I woke up with Ice’s arm stretched across my chest and his hand gently rubbing my shoulder and upper arm. Clark’s arm. It was going to take a while for me to get used to that change. Black-out curtains made it impossible to tell what time it was. Umbra sat by the door, ready to defend me if necessary. They recovered faster than I did; the exhaustion wasn’t as heavy as when I last woke, but I still wasn’t at full strength. Hunger pangs reminded me that no matter how tired I was, my body had other needs. I put my hand over Clark’s, stopping it on its way back toward my shoulder. Despite my empty stomach, I wanted to stay there with him. We’d lost so much time when I ran, and I longed for a chance to make it up. But we weren’t safe. As long as we still had a witch loyal to the Coven with us, there was the risk of her calling them down on our heads.
“Morning,” Clark whispered in my ears.
“Is it morning?” I asked.
“For a little while longer, yes.”
“How long was I asleep?”
“Nineteen hours. I checked on you in your dreams to make sure everything was okay,” he said.
“I remember,” I said.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Still not 100%, but more hungry than tired.”
“Right. Of course. There’s plenty of food,” he said.
We got out of bed, and Clark led me to the kitchen. Umbra slipped into my shadow, making me feel more confident in my stride. I vaguely remembered Ruby giving us a tour of the house, but it seemed more like a dream than the black sand beach where I’d told Clark my real name. Eli welcomed us into the kitchen. He was already cooking thinly sliced steak and onions in a skillet. I hadn’t processed how spacious the kitchen was when we first arrived. The island didn’t make the room feel crowded despite being the size of a twin mattress. It had a black and green granite countertop. The rest of the kitchen followed that color scheme. The walls matched the forest green flecks, and the appliances were all glossy black. I didn’t even know what several of them did. I knew the basics of cooking well enough to follow uncomplicated recipes. The nomadic life I’d been living didn’t include many kitchens, though.
“You’re up! I hope you like steak sandwiches. They’re almost ready,” Eli said.
“It smells great,” I said.
“If it’s anything like the rest of his cooking, it will taste even better than it smells,” Ruby said. She walked into the kitchen from the other side. “Turns out Eli is a master chef. I’ve told him he’s never leaving. I hope that’s okay?”
“As long as you guys are okay with it, he can stay as long as he likes,” I said. Eli was smirking at me. I’d told him to win Ruby over, and apparently, it hadn’t taken him very long.
“Here you go. Eat up,” Eli said, putting plates down in front of Clark and me. He’d had two sandwiches in the oven melting cheese on top. He moved the meat and onions from the skillet into two more hoagie rolls and put cheese slices on top of those before sliding them under the broiler. “Should I make one for our guest in the panic room?”
“Yes, and a second one for E, it looks like,” Ruby said. I’d burned my mouth on the first bite, but after a very low-level cooling spell, I was already halfway through my sandwich.
“No problem,” Eli said.
“How is she?” I asked.
“Annoying. She said she’ll only speak to you,” Ruby said.
“She’s keeping herself from sleeping by biting the inside of her mouth,” Clark said.
“So we’re no closer to getting your answers,” I said. I knew he was uneasy about her being able to shrug off the dream magic he’d used on her.
“I don’t want to resort to hurting her. If she doesn’t tell us at all, then we can leave her here. If we take the blocker off her, the Coven will find her before she even gets too hungry,” Clark said. He was right. As long as we had our blockers and kept moving, the Coven would have difficulty finding us even if they got her back.
“Agreed. I’ll see if I can get anything out of her. If not, how soon can we move on?”
“I can have another safe house for us by the end of the day,” Ruby said.
“Go ahead and start working on that. Whether she talks or not, I’d like to keep moving,” I said.
I took my second sandwich and one for the bibliomancer with me. The panic room was in the master bedroom’s closet. The homeowner built it into the closet, which was already the size of a small bedroom. I couldn’t even imagine how over the top this person’s main house must have been. I watched the witch on the control panel. They’d tied her to a chair at her wrists, ankles, and waist, but she didn’t look scared or anxious. Clark called her Calliope. In the myths, Calliope was the leader and most outspoken of the muses. I’d seen enough of her magic to trust that she’d earn that name. The door opened without my prompting, a good thing since my hands were full, and I had no idea how the control panel worked. Ruby’s doing, I was sure.
“My associates told me you wanted to speak to me,” I said. Once I was through the threshold, the door closed behind me. My magic cut off. I didn’t need to look above the doorway to know that there was a sigil above it. This was how the Coven kept prisoners. It made me a little nervous; invoking magic they’d designed wasn’t a beacon or anything, but I’d gotten used to avoiding Coven magic.
“Associates? What are you? Some kind of crime ring?”
“That would be interesting, but no. We’re not criminals,” I said. I set the plate on her lap then started eating my own sandwich. I would untie her hands after we’d finished talking.
“You are. You’re a murderer,” she accused me.
“Fair enough. But you can’t paint them with the same brush.” I didn’t actually know if any of my companions had killed anyone. Maybe Eli had, but I doubted Ruby would have. If Clark had killed anyone, it was definitely under the Coven’s command, so I wasn’t willing to lay that blame on him.
“They’re helping you that at least makes them kidnappers,” she said.
“As I remember it, you were desperate to come with us. None of the other Coven witches leaped headfirst into the shadows with us,” I said.
“You think that you’re clever, but even if you kill me, the Coven will catch up to you,” she said.
“I’m not going to kill you. Believe it or not, but I don’t go around killing everyone who gets in my way.”
“Just Senior Coven Leaders then?”
“Only Vincent Tanner,” I said. It didn’t matter if she believed me or not; my motive wouldn’t make me any less culpable.
“Why?” she asked.
“What does it matter to you? You’ve already made up your mind about me.”
“Vincent was my godfather.”