I must have hit the ground harder than I thought because Ruby came out of the bedroom with a baton in one hand and a taser in the other. She had access to magic, and instead of preparing a spell to help me, she brought mundane weapons. I would have laughed if not for the look on her face. I saw the determination in her every move when she placed herself between the other witch and me. He immediately raised his hands in surrender. I was sure that he could have done something to defend himself if she were to attack first. She held her ground. The whole reason she approached me in the first place was to fight for her, but here she was, ready to throw down with the witch I should be protecting her from. At least, this proved the other commands that Mr. Newton gave the witch were gone. If he were still under orders to capture Ruby, he’d be doing more than just standing there with his hands up.
“I’m all right, Ruby,” I said. I didn’t want her to do anything rash.
“You sure?” she asked.
“Yeah.” I stood back up and patted myself down.
“So what happens now?” the witch asked, still holding his hands in the air.
“We start with your name, or a nickname is fine, if you like,” I said.
“Elias,” he said. “Or Eli works too.”
“Okay, Eli. I’ve got some questions. For starters, how did you find us?” I asked.
“Mr. Newton has a clairvoyant. A strong one,” he said.
“Since when?” Ruby asked.
“Two weeks ago. The boy doesn’t know what his powers are being used for.”
“The clairvoyant is a child?” I asked.
“Couldn’t be much older than ten from the look of him,” Eli answered.
“Can we keep him from seeing where we are?” Ruby asked.
“Not without a powerful enchantment,” I said. I didn’t have the skill to make something that could block every form of magical detection. I bought a necklace that protected me from clairvoyants when I first started running. It had cost me my entire savings at the time. Money wasn’t a problem but finding a witch capable of making such an item wouldn’t be easy.
“My enchantment skills start and end at tech-based magic,” Ruby said.
“What about you, Eli?” I asked. His ring was comparable, at least in power level.
“My talents are more offensive.” He rubbed his hands together, and as he drew them apart, electrical currents sparked between them. Ruby’s taser wouldn’t have even phased him.
“Can I speak to you privately?” Ruby asked me.
“Sure,” I said. We went into the bedroom. I didn’t bother telling Eli to stay put. He wasn’t going anywhere. She gestured towards the door, and I felt the power of her privacy spell taking hold.
“Why are you so friendly with my would-be kidnapper?” she asked.
“If he were going to attack us, he’d have done it by now. He just failed the scariest man in Nevada. If I’m right, he will want the same kind of protection we need to find you. We don’t have to trust him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use him,” I said.
“What’s the plan?”
“We need to find someone with an affinity for enchantments. It’s not going to be cheap. We don’t know what kind of clairvoyant Mr. Newton has. Worst case scenario, he’s already set another of his lackeys on our trail.”
“Do you really think that all the compulsions are out of his system?” she asked.
“I can’t guarantee it, but I’m optimistic,” I said.
“I hope you’re right,” she said.
“I’ll be ready for it if I’m wrong.”
Ruby dropped the privacy spell, and we joined Eli in the living room again. He was sitting casually on the couch. She was right that we couldn’t trust him. Even if he was truly free of compulsions, we didn’t know the quality of his character. Mr. Newton could be as powerful as Coven Leader Alessandra and still wouldn’t be able to compel everyone around him at all times. More likely than not, he used money and threats instead of relying on his power to inspire loyalty. Cerebremancy takes a lot of magical energy. Controlling his whole operation that way would leave him too exhausted to do anything else. Elias might still be loyal to his boss despite how little his life seemed to be worth to Mr. Newton. If the reward for bringing Ruby back were big enough, his best bet now would be sticking with us until he saw an opening.
We used the specternet to find Atlanta’s closest magical market. It was within walking distance from the hotel. I didn’t mind going on foot to avoid giving Eli any more information than we had to. Ruby’s car was something I wanted to keep secret. The sun was rising as we left the hotel. Thankfully most magical markets are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We might have to wait around for a specific merchant depending on the time of day. Still, someone there would at least have helpful information for us. Considering how specific our goal was, I wasn’t putting too much of my hope on this particular market. There were three others close enough to hit them all in one day if we had to. Chances were that at least one of them had a skilled enough enchanter to make the shield we needed.
When we got to the roof of the parking garage, several conventioneers were walking around. They were all looking for something; that much was clear. It must have gotten out that the entrance to the market was up here. I recognized the Coven’s spellbook in the hands of a few different people. Some of them were reading off spells without enough focus to get any results. It would take them so much more practice before they got good enough to gain access on their own. None of them even considered the elevator with its doors half open and caution tape warning them away. Knowing what we were looking for made it easy to see through the illusion of disrepair. Unfortunately, at least half of them looked at us like we were the second coming. Something, maybe our lack of costumes, pegged us as their ticket in. I knew a few spells that could have gotten us to the elevator unnoticed if I’d been casting them before we were spotted.
I led the way to the elevator. A couple of the tourists looked at us like we were crazy, but most of them looked on eagerly. Only three of them were brave enough to actually following us. The magic of the illusion tingled as we walked through it. To the people watching us, it would look like we vanished. Our three brave followers joined us in the elevator. I watched the rest of them look on in astonishment as the doors closed. They’d have to wait for a return trip, but they all knew the secret to get in now. If we hadn’t shown them, they would have stumbled upon it eventually. The elevator kept going down, even after its lights indicated we’d reached the bottom floor. When the doors opened, I saw we weren’t the only ones who’d led newbies into the market.