Ruby was right about the food. The appetizer she’d ordered was the fried mac n cheese balls. They were good. The burger was better than any other I’d had in a long time. She had a second margarita. I refrained from saying anything despite my worries. We didn’t know each other well enough yet for me to make a comment. Between the two glasses of whiskey earlier and the two margaritas now she must have been at least tipsy. I hadn’t let myself imbibe since I started running. Alcohol wouldn’t diminish a witch’s abilities but I didn’t think it was smart to lower my inhibitions when I knew I was being hunted. Apparently Ruby didn’t share that opinion. It wasn’t enough to make me change my mind about working with her. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t be keeping an eye on her alcohol consumption to make sure it wasn’t endangering us.
“Shit” Ruby said.
“What?” I asked, barely able to keep myself from looking around for something that could have caused her exclamation.
“Agent Boone. He’s not working alone,” she said. I had no idea how she was getting the information. She didn’t have her phone or tablet out. I didn’t know as much about technomancy as I’d like. It was a new speciality relative to other types of magic.
“Is he still at your apartment?”
“Yeah but a witch just joined him.”
“Let’s go,” I said.
“We need to go get rid of them. If they get anything that’s mingled with your essence long enough they could track us,” I explained. I left a hundred-dollar bill on the table. Given Ruby’s skill set I didn’t think money would be a problem for us. She got up and started following me toward the door. I used a perception manipulation spell so that no one noticed us leaving.
“By ‘get rid of them’ you don’t mean killing them right?”
“No I don’t solve all my problems with murder,” I said trying to keep exacerbation out of my voice and failing. “Which way do we go?”
“This way.” She took off running. I followed close behind her. Whether she was tipsy or not it didn’t have any effect on her coordination. Whoever Agent Boone was working with hadn’t shown up to help him on the train. I had to believe that it was because this witch knew they couldn’t take me down. Even if they were a match for me I felt confident that one witch and one government agent wasn’t a match for two witches pumping with adrenaline. Ruby said she wasn’t very good at combat magic but she wouldn’t have to be to go head to head with Boone.
We didn’t have to slow down when we reached her building. The door was already open. So was the door to the elevator. There was someone already in it looking confused about why the door close button wasn’t working. The doors slid closed as soon as we passed them. The button for the third floor was lit but we kept going up without stopping for the man to get out. The elevator let us out onto the seventh floor and we left the confused man behind. We didn’t run the rest of the way. I gently tapped Ruby’s shoulder and signaled her to let me in front of her. I didn’t need her to tell me which apartment was hers. The door was ajar. I paused when we were right outside and I listened. I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was that I had to keep them from taking anything with them.
“I really don’t want to hurt you,” Agent Boone said. A soft laugh answered him.
“I think you might have our roles reversed. You should be worrying about your own safety,” a softer voice said. “It wouldn’t bother me at all to hurt you but I won’t have to if you tell me where the woman who lives here is hiding.”
Whoever this witch was they weren’t working with Agent Boone. That explained why they didn’t come to his aid on the train. It also blew my guess that I scared them out of the water. I didn’t want to walk into an unfamiliar space with no idea what this witch was capable of. I couldn’t think of any other options though. I pushed the door open until I could see both men. Agent Boone’s eyes widened when he saw me. I could have cursed him for that. The witch turned to see what had surprised his would-be victim. He smiled when he saw Ruby behind me. He gave me an appraising look as an afterthought and didn’t seem impressed. His hands burst into flames at a flick of his wrists. A lot of witches can manipulate the elements but that trick was a dead giveaway that he was a pyromancer.
“Put those flames out right now,” Agent Boone said. He didn’t manage to hide the fear in his voice. The witch’s smile widened. I needed to keep his focus on us.
“Ruby, get the lights,” I said.
Without a word, she cut all the lights in the apartment and the hall. It might have been the whole floor given the rush of power I felt coming from her. The pyromancer’s flames cast shadows in every direction. It was my turn to smile. I wrapped the darkness around his legs. He panicked and threw fire in every direction. None of it did any damage as the writhing blackness I controlled swallowed it up. I sent my magic further up his body until he was completely covered up to his neck. The light coming in the window from the city was the only illumination in the room. He wasn’t ready to give up though. Fire jetted from his mouth like he was a dragon. It didn’t reach us in the hallway. I clamped his mouth shut so that he couldn’t try it again.
“Agent Boone, you may want to leave,” I suggested.
“Are you going to kill him?” Boone asked.
“That depends on him,” I said.
“I can’t let you do that,” he said.
“You’re not really in a position to stop me,” I said. To emphasize my point I gestured toward him and the shadows engulfed him. I didn’t have time to debate morality with him. He landed in one of the dark alleys between the apartment and the restaurant. “Ruby, pack whatever you can’t live without. We can’t stay here.”
“On it,” she said. She walked around me cautiously watching the other witch.
“You have a choice to make,” I said to the pyromancer. “You can either go back to your boss and tell him that Ruby is off-limits. Or I can squeeze the life out of you and put your body somewhere no one will ever find it.”
“You may as well kill me,” he said after I drew the shadow away from his mouth. The living shadow in my bag liked that idea. For a moment it felt like I was the one eager to destroy this witch. I needed to be careful about when and where I let it out of its cage.
“Are you sure about that?” I asked. I wasn’t going to kill him but I squeezed him a little tighter. With him completely encompassed in my power, I could tell he didn’t have anything with Ruby’s essence on his person. Agent Boone must have distracted him long enough that he didn’t get a chance to steal anything.
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he said, his voice straining a bit. “If I went back to him without her, I’d be worse than dead. Go ahead and kill me now. I won’t go back to become one of his puppets.”
I sent him to the marketplace beneath the Lake Eola fountain. I couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t come after us again. Still, I couldn’t justify killing him. If he couldn’t go back to the cerebremancer in Vegas he at least had the option to run. We were a long way from Nevada. No matter how far this witch’s reach was it would take time for another witch to come looking in Florida. By then, at least Ruby and I would be long gone.