Temperance left us to discuss our options. Throughout breakfast, she’d given us expansive plans for what we could accomplish if we worked within the Coven to change it for the better. I couldn’t get her initial words out of my mind. And Erebus, it would seem that you’ve already been performing the role we’d planned for you. Vincent planned for me to be the Coven’s Blade. I hated the idea of becoming what he wanted me to be. A moral person might have objected to the idea of becoming an executioner. It certainly wasn’t a future I’d imagined for myself, but given the trajectory of my life so far, I’d spent more time thinking about survival than planning a future. The closest thing I had was a determination to keep Clark with me. If he wanted to stay with the Coven, I could figure out a way to live with the rest, as long as it meant being with him.
We left the meeting room in favor of going outside. It didn’t actually decrease the odds of the Coven eavesdropping, but the fresh air made me feel a bit less like a prisoner. I picked a shady spot and sat on the grass. The four of us sat in a circle, ready to talk about what we were going to do. Now that we weren’t in our holding cell or a meeting room, I felt safe taking Umbra’s cage out and twisting the top. My shadow familiar rushed out and spread out in the shade the tree granted us. They deserved to be a part of this decision, too. Umbra had promised to stay by my side, and I didn’t want to shackle them to a future they didn’t want.
“It’s not a bad offer,” Eli said. “I worked for my fair share of jerks before Newton, and I’ve done plenty of things that I’m not proud of. It might be nice to know I’m working for the good guys.”
“Is that what they are? They had a bounty out on Milo. They would have killed him if they’d caught up to him before he took care of Newton for them,” Ruby said.
“It’s not as simple as good and bad. They represent balance, or at least they’re supposed to be. That doesn’t always mean everything they do is good,” Clark explained.
“They’re a mission. Staying would mean committing to that,” I said.
“What do you think, Milo?” Eli asked. “Is that mission worthwhile?”
“If their goal were still to keep magic hidden from the mundane world, I’d say no,” I said. How different would my life be if they’d stopped trying to hide magic sooner? How many lives did they ruin trying to maintain that status quo?
“But?” Ruby asked, sensing I wasn’t done.
“Helping the world through this time of change and protecting the magical community from the blowback is a worthwhile pursuit,” I said. None of them looked convinced. My answer was true, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stay. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go either.
“We don’t have to stay,” Clark said. “They’d find other witches for all the things Temperance offered.”
“I know,” I said. I couldn’t tell what he wanted. “How much did they change while you were still with them?”
“Quite a bit, but most of the work is still ahead of them,” he said.
Before I could say something else to tip Clark’s hand, I noticed someone walking towards us at a brisk pace. I recognized the bibliomancer from the determined look on her face. I’d nearly forgotten about her with everything that happened in Las Vegas. The memory lapse clearly wasn’t mutual, based on the look on her face. Umbra and I were ready to shadow-step all of us if she tried anything. I felt both Clark and Eli ready spells. At least I wasn’t the only one who thought this wouldn’t go well. She couldn’t have been waiting long for rescue after we left her in that safe room, but the speed of her gate would’ve convinced anyone that we’d tortured her, and she was ready for payback.
“Calliope, nice to see you again,” I said.
“Don’t for a second think that we’re going to become friends just because the Coven Leaders pardoned you,” she spat.
“I’d never be so presumptuous,” I said. She had every right to hate me, but I still couldn’t bring myself to fake remorse. I probably didn’t have to be quite so sarcastic, though.
“I don’t care what they say. I know what you are. One day you’ll slip up, and I’ll be ready for it,” she said.
“Is that all?” I asked. She looked ready to throw a fireball at my head.
“I don’t know how he’s convinced the rest of you that he’s not a monster, but you’ll regret siding with him one day.” She turned and walked back toward the compound with the same anger in every step.
Ruby got up and started walking along the tree line surrounding the Coven property. I turned to Eli and Clark with a questioning look. They both shrugged in confusion. She might need a moment to herself, but I didn’t want to chance it. Something about Calliope’s confrontation upset her. I’d been asleep for most of Ruby’s interactions with the bibliomancer, so maybe I’d missed something in that time. Of the three of us, I knew her best. I followed her, catching up without much trouble. She didn’t say anything when I came up beside her. She looked like she wanted to cry but could get the tears to come.
“I don’t deserve to be here,” she said after we’d gotten far enough from Clark and Eli to prevent eavesdropping.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I know that Clark’s right about this place being more complicated than that binary idea. But for so long while I was with Newton, I thought of them that way. I thought they were the good guys and that one day they’d ride in and set us all free from the compulsions. I don’t deserve to be here because I’m not one of the good guys,” she said.
“It wasn’t just you, Milo. You were only the most recent. There are so many supernaturals who lost control of their lives because of me. I found them, and I tricked them into going to Vegas,” she said.
“We don’t have to stay here,” I said.
“It’s what Clark and Eli want. And you want to be with Clark. I could leave you three here to build a new life, but I don’t want to be alone. If they choose to leave because of me, it’s like I’m taking away their choices again.”
“You didn’t have any more control than anyone else who Newton compelled. Anyone who believes otherwise is fooling themselves,” I said. “But Ruby, what if joining the Coven wasn’t about deserving to be one of the good guys? What if working with them was a way to put things right? Neither of us can take back the pain we’ve caused, and there will always be people who judge us for our pasts. But if you want to start making amends, this is a decent place to start.”
“You think so?” she asked.
“I’m not positive that this is the right place for me. I spent a lot of time being terrified of coming back because I thought it would be to die. But now that I’m here, it’s nothing like I imagined. Things aren’t always what we expect them to be. Maybe we shouldn’t be running away anymore.”