The Coven witch was still on the floor when we stepped out of the shadows. Her surprise and confusion were still fresh on her face. Umbra moved ahead of me and restrained her. They looked like a translucent snake repeatedly wrapped, pressing her arms tightly against her torso and covering her mouth and eyes. Between my shadow-familiar and the darkness of the room, she’d be hard-pressed to see much more than blurs of us moving around her. It didn’t matter as far as hiding our identities. She’d already recognized me, or she wouldn’t have been following me. Keeping her in the dark would help keep her disoriented, and I could use that to my advantage. Umbra’s constriction had the added benefit of telling me she was a bibliomancer. I’d only met one other bibliomancer before. If she was anything like him, she’d be resourceful and sagacious.
“Ruby, I need you to keep an eye on the other Coven witches in the hotel. Eli, get everything with writing on it out of this room and any pens and paper,” I ordered.
“On it,” Ruby said. She went to the bedroom. Eli didn’t say anything; he just started moving around the room, quickly gathering anything she could use against us.
I tied her hands together with the twine I’d taken from Eli. I didn’t plan to return the enchanted string when we parted ways; it was far too useful. While I was already focused on her hands, I reached for her jewelry. The first ring let off a jet of pressurized air that knocked me backward. She had three rings on each hand, and I didn’t feel like finding out if they were all enchanted the hard way. I willed the shadows of the room to pull the rings off while I kept a safe distance. By the time I finished, three bracelets, a necklace, two sets of earrings, and an anklet joined the six rings on the desk. Eli checked her pockets and found a pocket dictionary, a notepad, three different color pens, a cell phone, and the Coven’s seal. He put the phone and seal with her other personal effects and took the rest to hide.
“Would you mind guarding the door, Eli? Ruby should be able to warn us if someone comes looking for our new friend, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
“Sure thing, boss,” he said. I nearly corrected him. It was better for him and Ruby both if it seemed like I’d hired them. The Coven might give them more leniency if they thought our link was transactional. A quick interview to see what information they’d give up and a time under Coven monitoring would be better than execution at my side. I waited for the door to close behind Eli before I asked Umbra to unwind from her eyes.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked, sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of her.
She nodded her head in an affirmative motion. She didn’t look scared. Immobilized and disarmed, but all I saw was stubborn determination in her eyes.
“You know what I’ve done?”
She nodded again.
“And you followed me anyway. You’re either very stupid or very ambitious. I suppose it could be a bit of both. Though I was under the impression that bibliomancers tend to be smart. I guess there’s an exception to every rule,” I goaded her, but her expression didn’t change. Either she had a plan, or she’d resigned herself to being a martyr. I had Umbra unwind from around her mouth.
When she opened her mouth, a glowing purple mist flowed over her lips and down to the ground between us. She must have cast it before I got the twine around her wrists. Umbra shrank away from the mist before letting her go completely and retreating to me. Anything that could hurt them was not something I wanted to mess with. I sank the mist into the void before it reached me. She was up and moving before I could close the opening. Her hands were almost to the Coven Seal when I activated my time slowing ear cuff. I vaulted forward, knocking her to the ground. The desk shook, and several of her effects fell off. I couldn’t right my balance, and we hit the floor too. She rolled us till she was on top and held her fists inches from my face.
“Move, and I will kill you,” she whispered. I hadn’t done any spells to find out what the ring she was holding could do. I was just thankful I’d kept her from getting the seal. That would let her call for backup from every other Coven member in the city.
“You need help out there?” Ruby called from the other room.
“No, it’s fine,” I said.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” the Coven witch said.
I couldn’t let her get to the seal, so I dropped us both through the shadows. We didn’t go far. I just needed to throw her off enough to get the upper hand again. I flipped us so that she was under me as we landed on the couch. She activated her ring just seconds after I knocked her hands away from my face. Sharp pain bit into my ear, I felt warm liquid roll across my face, and blood trickled onto her cheek and the couch. Umbra’s rage was enough to make them forget the pain this witch caused them. They coiled around her again, squeezing tight. The Coven witch froze, but I could see her considering her options. I was starting to see why she’d been so confident in the market. If we’d forced a confrontation while she was still in possession of her magical items, she might have been able to take us down. She was more adaptable than any other threat I’d faced recently. I wasn’t Vincent’s top student for nothing, though. A witch’s blood can be a powerful tool. All magic has its cost. For spells, it’s some energy and force of will. Curses, though, take sacrifice. Bloodletting is one of the oldest ways to access that kind of magic. I called on the magic in my blood and spoke the word Truth.
“When did you find out I was here?” I asked.
“I followed Icelus after Storm Ryder’s light show,” she said. Her face twisted in rage, but she couldn’t resist the curse’s power.
“He’d been acting strange. Something was distracting him. What did you do to him?”
“No, ma’am, that’s not how this works. I’m the one asking questions,” I said. “Did you report him?”
“No. I needed proof. I didn’t know about you until today. I only knew that whatever was splitting his focus was in this room.”
“Does anyone else know? Did you tell any of your peers about your suspicions?”
“Where do they think you are?” I asked.
“The Magic Markets.”
“Not one of them in particular?”
“I told them I was going to check them all,” she said.
“How long before they come looking for you?”
“Not until later tonight.”
“Good to know,” I said.
I used my enchanted ring to put her to sleep. Ice was safe. But I had to do something about this witch before the rest of her group came sniffing around.