After we finished eating, Newton dismissed everyone from the table except me. I stood to leave with the others, but he told me to stay. He didn’t leave it to chance this time, and he pushed his magic into the command. I froze in place; half turned away from him. I had to remind myself that he had plans for me. He wouldn’t kill me without cause, no matter what my instincts screamed at me as I stood there waiting for him to do something. I tried to push back against his magic with my own, but without Umbra, it felt useless. The longer I stood there, the stronger my fear that something horrible was about to happen grew.
“I think we should spend some time getting to know each other better, Milo. Don’t you?”
“I’d rather not,” I said. I couldn’t agree with him, given his command to answer him honestly.
“In that case, I guess it’s good that you don’t get a choice,” Newton said. I clenched my jaw, knowing it would do nothing to stop me from answering anything he felt like asking. “Come sit on the couch with me.”
I followed him to the couch and sat as far from him as the compulsion would allow. The questions never came. Instead, his magic pressed into my mind as if I had no defenses. I might as well have had none as far as he was concerned. My mental shielding was strong enough to guard the average witch or even a weaker cerebremancer, but his magic flowed in like they didn’t exist. The surrounding room faded, and for a moment, it felt like I was shadow-stepping. The scene that replaced Newton’s living room filled me with a different kind of fear, one I hadn’t felt in a long time. I hadn’t shadow-stepped. Newton pushed me into one of my memories.
Hades dismissed the class, but I stayed behind. I wanted to follow Ice out. We squeezed every second we weren’t training into our own little world. As the top of the class, I got the privilege of my own bedroom, which gave Ice and me a haven away from our peers. He didn’t have as much trouble fitting in as I did, but he didn’t force me to hang out with his friends. As soon as I finished my one-on-one lesson, I’d find him and we’d retreat to my room. I did my best to clear Ice from my thoughts, though. Hades and I would practice mind magic, and I didn’t want him getting a front-row seat to what Ice and I were doing in our free time.
“Are you ready? It’s going to be harder than yesterday,” Hades said.
“I’m ready,” I said.
The mind-reading spell poured over me like a tidal wave, looking for anywhere it could grip and yang away my defenses. I repeated the counter spell over and over, picturing myself as a stone. His spell broke through without me even knowing what I did wrong. I kept trying to push him out as fragments of my childhood flashed behind my eyes. This wasn’t exactly how it happened the day before. That time, his spell pulled the memories full and vivid as if I were living them. My defense was improving. He dropped the attack before he plucked any specific memory from my mind. I nearly collapsed when his magic cut off as if I’d been struggling against a physical force.
“Again,” Hades said.
Before I could respond, his spell came at me. I threw my counter up as quickly as I could, and our magic clashed. This time, I didn’t picture myself as a stone. It was an imperfect association. The waves only needed patience to erode a rock. I imagined oil instead—a foreign body on the waves, slipping over them but not mixing with the water. The barrier was sound, but it still wasn’t the right association. The waves could shake me apart and stretch me too thin. I imagined a spark, the oil igniting. A flash of memory came to me, but it wasn’t one of mine. Hades’s voice saying: he’s the one Temperance. An image of our leader filled my mind, Temperance Alessandra, the strongest cerebremancer in the country. I wasn’t supposed to know that. Trainees didn’t get to know Coven leaders’ names. And unfamiliar said: He talented Vincent, but I’m worried about how anti-social he is. He needs to believe in us and feel like he’s one of us. My mentor’s image came into the picture, Vincent Tanner.
“That was much better,” Hades said, cutting off his magic and the pieces of his memory with it. “It isn’t enough to keep me from seeing your thoughts, though. You need to be able to close your mind off completely so that I can’t influence it at all.”
“Let me try again,” I said. He didn’t realize that I’d found my way into his mind that time and glimpsed some of his secrets. My curiosity begged me to dive deeper.
“All right,” Vincent said.
His magic filled the room. I found the association I needed. It was actually embarrassing that I hadn’t tried it right away, but I excused myself because we were working in a new affinity. This time I was the shadow on the ocean floor. The waves didn’t touch me, and I slipped past them. Vincent Tanner’s mind was a dark graveyard, untouched by moon or stars. This didn’t surprise me, considering he was a powerful necromancer. Their magic had a higher risk of going dark than most. My magic made me comfortable in the dark, though. With surgical precision, I cut straight to the deepest part of his mind, a mausoleum made of black stone. It looked more like a gaping void than a building. I stepped inside, and thousands of memories flowed to me at once. Only one truly mattered. I watched Vincent kill my mother. She refused to hand me over to the Coven. It was no more than a whisper under his breath as she walked away. She collapsed seconds later. I didn’t need to see the rest. I remembered it from my own perspective well enough. I slipped back out of Vincent’s mind. He didn’t seem to notice that I’d ever been there.
“That was perfect!” Vincent cheered. His smile told me all I needed to know. He didn’t feel my magic glide in under his.
He dismissed me with the promise that we would practice more the next day. I walked straight to the armory; I took a knife, and I shadow-stepped to Vincent. The blade sunk into his neck smooth and fast. I jerked it through his flesh, making sure no amount of pressure to the wound would stop the flow. He never saw my face as his life poured out of him. I looked up to see Ice frozen in shock, unable to look away. Alarms started blaring, and the reality of what I’d done sunk in. I shadow-stepped to my room, grabbed what I could, and shadow-stepped again past the Coven compound’s property line.
Newton pulled me back out of the memory. He smiled at me from his seat on the couch. I was more than what he’d dared to hope for. I was a key in and out of the Coven compound. Only senior Coven leaders were supposed to know where the compound actually was. Without realizing it, I’d been carrying around Coven secrets plucked from Vincent’s mind. The memory of my mother’s death was traumatic enough that I locked it all up and avoided thinking about it as much as possible. It took Newton’s magic breaking through all my defenses to bring the memories back to the surface. I saw on Newton’s face what this meant. When he was ready, he could strike the Coven and break them before they knew what hit them.