The next week ran together. We drove from house to house, stopping each night to rest and plan. Every night, I expected Ruby to find an argument to convince us that this wasn’t the right thing to do. She never did. I knew she didn’t want to do this, but she’d resigned herself to this idea. I didn’t know if she’d agreed with our reasoning on a deeper level or if she just thought three against one was always going to be a losing battle. The latest safe house she’d found for us had a swing set in the backyard. While Eli and Clark were preparing dinner for us, she’d gone outside to sit on one swing. I watched her through the kitchen window as she looked up at the night sky. The days were getting shorter, and the weather was getting colder. The breeze didn’t seem to bother her, even though she wasn’t wearing a jacket.
I walked outside and sat on the second swing. The sky was beautiful. This house was miles from the closest town, and the lower light pollution let the stars shine brighter than I’d seen in a long time. The moon was full, making the view even more impressive. We sat together, silently admiring the cloudless sky. Umbra turned the sound of the wind rustling the trees and the night’s insects into a song only I could hear. There was nothing to threaten us. None of the local predators would come near us. Most animals could sense magic and intention. They were more likely to stay clear of it unless they felt a kinship with the magic. Those animals were destined to become familiars.
“You don’t have to come,” I said. She didn’t look at me, but I didn’t doubt she’d heard me.
“I do, though. Eli is right. In the back of my mind, I hoped for this. I told you we should run when I found you. But assassin or not, you’re our best shot.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t sit this one out. There’s no guarantee that this will work, and I don’t want him to get you under his control again,” I said.
“I appreciate that you’re trying to give me a way out, but there are people I care about trapped by his magic. They wouldn’t blame me for running. I think I have to see this through, though,” she said, looking at me with tears in her eyes. She dabbed at them with her sleeve. “Stop feeling guilty, E. I’m not mad at you about returning to Vegas. I’m just worried.”
“So am I,” I confessed.
“It would be stupid not to be, E,” she said. Clark waved at us to come in for dinner.
“My name is Milo,” I said. She’d trusted me to take her back to her worst nightmare and get her out safely; I wanted to show that I trusted her too.
“Well, Milo, let’s go eat.” She smiled and stood from her swing with her arm out for me to loop mine through. I stood, and we walked back into the house together.
“I hope you guys like chicken piccata,” Eli said as we closed the sliding glass door.
“Never tried it, but it smells delicious,” I said.
“I can’t believe Newton was using you as an enforcer when you clearly should have been his personal chef,” Ruby said. It was the first time I’d heard her say his name. She’d avoided saying his name so much that I’d wondered if he’d compelled her never to say it.
“He’ll never know what he was missing,” Eli said with a smile.
I felt myself smiling despite my worry that he was too confident about our chances. This was part of Eli’s magic. I’d examined it thoroughly enough over the days of scrubbing our presence from these houses. He had an affinity for ingratiating himself with others. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t using it consciously with us. Some gifts worked like that. This magic went beyond natural charm and made it easy for him to fit in wherever he went, even among distrustful people. It explained how he’d gotten on both Ruby and Clark’s good sides so quickly. If I’d known about it when we first met, I suspected I would have felt him using it to get my help to free him from Newton’s compulsion. Since discovering the ability, I’d done a spell to reveal true intentions and watched him closely. Nothing damning had come to light. I had one more thing I needed to ease my mind that he wasn’t setting us up. But I needed Clark’s help to do it. After dinner, we all went to our respective bedrooms without going over our plans for Vegas. We needed a night off.
“I need you to do me a favor,” I said as Clark and I started undressing for bed.
“Anything,” he said.
“Can you take me into Eli’s dreams tonight?” I asked.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked. It wasn’t a refusal, but he needed a good enough reason. Entering another person’s mind while they slept wasn’t something one did casually.
“I need to be sure that he’s on our side. I don’t think that he’s under Newton’s compulsion anymore, but I have to be certain,” I said.
“All right,” he said. “Has he done something to make you suspicious?”
“Nothing intentionally malicious. Have you felt his magic influencing you at all?” I asked. Clark’s affinity for dreams was a form of mind magic. It didn’t give him immunity to other related powers, but it made it easier for him to sense and resist them.
“No. Have you?”
“Very subtly. I don’t think he means any harm by it. If you take me to his dreams, I’ll do the talking, and you watch how he reacts.”
“Okay,” he said. He still looked hesitant.
“We can’t afford to take risks. If there’s even a chance that he’s not on our side, we need to lose him,” I said.
“What exactly is he doing?”
“Magical friend-making. It doesn’t sound sinister, but I don’t know how to classify it.”
“I trust your instincts,” he reassured me. “It’s just I want you to be sure about this. Do you think he’ll forgive us for mucking around in his mind? Assuming that he’s innocent, that is.”
“No, but it’s better than the alternative,” I said.
Whether he agreed with me or not, Clark didn’t argue any further. We got into bed. He held my hand, using his magic to ease me into sleep. He couldn’t do the same for Eli, so we’d have to wait until he started dreaming on his own. Until then, I drifted in a state of lucid dreaming.