes out with a new lady every damn week.”

  No way. Kai? A player? I hadn’t pegged him as the womanizing type. “What about you?”

  “Happily single.”

  Ramsey waltzed out of the kitchen, his unnaturally black hair extra spikey and his eyeliner drawn on with more finesse than I’d ever managed on my own face. “Aaron isn’t mentioning his string of relationships that’ve failed spectacularly. We take bets on how long each girl will last.”

  Aaron scowled.

  “The current average is four months,” Ramsey added.

  “Wait, wait,” I cut in. “Aaron has located multiple women who were willing to tolerate him for four whole months?”

  Ramsey laughed.

  With a sulky glare at the two of us, Aaron hunched over his drink. “Like you can talk, Ramsey.”

  “I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years, thanks very much.”

  “That’s my point. I’m way better with women than you.”

  Rolling my eyes, I poured Aaron another drink and slid it over. “I’m sure you’ll find the right girl eventually.”

  “Real comforting, Tori.”

  Once Ramsey returned to the kitchen, I gentled my tone. “If it’s any consolation, my track record is basically the same.”

  He glanced up. “Oh?”

  “Are you surprised that I don’t have a boyfriend, or surprised that I’ve ever had one?”

  “Bit of both.”

  I shook my head, but I was more amused than anything else. “We gingers have it rough, huh?”

  He laughed and raised his drink. “I’ll toast to that.”

  The evening didn’t stay quiet for long. People started filtering in around five, and by six I was too busy to keep Aaron company. He joined a table with Lyndon the sorcerer and two girls my age, animatedly describing his rogue sorcerer takedown while I zipped back and forth between the bar and kitchen. Ramsey and Cooper were both working and I found myself carrying way too many baskets of chicken wings for the number of people in the bar.

  The lack of friendliness continued, but I ignored it, offering smiles and bright greetings to everyone. Eventually they’d warm up to me, right? A few more tips made their way into my jar than on other nights.

  Around eight, excited voices cut through the rumble of conversation. Five people squeezed through the door, chatting and clapping each other on the back. At their appearance, most of the mythics in the pub cheered and whooped.

  “Victory!” one of the new arrivals yelled, pumping a fist in the air. “A round on me!”

  More cheers. I scrambled into position, my eyes widening. The five newcomers were wearing several cows’ worth of black leather and had weapons strapped to their limbs or slung over their backs, along with thick belts carrying fat pouches. They looked like a cross between special ops soldiers and vampire slayers.

  “How did it go, Andrew?” someone called.

  “Kicked ass,” a fifty-something guy answered. Despite his Blade-style outfit, he had a fatherly air that made me think he should be coaching a kid’s soccer team. “Bagged four and scattered the remainder of the nest.”

/>   “And did some damage to the escapees, too,” a petite woman added, running a gloved hand over her pixie-short blond hair streaked with pink. The top of a monster-sized weapon jutted above her shoulder. “And get this. Right when we were packing up, the—”

  “The Odin’s Eye guild showed up, ready to clean house,” the tallest guy boasted, the one who’d proclaimed a round of drinks on the way in. “They were pissed.”

  Laughter rang through the room as the group reached the bar. The petite woman and older guy broke off to join Aaron’s table, while the other three stopped in front of me. The tallest guy, with a narrow face and patchy beard, might not have looked impressive on any other day, but his gear was doing him all kinds of favors.

  “Congrats,” I said, though I had no idea what for. “What do you want to do for the round?”

  His excitement faded as he assessed me. “Whiskey shots. No, not that one. The good stuff.”

  I halted my reach for the whiskey in my well as he pointed imperiously at a bottle on the shelf behind me.

  “Hurry it up,” the other guy said—a big dude with lots of muscle who would’ve been intimidating even without the leather duster. “We’re trying to celebrate here.”

  I bit back a retort and reached for the bottle. How was I supposed to know the drill if no one had explained it? Jeez. I swiftly lined up shot glasses and poured, spilling in my rush. The third mythic of the team, a girl around my age with sleek blond hair tied into a ponytail, watched me with her nose scrunched like she’d stepped in dog shit.

  Everyone in the pub crowded around the bar to partake in the shots. I did a rapid count and added another six glasses. The triumphant team passed them around, and Ramsey and Cooper popped out of the kitchen to grab shots too. The older leader, Andrew, lifted his into the air.

  “To another—”

  “Hold up,” Aaron interrupted, his shot in hand. “Tori, pour yourself one.”

  Everyone looked at me and most of the stares were unfriendly.

  “Um.” I shifted awkwardly. “That’s okay, go ahead.”

 
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