Home > The Alchemist and an Amaretto (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #5)

The Alchemist and an Amaretto (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #5)
Author: Annette Marie

Chapter One

“Listen carefully,” Kai said, his low voice muffled by his black headgear, the bottom piece covering his lower face. “This will be tricky.”

I bobbed my head fervently, clutching my weapon to my protective vest. We were crouched behind a broken wall, our hiding spot cast into shadow by a wooden tower on the other side. Beyond the fragile protection of the crumbling plaster, shouts and cries for help echoed among the derelict structures.

Kai leaned so close his visor clacked against mine. “The enemy has the better position, but they’re hemmed in and can’t maneuver. We can.”

“I’m hit!” someone howled off to my left.

“Team Two is down,” Kai observed with a clinical glance in the direction of the outcry. “It’s up to us now. Our primary targets are in the second tower. How should we approach?”

He was asking me? Gulping, I poked my head over the wall to survey the terrain. An overcast sky shed diffused gray light across the scattered bodies that lay amidst broken walls and small buildings with empty windows. The second tower loomed eighty feet away, surrounded by open space, except for a rusting van parked almost underneath it.

The enemy was inside the tower, two shadows moving in the darkness beneath its low roof.

Without any cover, sneaking under the tower to climb the ladder would be impossible. If we’d had more team members, we could’ve created a distraction, but it was just me and Kai, and call me a coward, but I’d rather stick close to the most competent guy on the battlefield.

I evaluated the buildings one more time, then ducked down again. “If we can reach that two-story building south of the tower, what are the chances you could make it to the van?”

He peered over the wall. “If you cover me, I think I can make it, but the van is exposed to the tower. They’ll snipe me from above.”

“That’s why you need to go inside the van.” I grinned behind the vented plastic shielding my lower face. “The sliding door is open, see? While I cover you, you get in the van, climb across the passenger seat, then bam! You’re under the tower.”

“Hmm.” He checked his weapon, making sure it was ready to go. “All right, let’s do it. Lead the way.”

I knew why he’d decided I should lead, but still. Didn’t he want to make it through this alive?

Grimacing, I straightened my helmet, hefted my heavy black gun, and launched forward. Kai followed on my heels as I sprinted away from the sheltering wall, making a beeline for an open doorway.

Enemy fire burst from the tower. Brightly colored projectiles shot past us and exploded on the hard-packed dirt. I dove forward, came down on one shoulder, and rolled through the doorway before popping up on the other side.

Kai rolled in after me and together we cut across the interior and leaped through the empty window frame at the other end. I ducked behind a cluster of barrels as enemy fire burst against it in a spray of pink and green liquid. Kai opened fire on the tower. I sprinted to the next doorway, then shot at the tower while Kai ran to join me.

We were in the two-story building. Now we had to reach the north-facing window so Kai could make the final run. We crept through empty rooms, colorful evidence of past battles marking their walls. The floor of the second story had caved in and I glanced nervously at the dark gap overhead as Kai and I inched toward the north-facing window.

A crunching footstep above us.

Kai whirled, his gun swinging up, and he fired before I even spotted the dark silhouette at the gaping ceiling’s edge. Yellow liquid peppered the man’s chest and he staggered back into a wall, then slid limply down it, his gun clattering to the floor.

More shots erupted—and green exploded across Kai’s back. He pitched forward as I whipped my gun up, shrieking for no particular reason as I pulled the trigger on the second man. Paintballs flew wildly over his head as he sprang off the opposite edge of the gap and landed in a roll beside me. His leg swung out, sweeping my feet off the floor, and I fell.

He caught me, flipped me onto my front, and pinned me down.

“Gotcha,” he declared.

A click. Kai, lying on his side three feet away, aimed a black pistol and pulled the trigger. Pop pop pop.

The weight vanished off my back, followed by the crunch of a collapsing body. I lurched up and grabbed Kai’s arm as his aim wavered.

“Kai!” I gasped. “Kai, stay with me!”

He groaned, the pistol flopping out of his hand. Swearing, I turned to my attacker and pulled his headgear off.

Ezra grinned hazily, his chest splattered with yellow.

“I knew it was you,” I complained.

He caught my arm, mismatched eyes widening in emphasis. “Tori … avenge me.”

“We’re on different teams, Ezra.”

His grin flashed again, then his eyelids drooped and his hand fell off me. I gulped back a wave of anxiety. Mythics took paintballing to a whole new and extreme level—and I wasn’t sure I liked it. It was downright alarming.

Grabbing my gun, I crept to the window and stuck the weapon outside, dangling it by the handle.

“I surrender!” I shouted as I dropped my gun to the ground.

A hidden enemy wolf-whistled. Rolling my eyes and ducking back inside, I picked up Ezra’s paintball gun, the hopper heavy with ammo. Oh yeah, baby. I put my back to the wall beside the window and waited, ears straining and an evil smile pulling at my lips.

When I heard steps rasping across the dirt, heading toward my window, I sprang out from behind the wall. Loosing a banshee scream, I blasted the four enemy mythics advancing on me.

They shouted and flailed, unprepared for my sudden attack. I cackled wildly as green goop sprayed across all four before they could get their guns up.

Stinging pain burst over my torso and pink liquid splattered off my vest. More shots flew from the tower—damn snipers—and I stumbled back from the window. As rapid numbness spread through my limbs, I staggered to Kai and fell onto my protective kneepads.

“Together,” I slurred, collapsing beside my teammate’s unmoving form, “into the sweet release of death.”

The next thing to penetrate my awareness was cold liquid hitting my forehead.

I gasped and got a mouthful of something horrifically bitter. Gagging, I opened my eyes. Sin’s smirking face, framed by long teal hair, hovered above mine as she held a flask over my forehead.

“Nice finish,” she said.

“Thanks,” I replied hoarsely. My throat was sore. I needed to remember not to scream every time I fired my gun.

As Sin pulled off Kai’s headgear and poured the antidote on his face, I pushed myself onto my elbows. Ezra was already sitting up, his headgear beside him as he tugged his gloves off. His dark brown curls were tangled and damp, his forehead beaded with Sin’s potion.

“You were fantastic,” he complimented, smiling broadly. “I hope we’re on the same team next time.”

I didn’t know if it was the smile, the compliment, or his smooth-as-silk voice, but my stomach fluttered like a drunken butterfly. Damn it.

“Where’s Aaron?” Sin asked as Kai stirred awake.

“Upstairs,” Ezra answered. “Kai got him. Usually, I’m the one with stealth issues.”

Chuckling, Sin wandered off in search of the stairs.

“Tori.” Cearra’s head and shoulders appeared in the empty window frame, her blond ponytail splattered with green potion. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“Did what?” Ezra asked.

The apprentice sorceress glowered at me. “She called out that she surrendered and threw her gun outside, then fired on us when we moved in to capture her.”

Ezra blinked—then burst into laughter. My innards did another dumb somersault.

“It’s not funny!” Cearra burst out. “It was underhanded and dishonest and—”

“And something you should have expected.” Andrew, the fiftyish-year-old team leader, stopped beside her, framed in the window. He pushed his goggles on top of his head. “That’s exactly the kind of trick a cornered enemy might pull.”

I tried not to look too smug.

“But,” Kai interjected as he sat up, rubbing his shoulder, “don’t go out in a blaze of glory in real combat, Tori. We can’t rescue you if you’re dead.”

“Did I hear that right?” Aaron leaned over the gap in the ceiling, peering down at us with bright blue eyes, his copper hair tousled. Behind him, Sin capped her antidote bottle. “How many did you take out, Tori?”

“Four,” I answered, my smugness intensifying as I smirked at Cearra.

Aaron laughed and the blond sorceress stormed off, her ponytail swishing.

We gathered our things and returned to the starting point in a big, chattering crowd. Teammates reunited with one another, laughingly commiserating over their unlucky “deaths” while Sin quizzed them on the potion’s effects.

“I still don’t get how it can knock us out through our gear,” Liam, our short and weaselly telekinetic, told her as he rubbed his shoulder like it hurt. Which it probably did. I remembered firing that shot early in the game. “Sleeping potions need skin contact, don’t they?”

“It isn’t actually the paintball that knocks you out,” Sin replied. “It’s the draft I had everyone drink at the start. Inhaling the paintball vapors activates it.”

A safety feature, I was guessing. No unlucky passersby could be knocked out by our paintballs.

“Hurry up,” Andrew called to the seventeen Crow and Hammer members—two teams of eight, plus Sin, who’d been in charge of potions and antidotes—as we milled into the parking lot after depositing our gear. “We need to get back to the guild and clean up before the monthly meeting starts.”

Sin and I joined Aaron, Kai, and Ezra, and we piled into Aaron’s SUV. Letting Sin take the middle spot, I guiltily stretched my legs out. I didn’t miss Aaron’s old sports car with its almost nonexistent backseat, and that made me feel worse about its early demise. Aaron was still half-heartedly searching for a new vehicle, and he’d rented a boring SUV in the meantime.

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