We made it to the highway before I woke up. I sat across from Temperance Alessandra, tied to a chair with magical restraints. Everything had felt so real. I had no idea when she’d started manipulating my thoughts. Had Ruby and Eli come and she’d caught me somewhere in the chaos? Did we even leave the penthouse? For that matter, I didn’t know how to be sure that I was actually sitting with this cerebremancer. What if I was still with Newton? He could have fabricated everything I’d experienced the past few hours. Was it possible that I’d never left the Coven after killing Vincent?
“Your friends came to free you and Icelus. They are in the holding cell next to yours now. I thought I’d take the opportunity to do an experiment,” Temperance said. She’d heard my spiraling thoughts and wanted to reassure me. Part of my mind wanted to pursue the paranoid thinking further, but I forced myself to stop. That was a one-way ticket to insanity.
“Did you discover the results you hoped for?” I asked.
“I like what I saw. I put you through a self-guided scenario nudging you along the way. At every opportunity, you chose to preserve life even if it would result in more danger for you and your friends,” she said. “I’ve been told repeatedly that you’re too dangerous and I should have killed you instead of bringing you back here. And while I believe you are dangerous, I’m not convinced killing you is the right thing to do.”
“I’d rather not die if I get a vote,” I said. She smiled. I wondered how long it had been sense someone dared be sarcastic with her.
“But you would if it meant that your companions would be safe. That’s not the attitude of a rough anarchist out to overthrow the Coven,” Temperance said.
“I never wanted to overthrow the Coven,” I said.
“I believe you. You put yourself in harm’s way to save me and this organization when you could have run,” she said.
“No, I couldn’t. Newton would have come after me. Maybe not immediately, but if he won and took over the Coven, he would have found me again.” She smiled wider than before.
“You’re smart. Vincent told me as much. I still remember how much he bragged about you,” she said.
“I’m not sorry for what I did to him,” I said.
“Are you always this honest?” she asked.
“Not much point lying to a cerebremancer, is there?” I asked.
“Fair enough. I’d like to know what happened between you and Vincent,” she said.
“Why not just pluck the memories from my mind?”
“It’s not a fun process. You’ll relive the experience exactly—”
“I know what it’s like. Newton beat you to it,” I said.
“Ah.” I heard caution in her voice. We both knew what had to happen, though. She pressed forward. “May I?”
“What happens if I say no?”
“A trail in front of the Coven Leaders,” she said.
“Where I will lose the illusion of a choice you’re giving me now,” I said. “Let’s not bother with the spectacle.”
The memory didn’t change under Temperance’s power, but going in and coming out of it felt smoother. Newton had raw power, but she refined her talent. While Newton plunged me in and tore me out of memories, Temperance’s magic led me in and out, quick and smooth. I blinked once, and I was with Vincent. The next blink after I killed him I was back in the room with Temperance. She looked sad, but reserved. If she was going to cry, it would not be in front of me. I wished I could give her a moment to herself, but being tied to the chair as I was, the best I could do was turn my face away and stay as quiet as possible.
“I’m sorry. I should have known,” she said. Under any other circumstances, I’d have tried to comfort her, but I couldn’t argue with her. If anyone could have seen what Vincent was doing, it should have been her. I didn’t want any excuses she could offer. I didn’t want to be understanding. “The other Coven Leaders will absolve you too.”
“What about Icelus?” I asked.
“Without him, we might not have learned about the situation in Las Vegas until it was too late. It is enough to pardon him for desertion.”
“And my other friends?” I pressed my luck, but I didn’t know if I’d get a chance like this again. It felt like Temperance would have given me whatever I asked for in that moment.
“I’ll make sure they’re released as well,” she said. “If you’ll go with the guard outside, I’ll arrange everything.”
I did as she asked, despite my paranoia telling me I should try to escape rather than let a guard walk me back to a glorified prison cell. The look on her face was enough to convince me not to listen to that part of my mind. What she saw in my mind shook her. If I were in her shoes, this would make me question my judgement. She’d trusted Vincent more than she should have. I had a feeling that she’d feel guilty about that blind faith for a long time. The guard took me back to the room Clark and I shared since arriving. He was sleeping soundly, unaware that I ever left thanks to Temperance.
When we woke the next morning, an invitation sat on a nightstand that hadn’t been there when I fell asleep. It was more of a summons than an invitation, no matter how it had been worded. A guard waited outside our room to escort us to breakfast. Ruby and Eli were already in the room when we got there. Ruby stood and rushed to hug me. She repeatedly apologized despite my attempts to tell her I didn’t blame her. If the hug was anything to go by, I’d say that not all of our time together was an act. It would take us some time to work out how much was deception and how much was genuine, but I was glad to put in the time once we’d gotten as far from the Coven compound as possible. Ruby’s embrace only ended when Temperance ended the room.
“I hope you weren’t waiting too long,” Temperance said. I was confident she knew we’d just arrived, but didn’t call her out.
“Not at all,” Eli said. I could feel his magic reaching out to Temperance. I couldn’t blame him. We could use her good will. She wasn’t likely to be drawn in, though.
“Let’s get started then,” she said. Ruby and I both took our seats, followed by the Coven Leader. After Temperance filled a plate for herself, the rest of us did the same; it never hurt to be cautious with food from supernaturals even if you’re a supernatural yourself. “I’ve spoken to the other Coven Leaders and they’ve agreed that the four of you have done us a service valuable enough to pardon your crimes.”
“So we’re free to go?” Ruby asked, a bit too eagerly.
“If that’s what you choose,” Temperance responded. She had something else in mind.
“What are our other choices?” I asked.
“The world is changing. I believe that we, as an organization, need to change with it. Each of you has power and perspective that could be useful to us,” she said to me, before turning to Ruby. “You’ve proven that we’ve been remiss when it comes to newer branches of magic. Technomancy is still in its infancy and we’d like to learn more about it. Elijah, your affinity for drawing people in would be very helpful as we navigate mundane politics. Icelus, you already know your value here. And Erebus, it would seem that you’ve already been performing the role we’d planned for you. We didn’t know of Vincent’s treachery before you put an end to it and without you the situation in Las Vegas could have gotten out of control.”
“How long do we have before you need a decision?” Clark asked.
“I can give you three days.”
Three days didn’t seem like nearly enough time to decide what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. We wouldn’t be getting any more time, though. I knew that Temperance’s offer couldn’t have been a unanimous decision from the Coven Leaders. Even if we’d earned our pardons, some of them wouldn’t trust me or Clark again. It isn’t easy to forgive and forget, especially when the thing they’re supposed to let go of is the death of someone they considered an equal. My revelation of Vincent’s secrets would no doubt have more consequences in the coming days. I might have more enemies than friends among the Coven Leaders when all was said and done.