“What will you tell Ruby?” Eli asked. He and I were sitting on the patio of the backyard. I’d sent Clark inside so I could talk to Eli on my own. The problem was I didn’t know what to say. His taking the lead helped give me a place to start.
“I think we should wait to tell her until after we’ve dealt with Newton,” I said.
“Wait, you’re not going to send me away?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“But I made you cry.”
“I needed to understand your power, and I do now. I’ll be able to feel it clearly now,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “So after we deal with Newton….”
“You’ll tell Ruby about using your magic to ensure she’d let you stay. She needs to be able to trust you truly. If we’re going to stick together after Vegas, she deserves a chance to decide without you swaying her,” I said.
“But if I tell her the truth and earn her trust without the magic, that’s enough for you to trust me too?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What about Clark?” he asked.
“Knowing him, he’ll be watching you closely while we’re in Vegas. Sorry to put more pressure on you while we’re there. I know this is going to be more stressful for you and Ruby because of your experience with Newton,” I said.
“I’ll be okay.”
“It’s okay not to be. You’re walking towards your abuser. Even if you believe I can get the best of him, we’ll understand you being scared,” I said. I didn’t need him to play a tough guy.
“Oh, I’m terrified. But I can handle that. Between the four of us, I know we can figure out a solid plan,” he said.
“We’re not making a move without more than one plan. I don’t know Newton, but I know enough about Cerebremancy that we’re not taking any unnecessary chances.”
“Agreed,” he said.
“We should go back to sleep. There’s another long day of driving ahead,” I said. We relaxed as much as either of us was likely to get until we finished our work in Las Vegas.
I shadow-stepped us through the sliding door rather than make the unnecessary noise of opening it again. Eli gently punched my shoulder before walking toward his bedroom. I took his initial resignation as a good sign. He would have left if I told him to; that willingness to let me choose told me what I needed to know. He could have attempted to sway me with his magic again. If he were too reliant on that ability, I would have sent him away. I had hope for him, though. I wasn’t sure how long it would take Ruby to trust him once she knew. She might stop trusting me, too, for knowing and not saying anything. It wasn’t outright mind control, but it was close enough that I could see her have a problem accepting it. Once Newton was gone, though, would she even want to stay with us? She wouldn’t have to run anymore. The Coven wouldn’t be looking for her or Eli; they wanted Clark and me.
“You okay?” Clark asked when I stepped into our room.
“I’ll be fine. He’ll be more careful with the power,” I said.
“Are you sure you want to let him stay? It’s not his magic working subconsciously?” He asked. It was a reasonable question. If Eli’s power was strong enough to inspire worship, could it linger without me knowing?
His power holds no sway over you. Umbra reassured me.
Thank you, Umbra. My shadow familiar didn’t need more than that. They understood the depth of my gratitude the same way they understood precisely when to pull me away from Eli. They knew me better than anyone could. Even Clark, with his open invitation to join me in my dreams, couldn’t match the synchronicity between Umbra and me.
“Umbra purged his magic from my system,” I said. Clark couldn’t hear Umbra’s explanation. “He’s powerful and knows what we’re going up against. I’m keeping him around for the right reasons.”
“Those are the practical reasons. But I think you have more than just those,” he said.
“I don’t have a thing for Eli.” I remembered the lust I’d felt only half an hour earlier, but it was gone now.
“I’m not jealous. I didn’t mean anything like that. But you care about him. I think you see part of yourself in Ruby and Eli,” he said.
“You’re probably right,” I said. He was definitely right. After what Vincent did to me, I knew better than most what it was like to have all choices stripped away because of someone else’s greed. I was too tired to get into that tonight, and he thankfully recognized that in my tone.
I got into bed, and he held me until I fell asleep. His magic sent me into a dream of walking along the shore of a midnight blue river. The river cut its way through a golden canyon that glittered in the moonlight. A water dragon swam alongside me. Its obsidian scales shone with golden patterns that matched the stone of the canyon. Clark appeared by my side and took my hand. I felt his magic searching to make sure that Umbra hadn’t missed anything. He wouldn’t find anything. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to be sure. He couldn’t feel the reassurance Umbra had given me while I was awake. As far as I knew, I was the only one who could hear the shadow. Maybe that was different in dreams, though. I reached out for my familiar and felt their consciousness flow into the dragon. The gold on the scales disappeared, turning it into a shadow creature.
“Can he hear you here?” I asked.
If you want him to, Umbra replied. Clark looked curious but not concerned by my comment.
“I do,” I said.
“Hello, Dream weaver,” Umbra said. The dragon’s mouth didn’t move, but the voice still came from there.
“Your shadow?” Clark asked me. I nodded. “You can call me Clark.”
“Thank you, Clark. I am Umbra,” the shadow dragon said. For a long moment, they were both silent. Their shadow magic and dream magic intertwined. They didn’t need words in this space to understand each other.
“Thank you for protecting him,” Clark said. Umbra nodded.
The river went on, and we walked out of the canyon. Clark and I stopped at a cliff where the river became a waterfall. Umbra took to the air instead of following the water down. They’d never flown before. Living shadows weren’t subject to gravity, but they still needed contact with the surface below them. I felt the joy of flight as if it were me flying free of the river and letting its water drizzle off with every move. Clark and I could have joined Umbra in the air, but I was happy to hold Clark’s hand and watch the dragon dancing in the sky.