Common sense screamed at me to back away from the door, but terror kept me rooted to the spot. There were three of them in there, their big black coats cloaking them like bat wings as they walked across the restaurant, inspecting the scene.
“Magic,” said one, kneeling down over the headless gargoyle that Dex had killed.
“One of us?” asked another.
The first shook his head. “Master Mortoph told us to come here and slay Mythics, and that means it was a Mythic that did this.”
The other grunted his agreement, while the third checked out the gargoyle I had set on fire. A weak shudder came from its body, and in the blink of an eye the man had drawn a sword and rammed it through the dying gargoyle’s chest. Glowing white lines spread through its body, and it crumbled to gravel.
“We need to get out of here,” Dex whispered, sounding more scared than I’d ever heard him before.
“Can’t you fight them?” I asked.
He paled. “No! Not in a million years, no!”
He turned, and I followed his eyes to see the fire exit in the back of the kitchen. There was nothing in between us and it, making it our most obvious escape route, but what would happen if we used it? Even if we managed to get out undetected, the fire alarm would tell the three black coated men exactly where we were.
I glanced out at them again. Two of them were busy kicking the gravel into a pile, while the third rammed his own sword into the headless gargoyle’s chest, destroying it too. None of them were the bald, bearded man I’d met three years ago. The one who had yanked out my tooth and then all but disintegrated Victor. That had to be a good thing, right? Unless they were all like him. The thought sent a tremor of fear down my spine.
I looked back, and stifled a gasp when I saw that Dex wasn’t there anymore. He had crept to the back of the room, toward the fire exit. A flash of yellow came from the other side of the door, and I looked out to see them casting a teleportation spell around the pile of gravel they’d made, warping it away before the police could see it.
“Amber, come on!” Dex whispered urgently, and with some difficulty I tore myself away from the scene outside to crawl toward him.
But then I heard the words I’d been afraid of hearing all along.
“The ones who did this are still here somewhere. Go search the kitchen!”
I froze, then panicked when I heard footsteps coming toward the door. Dex was waving frantically for me, but I couldn’t think straight. These guys were worse than Majestic. Worse than Hendricks, even! If they caught me…I dashed across the room to hide in a cabinet by the stove. Just as I closed the door behind me, the double doors burst open and one of the black coated men stormed in.
Dex gave me a look of absolute betrayal, and then dove to hide beneath one of the tables.
The man didn’t move, and for a second I was terrified that he’d seen us. But then, with slow, deliberate steps, he made for the office. I swallowed hard. He wouldn’t find us there—obviously—but the mess we’d made would confirm their suspicions that someone else was here. He stood there in the doorway for a few seconds, eyes shifting left and right, before grabbing the big wooden desk with one hand and flipping it over as easily as if it’d been a tv tray.
I jumped, but let my breath hiss between my teeth when I saw that it was just Dex. He waved for me to make for the door again. I glanced at the coated man. He was still looking around the office, and the other two were searching the restaurant, so this was my best chance to get to the door without him noticing.
Holding my breath and praying that the hinges wouldn’t squeak, I eased the cabinet door open and headed for the door as quietly as I could. I was halfway across the kitchen from it, but I didn’t dare run for fear of my footsteps alerting the man to—
I saw Dex’s eyes widen, and I knew without having to be told that the man was turning to leave the office. Looking around, I jumped into the first hiding spot I saw.
Unfortunately, that happened to be the oven.
It was too late to rethink things now, so I reached out and closed the oven door behind me just as the man came back into the kitchen. Safely hidden behind the refrigerator, Dex facepalmed.
This isn’t that bad, I thought defiantly. It’s not like he’s going to turn the oven on or something…
That didn’t help me feel better. If there was one thing in the world that was worse than being killed by these guys, it was being cooked alive by them.
To my horror, though, it was straight toward the oven that he came next.
I watched him through the little glass window, trying not to move lest I shake the oven. He was a big man, over six feet tall, and with shoulders that would have made a football player jealous. His coat was so large I could have used it as a sleeping bag.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he said softly, stopping right outside the oven. He didn’t open the door, but he didn’t walk away either. “I know you freaks are here. Let’s get this over with, and I’ll make it as painless as I can!”
I was struggling not to hyperventilate now. He was less than a foot away. If I’d opened the door just a crack, I could have reached out and touched his coat. I waited, heart pounding painfully in my chest, for him to go away…but he didn’t. A tilt of my head showed me Dex peeking out from his hiding place at me. He put his finger to his lips, then slowly drew his scepter…
Oh no, I thought, visions of three years ago already flashing in my mind.
But instead at firing it at the man in the coat, Dex turned and shot a tiny bit of energy—barely more than a spark—at the utensil rack on the other side of the kitchen. It hit a big metal ladle, which clanged against another, which hit another, breaking the silence like the world’s worst windchime. The man spun around and charged in that direction, and I didn’t need to be told what to do. Pushing the oven door open, I uncurled myself and dropped to my hands and knees. There was a metal table a few feet away, covered with salad ingredients, and I dove under it. To my surprise, Dex came to join me.
“What are you doing?” I hissed. “The door is that way!”
He shook his head. “I’m going to do something, and when I do, I need you need to run back to the grate we came in from. Okay?”
“Are you crazy? There are still two more of those guys out there!”
“Not for long. Tell me you understand!”
I glanced over my shoulder, where the man was tearing things off the walls now to find us.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’ll be right behind you.” He looked up at the fire exit and took a deep breath. “One…Two…”
“I’m not going anywhere without you!”
Before I could protest, he exploded out from under the table and threw the fire exit wide open. The alarm immediately began to blare, but instead of going through it Dex spun to the side, whipped open the refrigerator door, and dove inside it.
“They’re getting out through the fire exit!” the man yelled, charging past less than a foot away. Half a second later the other two followed him. I held my breath, sweating bullets. All they would have to do is look down, and they’d see me. It would all be over.
But they didn’t. They didn’t give the kitchen so much as a second glance before racing through the door, swords drawn, leaving me and Dex alone.
“Come on, before they come back!” Dex said, bursting out of the fridge.
He didn’t need to tell me twice. Scrambling out from under the table, I followed him back into the restaurant. The place was still in shambles, but all traces of the two gargoyles had vanished. I didn’t wait for Dex to help me lift the heavy metal grate, instead grabbing it and yanking it free with my werewolf strength.
“In!” he yelled.
I did as he said, and he followed right behind me, heedless of how cramped it was. Once the grate was pulled back into place, he shoved me forward and I began the long crawl back the way we’d come. My heart was still racing. As horrible as that had just been, it had still been too easy. Any moment now, one of those magic swords would come down through the top of the pipe, turning me to ashes.
But nothing happened, and a few minutes later we found ourselves back in the dry concrete canal we’d been in earlier.
“Oh…my…God!” I croaked, sitting down hard. “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!”
“Next time I tell you to hurry,” Dex snapped, “do it!”
We sat there for more than fifteen minutes, just catching our breath. Finally, though, I pulled out the map I’d found in the trash can and exchanged a look with Dex.
“You ready to end this?” he asked.