Three Mages and a Margarita (Page 32)
At the farthest table, Aaron was bent over a laptop and Ezra was perusing a stack of printed papers. Kai sat beside Ezra and I dropped into the seat beside Aaron.
“How was class?” Aaron asked.
“Success,” I declared. “Kai broke at least eight hearts without speaking a single word.”
Ignoring that, Kai asked, “Find anything?”
“Dirk Peters, the sorcerer, was easy since we had his name,” Aaron told us. “As for the kryomage …”
He clicked a tab open and turned his laptop toward me. A photo popped up—a man in his thirties with buzzed hair and a narrow face dominated by a square jaw. A name was displayed underneath: Sergei Durov.
“Looks like Ice Guy,” I confirmed.
“I thought so too.” He spun the laptop to show Kai. “Good news is we’ve identified them. Bad news is they’re both rogue. Since they aren’t working alone, I’d say they’re part of the same guild, but figuring out which one will be tricky.”
Kai studied the kryomage’s profile, then flipped his own laptop open. “I’ll see what I can find.”
Aaron slouched back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head. “Excellent. I can relax now.”
“Lazy ass,” Kai commented, his attention fixed on his screen.
“You’re way better at this detective shit than me.”
I stifled another yawn, drained after my bad night. “How’s this all work? How did you pull up a photo like that?”
“The MagiPol database,” Aaron explained. “They have an online network called the MPD Archives that contains all their information about everything. Different mythics have different levels of access, but you can look up almost any mythic or guild. It’s also where jobs, bounties, and bonuses are posted. The two guys we need to find are unguilded, meaning they’re rogues with bounties for their capture.”
“Unguilded? But didn’t you just say you think they’re part of a guild?”
“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.”