When the elevator doors closed, a button appeared above the existing ones. Newton pressed it, and it activated an enchantment. Magical energy surrounded us for a few seconds. When it dissipated, the doors opened to a penthouse. The living room was large enough that they divided it into two distinctly spacious areas. To the left, a couch, loveseat, and two overstuffed chairs formed a sitting room. They were all positioned so that whoever occupied them could easily see the grand piano. I wondered if he liked to play or had some brilliantly talented pianist he compelled for parties; either seemed likely given what I’d seen of him so far. The right side of the room featured a large table with at least a dozen chairs around it. Everything about the space told me he liked to entertain guests.
“Sal,” Newton called as he stepped off the elevator. I followed him, and when the doors closed, the wall closed around the opening. The white and silver oak leaf wallpaper wouldn’t split apart to let me leave without Newton’s say-so. “Salvador?”
“Wyatt?” a man with blond hair just like Newton’s stepped into the room. “I didn’t know you were coming. Is everything okay?”
“I need healing,” Newton said, holding up the hand I’d stabbed.
“What happened?” Sal asked. He took the cloth away from Newton’s hand and examined the damage.
“I stabbed him,” I volunteered. He looked me up and down with a calm expression. I’d hoped that he’d emote more so I could tell if he was a potential ally, also under compulsion or an enemy like Newton. He turned back to the wounded hand without giving me a hint either way. It must not be all that surprising for his boss to walk in with the people who attacked him in tow.
“It looks deep,” he said. He held his hands over Newton’s and closed his eyes.
“I was going for his neck,” I said. Still, he didn’t rise to my bait.
“That’s enough, Milo,” Newton said. There was no magic in his words. He expected me to obey him the first time. I didn’t test him. I wanted to avoid him using his magic on me as much as possible. How many others were thinking this same way, though? How many people were living with the illusion of choice, knowing that illusion could shatter on someone else’s whim?
“Are you hungry?” Sal asked. “Hoyt was about to start dinner.”
“Tell him to make two more plates,” Newton said. “I hope shadow-stepping works up an appetite. Hoyt’s cooking is divine.”
“I could eat,” I said. It was late but I guess when you live in a city with an active nightlife it was easy to become a night owl.
“Go with Sal and don’t hurt anyone,” he said, this time with magic. It was unnecessary. He was the only one I planned to hurt.
“This way,” Sal said and started walking back the way he came. The kitchen was just through the doorway on the other side of the table. A tall bald man looked up from the onion he was cutting as we entered. He raised a questioning eyebrow but didn’t speak. “This is Milo. Milo, this is Hoyt.”
“I hear your cooking is divine,” I said, mocking Newton’s tone. The bald man gave me a sympathetic smile.
“Hoyt can’t speak,” Sal said.
“Wyatt didn’t like his voice,” a woman said, closing the refrigerator door.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said. I’d been expecting horrible things, but I hadn’t considered how much Newton would take from someone and still expect them to serve him. The bald man shrugged as if to say it could be worse. I didn’t doubt that, but it didn’t forgive what was happening here.
“I’m Tina,” the woman said. She looked like she’d combined Morticia Addams and Marylin Monroe’s style. She poured a very generous amount of wine into an expensive-looking glass and handed it to me. “If you’ve made it into the penthouse, you don’t need to apologize to anyone.”
“Tina,” Sal said in a warning tone.
“Calm down, Sal. Wyatt’s not stupid,” she said.
“No, I’m not,” Newton said. I couldn’t see myself calling him Wyatt like they did. Maybe they didn’t have a choice. He looked amused. Tina turned her back and got another glass of wine, filling it just as much as the one that she handed me. She handed the bottle to Hoyt and sipped her glass. Hoyt took a swig straight from the bottle. Newton turned his smile to me. “Sal, why don’t you show Milo around.”
“Will he be staying?” Sal asked.
Newton stood sideways in the threshold for us to pass. I followed Sal. Past the sitting area, there was a hallway that went on longer than I expected. Sal said the name of each occupant as we walked past the doors to each bedroom. Past Sal, Hoyt, and Tina, there were rooms for Brittney, Clint, and Ruby. I almost asked him to clarify it was the same Ruby I’d been traveling with around the country. I felt the familiar energy of her technomancy on the other side of the door. Sal finally opened a door on the right side of the hallway. A blank slate of a room waited for us to enter. It was comparable to the master bedrooms Clark and I shared on our way here, at least in terms of size and amenities.
“Every bedroom has its own bathroom. You won’t have to share. As long as you’ll be staying here, you can customize the room to your liking. Cost is no object. Just tell Ruby what you would like, and it will arrive as soon as possible,” Sal said.
“How thoughtful to let us decorate our cage,” I said.
“There are worse places to live,” Sal said.
“The others don’t seem concerned with lying to themselves. Why are you?” I asked.
“What’s the point of being miserable all the time? If you can’t change a situation, isn’t it better to try to make the best of it?” He asked.
“Who says things can’t change?” I asked. Two could play at answering questions with questions.
I felt Umbra’s presence enter the apartment and dismissed myself to the bathroom. Tears were already streaming down my face before my familiar found me. I twisted the top of the golden cage, and it drew the living shadow into it. Their confusion was strong enough that I still felt it even with our connection weakened. I held the cage to my mouth and apologized softly. Keeping my voice low, I promised to free him as soon as possible. Sal might have been ready to accept this situation, but I’d find a way to free us.