That had been two hours ago, and I found myself alone at the bar, perched tiredly on a stool with my laptop open in front of me. My proposal for the pub’s menu update was in a pathetic state, but all I could do was stare at the screen, my thoughts in disarray.
Kai and Aaron were on the second level, sleeping. Elementaria was the most physically draining class of magic, and I’d seen before how quickly it fatigued them. After expending so much magic in such a short time, they would need to rest for the better part of the day.
Ezra wasn’t sleeping on the second level. He’d disappeared after his checkup, and I had no idea where he’d vanished to.
I should go find him. Make sure he was okay. Make sure he …
Nausea churned in my stomach, competing with gut-clenching fear. Whenever I closed my eyes, I could see it: crimson light veining the demon’s arms, sparking over its fingers, surging out of its flesh; an arctic chill rolling off its body, freezing the puddles and frosting every surface.
And I could see crimson light snaking over Ezra. Glowing over his hands. Forming intricate spells around his arms. I could feel the frigid cold radiating from his skin, hear the crunch of ice under his feet, taste the wintry frost in the air.
I couldn’t ignore it. I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t noticed.
Ezra’s cold, crimson magic was identical to the demon’s.
My throat tightened and I pressed my hands to my face. Ezra’s secrets. Ezra’s temper. Ezra’s power. Power that no one else was allowed to see, that no one could ever know he possessed. Power that was all but indistinguishable from a demon’s.
Now I knew why the demon was hunting Ezra. How he’d survived his first fight with the hellish beast. Why Aaron and Kai had been so confident the demon would attack him again. But what did it mean?
What was Ezra? Not a mere aeromage, that I knew. He wasn’t a contractor either. He hadn’t called a demon out of an infernus to fight for him. This was something else. Something … forbidden. I stared blankly at my menu proposal, my gut twisting into knots.
A pink Gucci purse dropped onto the bar beside me. I dragged my eyes off the laptop screen as Sabrina slid onto a stool.
“Hey,” I said, attempting to sound normal and not halfway to a panic attack. “Do chili cheese fries sound appetizing to you?”
“Um … not really.”
Unsurprised by her answer, I reached for the keyboard to make a note in my proposal, then did a double take at the diviner. “Wait. What are you doing here? Non-combat members are under house arrest until the demon alert is lifted.”
“I know.” She smiled wanly. “I snuck out.”
She’d snuck out of her safe home to trek into the demon’s active area? Then she’d entered the guild where, at any moment, an officer could notice her and realize she’d disobeyed orders?
I eyed her disbelievingly, then asked, “Are you okay?”
Sabrina normally looked ready for a photoshoot, with flawless makeup and a salon-styled blond bob, but she wasn’t wearing a fleck of makeup and her hair hung limply around her face.
“I needed to see you.” She twisted her hands together. “I’ve been doing a lot of readings … trying to predict something useful to help with the demon search … but none of my readings will work.”
“They won’t work?” I repeated in confusion.
She rubbed under one eye, the fragile skin marred by tired circles. “The spreads are nonsensical. The cards have nothing to do with one another or outright contradict each other, but … two cards have turned up in every single reading.”
Reaching into her purse, she pulled out two black and gold cards. On one, a carefree traveler was about to step off a cliff, and on the other, a black-cloaked grim reaper held a bloody scythe.
“The Fool and Death,” she whispered.
I scowled to hide my apprehension. Those two cards had shown up before: the Death card had made itself a nuisance shortly before a near-deadly confrontation with an evil sorceress, and the Fool card had popped up right before my new life at the guild had fallen apart. Neither image inspired happy feelings.
“I think,” Sabrina said slowly, “the deck keeps showing me these cards because they’re tied to you. It’s a message.”
“Not another message.”
“That’s the purpose of the cards—to deliver messages. I need to do a reading for you, Tori.”
I opened my mouth to refuse, but her stress and worry were so blatant I couldn’t. Whatever was up with her cards, it was urgent enough that she’d risked her life to come and see me.
Puffing out a breath, I turned on my stool to face her. “All right. Let’s do it.”
She smiled in relief, recovering a fraction of her usual energy, and pulled a fabric bundle from her purse. She unwrapped her deck and spread the silk scarf over the bar like a tablecloth, then set the Death and Fool cards aside.
“I cleansed the deck before I came,” she said, shuffling the cards at warp speed. “A clean slate. And I’m leaving those two out”—she tilted her head toward the rejected pair—“so they don’t dominate your reading.”
Placing the shuffled deck face down on the silk, she spread it into a broad fan. “Choose six cards. Take your time, but don’t overthink it.”
Rolling my shoulders uncomfortably, I stared at the cards—far more than a standard deck of playing cards. How was I supposed to choose?
“Try closing your eyes,” Sabrina advised. “Go by instinct.”
I closed my eyes and stretched my hand out. Hovering it over the deck—or where I thought the deck was—I waited for divine inspiration to guide my touch. Ha, yeah right. I was as open to divine guidance as I was to pyramid schemes.
I lowered my hand at random. My fingertips found a card.
“Okay, first one,” Sabrina said, her words accompanied by the slithering sound of her extracting the card. “Choose another.”
I waved my hand around and dropped it down on another card. We repeated the process four more times, then Sabrina instructed me to open my eyes.
Six face-down cards were now arranged in a circle. She gathered up the remaining deck and set it aside, then studied the six rectangles I’d selected.
Breathing deeply, she composed her expression. “Normally, you would pick the cards while focusing on a problem or question for which you want direction, but the cards’ desire to deliver a message is so strong I think they’ll tell you what you need to know.”
How I would love to snort and roll my eyes at the mystical mumbo jumbo, but this magic was as real as Aaron’s fire. I’d seen the evidence already.
“In this spread, we start with the card that represents your current situation.” Sabrina turned the top card, revealing a woman wearing a crown and holding a sword and a scale. “Justice. An ominous beginning …”
Why was I not surprised that we were starting with bad news? “What does it mean?”
“You will need to make a decision soon—something that will irreversibly change your future. A choice you can’t come back from.”
Oh goody. Who didn’t love those kinds of decisions?
She touched the next card. “This one represents the cause of conflict.”
Flipping it, she frowned at the horned creature that dominated the card. A naked man and woman stood on either side of it, loose chains around their necks, the ends held by the beast.
My stomach sank to the floor. Under the illustration was the card’s name: The Devil.
Sabrina tapped her cheek. “Hmm, not what I expected. Are you having issues with addiction, Tori?”
“What about a new obsession? An unusual fixation? Wanton temptation?”
“No, no, and no.”
She studied my face, then the card. “Could The Devil represent someone else in your life? Someone trapped by addiction or a compulsion of their own?”
The heavy weight dragging my innards to the earth’s core grew colder. I said nothing.
“Let’s see what the other cards reveal.” Her fingers nimbly turned the next one. The air rushed out of her lungs. “Oh.”
Even if her dismayed exhalation hadn’t been a dead giveaway, the card’s illustration was hardly inspiring: a heart impaled by three swords. How much did I want to bet the heart represented mine?
“The Three of Swords,” Sabrina whispered. “Heartbreak. Loss.”
I pressed a hand to my hollow gut. “Is someone going to die?”
“Let’s keep going.” She hastily flipped over the next card, revealing a robed man holding a wand in the air. “The Magician! Yes, this is good. This means the loss you’re facing is within your control—you have the power to affect the outcome.”
That was encouraging, but also terrifying. “So, you’re saying … I can maybe prevent someone from dying, then?”
She nodded and flipped over the second last card. “Oh, hmm. The Seven of Swords.”
“I got that card in my first reading. It meant … betrayal? Because someone was deceiving me?”
“The Seven of Swords is the thief.” She pointed to the image of a man sneaking off with an armful of stolen weapons. “In this position in the spread, it speaks of you, not others. You are the thief.”