As for the other two, Kai had so much romantic baggage he could open his own suitcase depot. And Ezra eschewed any form of relationship—no dating, no flings, no one-night stands.
They were undateable, and that was perfectly fine with me.
Five minutes later, I gave up on sleep. Flipping my blanket off, I carefully extracted myself from the pile. The guys didn’t stir; they were out like three sexy rocks. With a longing glance over my shoulder, I tiptoed across the room and down the stairs. A drink of cold water—and maybe a splash in the face—then I would try to sleep again.
The pub was quiet. The clock read 2:32 a.m. and only a dozen people were awake. Elisabetta sat at the empty healers’ station, her head lolling forward. Felix had finally succumbed to exhaustion, so Tabitha sat at the computers in his place, watching updates scroll past. Six or seven strangers were resting at the tables. A few looked familiar but I didn’t know their names.
Only one small group was accomplishing anything besides keeping upright in their chairs. Four people were clustered at the end of the bar, whispering. As I headed toward them, I spotted Izzah—her makeup long gone, her leather pants scuffed, and her black shirt crusted with dried blood on one side.
Facing three older men, she spoke in a low voice edged with suppressed anger. “There’s only one explanation for—”
“You have no proof.”
“Do we need proof to act?” she shot back. “Or will you let more people die while you wait to be absolutely positive? What about your people, Lee? Our guild has already—”
“That’s enough, Izzah,” the short, middlemost man interrupted. “We aren’t picking a fight with the Keys based on unfounded suspicions.”
I recognized him as one of the GMs I’d brought coffee to, and I halted a few feet away, tiredly rubbing one eye. They were blocking my way behind the bar. Though I was tempted to barrel through like I usually did, curiosity got the better of me.
“The Keys are unleashing their demons to create false positives on demonic activity,” Izzah insisted. “They are deliberately muddying the search so they can get the kill for themselves. How long until having their demons claw up walls doesn’t get enough attention? What happens then, hah?”
“They wouldn’t go that far,” Lee said.
“The rumors—and the evidence—say otherwise.” She glared at the GM. “The last attack might not have happened if the Keys hadn’t faked a demon sighting so far east. Who knows how long we’ve been searching the wrong areas?”
I tensed. Was that how the demon had turned up so far west to attack Ezra and me when we thought it was in another neighborhood?
Lee folded his arms. “What do you expect us to do without evidence?”
“Go to MagiPol.” Izzah pointed at the door like there were MPD agents waiting on the front step. “Report the Keys. If you—or even better, if three GMs press them to act, they’ll eject the Keys from the city.”
Three GMs? Wow, Izzah had more grit than I’d realized.
“We have nothing to take to the MPD,” Lee said with finality. “Until we do, we can work around the Keys. You should rest, Izzah. Get some sleep.”
With that cool dismissal, he walked away. Another GM followed him, while the third headed upstairs. Izzah glared after Lee, then blew out a long, angry breath before giving me a tired smile.
“Hi Izzah. Is that Lee guy your GM?”
“Yeah.” She shook her head, her long ponytail swishing side to side. “I was afraid he’d take that stance. No one wants to report the Keys’ actions to MagiPol in case it forces a confrontation. So geram!”
I glanced at the ceiling as though I could see the guys through it. “Tell Kai about your suspicions. He’ll make sure our GM hears about it.”
Izzah hesitated, then nodded. “He’s sleeping-mah? I’ll catch him once he’s up and let him know. Guild rivalries or not, someone needs to act before the Keys get completely out of control.”
At the mention of sleep, a yawn pulled at my jaw. “I came down for some water. Want anything?”
“Water would be great.”
With Izzah following, I crossed behind the bar and pushed through the saloon doors. I grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge and tossed her one.
“Thanks.” She cracked it open. “How’s Ezra?”
“He’s doing okay. How’s … it was Roberto, right?”
“Yeah. He’s already itching to get back out there.” She grimaced disbelievingly, then asked, “How’s Kai?”
“He’s doing fine.” As I opened my water, she chewed on a fingernail, a crease between her elegantly arched eyebrows. With the glow from the pub lighting one edge of her face, she radiated mysterious beauty. Exactly the sort of woman I’d expect Kai to go for. “How do you two know each other?”
“Hm.” She took a long drink. “We dated for a few months … about three years ago now, I guess. Time flies …”
A few months? That was a long-term relationship by Kai’s standards. “How did you meet?”
Her expression softened, gaze sliding absently across the counters. “He tried to arrest me for attempted theft.”
My eyes popped. “Oh. Sounds romantic.”
She laughed. “I was twenty and thought I knew what I was doing, but I was in over my head. He was working a security job, and after deciding I wasn’t actually trying to steal anything, he helped me …” She trailed off, musing in reminiscent silence, then added matter-of-factly, “We dated for a few months afterward, then he dumped me.”
I winced. Oh, Kai. He was wonderful and considerate and protective, but he treated the woman he dated like Solo cups. “Do you know why?”
“No …” She leaned against the counter, swirling her water in the bottle. “I was naïve-lah. We never talked about being exclusive or made plans for the future. I was just … happy and in love, you know? But I guess he wasn’t.”
Judging by the sad yearning on her face, she was still in love with him. I wasn’t mean enough to point that out, though. “That’s tough. You’re friends, though, aren’t you?”
“I tried to hate him,” Izzah admitted with a sigh, “but I couldn’t, especially since we keep running into each other. And sometimes he looks at me like …”
Like he wanted to sweep her off her feet and carry her away. That’s what it had looked like to me when she’d strolled into the pub.
Grimacing, she chugged the rest of her water. “I must be tired. Spilling my guts to you. Don’t mind me-lah. Just oversharing with a stranger.”
I laughed. “Hey, any friend of Kai’s is someone I want to know.”
She grinned, then bid me good night. I watched her go, tapping my water bottle thoughtfully against my chin. I knew part of the reason Kai’s love life was so messed up, but I didn’t know why he felt the need to date chronically and dump women when he couldn’t commit to a relationship.
What were the odds I could wrangle an explanation out of the womanizing electramage on why he’d broken up with Izzah? I pondered the math. Less than fifty-fifty and definitely not in my favor.
Darius leaned against the front of his desk, facing the three mages. “You’re requesting what, specifically?”
Over twenty-four hours after leaving the guild, Darius and his team had finally returned to rest. These old men had more stamina than the young’uns. The guild master’s face was pale with fatigue, his clothes were damp from the on-and-off rain, and mud splattered his pants up to his knees. Silver knives were strapped to his hips, and as he spoke, he spun a steel bracelet around his wrist—a sorcery artifact, I was assuming.
“The demon’s movements have been unpredictable from the start,” Aaron explained. “Since it targeted Ezra once, it’s a reasonable bet that it’ll target him again.”
From my spot behind the three mages, I nodded along. I would’ve expected Kai to do the talking—he was the eloquent, bossy one—but Aaron had a closer relationship with Darius. Every Crow and Hammer member was assigned a mentor from the guild leadership team: someone to oversee their activities and training, handle personal or professional issues, and administer discipline. My mentor was Felix, while Aaron’s mentor was Darius.
“Considering how poorly the tracking efforts have gone,” Aaron continued, “it’s worth a shot to lure the demon out. I’m requesting permission to form a team with Kai, Ezra, and Tori.”
Darius studied Aaron, then his gray eyes turned to Kai, Ezra, and finally me. “With two encounters between the four of you, how would you assess your ability to handle a direct attack from the demon?”
“Ezra will be our early warning system,” Aaron answered promptly, “since aeromages can sense movement without seeing it. He’ll also act as our defense. Properly prepared, he’s well equipped for it. Me and Kai will bring the firepower. We can inflict heavy damage in a short time.”
“And Tori’s role?”
“Her familiar, Hoshi, will act as backup surveillance, since she can get a bird’s-eye view of our surroundings. Tori will be our communications point, since we can’t count on having free hands to call in the demon’s location. We’ll also equip her with tools to help distract the demon in a worst-case scenario.”