My mental image of Las Vegas shattered as we drove up to the house that Ruby found for us. I imagined the classic tourist version with brightly lit casinos and costumed people everywhere. All I’d seen so far were lawns of dead grass. A few people embraced the desert climate, filling their front yards with stones and cacti, but even those didn’t suit my aesthetic preferences. I knew from the drive in that Nevada was not for me. Even without a power hungry cerebremancer threatening the city, I would have fled at the first opportunity. The sun and heat seemed omnipresent. I knew that we’d missed the hottest part of the year, but moving down from 100 to 90 degrees didn’t console me much. I’d built my wardrobe to help me blend into shadows. Dark colors and long sleeves practically invited heat stroke. I resolved not to spend any time outside if I could help it.
The house we pulled up to had the nicest yard I’d noticed so far. The owner filled made a tiered landscape filling each level with a different type of bush or shrub. A fountain overflowed from the highest point and flowed through an irrigation system that must have been custom-built for the plants. The upkeep had to be pricy, but if our previous accommodations were any indication this wouldn’t be the biggest luxury on offer. The garage door opened for us and we pulled in. I never appreciated this feature so much in any other city. I opened the car door to a wall of heat. Thankfully, Ruby had cranked the air conditioner up before we even arrived. I didn’t care if I was being dramatic; I sighed with relief at the chill of the kitchen.
“Anyone else hungry?” Eli asked, already walking toward the fridge to check the supplies.
“I could eat,” Clark said.
“Same,” Ruby agreed.
“Yeah,” I said.
Ruby pointed Clark and me in the direction of the master bedroom before leaving the kitchen in the other direction. Eli was already piling food on the kitchen island before we left him to his cooking. Settling into a new place felt routine by this point. I wanted to pretend a little while longer that this place was like every other stop we’d made. If it was any other place, I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that I was in the same city as my intended victim. Even knowing how dangerous and corrupt Newton was, that was the only way I’d been able to think of him since we’d agreed that he had to die. I had never thought of anyone like that before. Even Vincent. I killed him in a state of rage. There had been plenty of time for me to think about it and justify my actions after the fact. But it hadn’t been a cold or calculated murder the way this would be.
“Are you okay?” Clark asked. I looked up from my bag to see the concern on his face.
“I don’t know,” I said. If I’d told him I was fine, he’d have known I was lying. He came around the bed to hold me. I rested my head on his shoulder.
“You don’t have to do this.”
Milo. Umbra rushed back to me with an image of a witch watching our house.
“Turn off the lights,” I said. I closed the curtains to shut out the afternoon’s light.
“What’s going on?” Clark asked, not waiting for a response to follow my order.
With the room as dark as we could get it, I sent Umbra back outside with my mind still linked to theirs. The witch didn’t notice the independent shadow sweeping toward his car. We slid into the shadows below the vehicle and seeped up into the shadows of the interior’s floor. He only noticed something was amiss when the shadows at his feet began pulling him down. His struggle to stay in his seat was short-lived. I have control of the shadow step, so Umbra surged up. They cut through his seatbelt, knocked his grip loose, and covered his mouth all in a second. As the witch fell onto the bed of the master bedroom, he tried to get Umbra off his face. My familiar wrapped themselves around the man’s mouth and eyes. Clark flicked his hand forward and spread his fingers wide. The restraining spell forced the man into a starfish position on the bed. I concentrated on his wrists and ankles, willing the shadows of the room to hold him in place. Clark let his spell go once I was sure I had control.
“What’s going on?” Clark asked.
“He was watching us,” I explained. Umbra, can you check his pockets?
Umbra’s form stretched to envelop the man’s body completely. A tidy pile of items rose out of the shadow in the corner to the right of the bed. Clark went over to the pile and picked something round up. He brought it back over to me. It was a Coven seal. I wasn’t expecting that. I’d assumed this man worked for Newton. No matter who he worked for, I worried about him finding us. Our blockers should have prevented anyone from tracking us, and we hadn’t stepped out of the car since crossing the state line. Was it possible that he’d spotted us at one of the rest stops? It didn’t seem likely to me, but I couldn’t think of another explanation. If the blockers weren’t working, the Coven would have caught up to us long before now. They were busier than ever, but they wouldn’t take Clark’s desertion lightly, especially after the brief kidnapping of their bibliomancer.
“I’m going to unbind your mouth. If you scream or try to cast a spell, we will hurt you. Nod if you understand,” I said. He nodded. Umbra released his mouth. “How did you find us?”
“The boss always has us watching for new arrivals,” he said. That wasn’t a party line. Coven agents didn’t refer to any single witch as their boss.
“That’s not Coven protocol,” Clark gave voice to my thoughts.
“How do you know?” the witch asked. He didn’t sound annoyed or angry. In fact, I thought he sounded hopeful.
“We’re Coven trained,” Clark answered. It was better than telling him we were criminals in the Coven’s eyes. The witch’s face lit up like he’d just found his savior.
“Ah, welcome to town. I can show you around. Are you here for business or pleasure?” he asked.
“Business,” I answered.
“Very good. If you wouldn’t mind releasing me, I can introduce you to the other local Coven witches. I’m sure we can help with whatever needs to be done,” he said.
“That will not work for me,” I said. I touched my sleep enchanted ring to his forehead and his head dropped back, hitting the pillow.
“Something’s off about him,” Clark said.
“You don’t think that he’s under Newton’s control,” he said. I could tell how much he wanted me to reassure him, but I couldn’t.
“It would explain why the Coven hasn’t come to do anything about the situation here. If he’s controlling the agents here and having them send in the all clear whenever they need to check in, the Coven leaders would be none the wiser.”
“I’ll see if there are traces of cerebremancy in his subconscious,” Clark said.
It felt like a formality. That explanation made too much sense. If he was careful, Newton could slowly expand his control past the city limits. What if he already had? How many Coven witches worked for Newton without them knowing he’d taken their people? This was dangerous. The Coven wasn’t perfect but Temperance didn’t control the organization with her cerebremancy. They were trying to navigate a safe way for witches to live in the mundane world without hiding anymore. What Newton was doing could ruin that and lead to fear of our abilities. I didn’t doubt what I needed to do, but this witch complicated things. How long would it be before Newton would expect him to check in? How long did we have before he found out we were coming to end him?