“Did you kill him?”
“No, I’m not a killer.”
“Won’t he just come right back then?” Ruby asked.
“Yes, but by the time he gets here, we’ll be gone, and your essence will be wiped clean. Go pack,” I told her. I had a lot of practice scrubbing my essence from places. Granted, I never stayed in the same place for long; that made the spell a bit easier. Erasing her energy was harder since I’d know her for less than a day. I at least had the recent use of her powers to cut the lights to work off of. I focused on the lingering trace of magic in the hall. Once I’d isolated her magic there, I could feel it more clearly in the apartment. My magic and the pyromancer’s were both strong presences in the room, but Ruby’s technomancy was more subtle, like a quiet hum. Once I found it, I started drawing any sign of Ruby’s magic out of the apartment. She returned with a duffle bag slung over her shoulder. I waved her towards the door. With her on the other side of the threshold, it got easier to pick out the remnants of her power.
After gathering every trace of Ruby’s power in the apartment, I pulled back all the evidence of my power in the space. There was far less of it, but I didn’t want to take any chances. When I finished, the only magic anyone could detect there belonged to the pyromancer. Altogether, the energy I gathered wasn’t enough to cast any spells. That meant Ruby didn’t use a lot of magic at home. Considering the fact that Agent Boone was able to get in without issue, I worried she hadn’t even been warding the place. We’d talk about that later. First, we had to get as far from the building as possible.
“Are there any parking garages with lax security nearby?” I asked.
“Why?” she asked, keeping pace with me as we walked to the elevators.
“We’re going to need a car,” I said.
“I have one,” she said as we stepped into the elevator.
“Registered to your name?” I asked. If she answered yes, I would’ve abandoned her right there.
“Of course not,” she said, much to my relief. “I’m well aware of how easy it is to trace a vehicle. I’ve taken precautions.”
She didn’t elaborate. She started walking as soon as the doors opened wide enough for her to fit through. I followed her. It felt like that was all I’d done since arriving in Orlando. I wasn’t used to following people, and I didn’t like it much. Part of me couldn’t wait to get out of Orlando so that we were on even footing. The rest of me was still uncertain about Ruby. I wasn’t at all reassured when she stopped at a Tesla. We couldn’t keep a low profile in such a flashy car. It looked brand new with a shining red paint job. She opened the back door and put her bag on the back seat before looking at me. My concern must have shown on my face because she paused before closing the door.
“This is your car?” I asked, unable to keep the skepticism out of my voice.
“It’s one of the most high-tech cars out right now,” she said like that made it the most sensible car for a woman on the run. I had to remind myself that she wasn’t any woman. She was a technomancer, and for all, I knew that made it the perfect car for her. “Can you just trust me until we’re out of town?”
I got into the car. If we had to, we could ditch it once we were far enough from Orlando. Right now, I was more concerned about the Pyromancer catching up to us. Ruby showed me a lot of trust so far. I held my tongue and gave her the benefit of the doubt. Our versions of flying under the radar might be different, but she’d gotten away from a cerebremancer, and that was no easy feat. That alone was enough for me to put some faith in her ability. Either way, we didn’t have time to debate the subject of appropriate getaway cars while we both came so close to getting caught the past two days. When Ruby started the car, “I Know What I Am” by Band of Skulls came on the radio. I took it as a good sign.
My concern about Ruby’s chosen vehicle almost made me forget about my new shadowy companion. As she drove, I felt every dark corner of the city we passed in more vibrant detail. If having its container on my person enhanced my magical perception this much, I couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen when I set it free. The bloodlust I’d felt from it in the apartment made me nervous about testing that while we were confined to the Tesla. It didn’t seem right to keep it trapped. It was alive. It had emotions and urges. I had to find out more about it if I was going to set it free. I breathed deeply until the music and sounds of traffic faded to the background. The shadow’s mind was waiting for me.
“Hello Blessed-One,” the shadow said. Its voice was soft and welcoming.
“My name is Milo,” I thought. The shadow heard me without me speaking the words aloud. It was odd to have knowledge come to me so clearly without being told. “Do you have a name?”
“I’ve had many. The closest in your tongue is Umbra,” it said.
“Is it safe for Ruby if I let you out of the sphere?” I asked.
“I will only hurt those who you wish me to. My kind are guardians for those blessed by the shadow like you,” Umbra said. Images of Umbra at the side of other witches filled my mind. There wasn’t as much violence as I’d expected. The companionship between the shadow and the witches was different for each of them. Umbra would relish the chance to protect me, but I didn’t need to worry about them hurting the people around me without rhyme or reason.
“What do you need? Do you eat or sleep? How do I take care of you?” I asked.
“If you release me from this vessel, I will bond with you and your magic. It will sustain me,” they told me. I saw a vision of the last witch Umbra bonded with, cutting their connection and sealing them into the gold cage. She was dying, and she wanted to give the shadow a chance at finding another shadow-blessed witch. I felt the loneliness that her loss created like it was my own. It wasn’t far off. I’d been friendless since running from the Coven. It seemed that if things went well, I’d be moving on from Orlando with more than just two allies. If I let them in, Umbra and I could forge a bond like the ones they’d shared with all the witches before me.
Everything about Umbra felt right. They couldn’t lie to me and vice versa. Before feeling this connection, the idea of being bonded like this would have scared me. But there was no judgment in the shadow. I took the small golden sphere out of my bag and twisted the top so that Umbra could get out. A surge of power flowed around me. The living shadow settled deep within my existing shadow. New eddies of power were within my reach. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know what my limits were. The connection between us would only grow stronger. I’d glimpsed what our combined power could do in the visions Umbra shared. But for now, I settled in to the new security that they gave me. I could get used to this quickly. Maybe it should have worried me. I’d lived with fear for so long that it felt strange to be without it. I felt a smile spread across my lips. We were going to be all right.