“Milo.” Umbra woke me in the middle of the night. They weren’t panicked, but there was definitely some concern in their voice.
“What’s up?” I asked, still half asleep. Ruby was snoring in the bedroom while I was on the couch.
“A witch is coming down the hallway.” That snapped me out of my stupor.
“Did you pick up any specifics about his powers?” I asked, this time not voicing the question aloud.
“Male, between your and Ice’s height, wearing an enchanted ring, and using a spell meant to dampen witch magic,” they said.
“So he’s going to be relying on the enchantment for any other magic he’s using. Okay, we can work with that.”
“I can dispatch him for you,” Umbra suggested.
“No. I want to know which of us he’s after,” I said. “Can you hide me?”
“Of course.” Umbra wrapped the shadows around us, manipulating them until we were indistinguishable from any other deep darkness in the room.
We didn’t have to wait long. A man in all black and a balaclava mask passed through the door as if it was a thick cloud of smoke. His ring glowed softly once he was completely through the door. It was a pretty cool enchantment, but it wasn’t enough on its own to take both of us. Whoever sent him didn’t know about us working together. He looked around the living room without noticing me. He went into the bedroom, and we followed him. Umbra silenced every step. He confirmed my suspicion that he was after Ruby when he found her in the bedroom. He smiled like he’d hit the lotto. If he were after me, coming in the middle of the night when I was surrounded by shadows wasn’t the best idea, even if he believed he’d neutralized our magic. He pulled a long piece of twine out of his pocket and leaned to reach for Ruby. I used the enchanted ear cuff that I bought in the Orlando market to slow time down. That guaranteed he wouldn’t stop me. My enchanted ring put him to sleep before time returned to normal.
Umbra caught the witch before he could collapse on top of Ruby. We went back out into the living room. The twine he’d pulled out was too thin to restrain someone for long on its own. Now that his neutralizing spell was down, I used a detection spell to find an enchantment worked into its thread. I used it to bind his wrists before taking his ring off to keep him from slipping away. The twine cut him off from his magic. I felt all his power dissipate as if it had never been there to begin with. That was a neat trick. I slid the ring onto one of my fingers before checking his pockets for anything else he might use to turn the tables. I found a knife with a retractable blade, a pentacle coin, and a flask. Once his pockets were empty, I took off his shoes and socks. He hadn’t hidden anything in them, a missed opportunity, in my opinion. The less prepared he was, the better off we were. It meant that Ruby’s pursuer didn’t know everything. Still, I wanted to find out what he did know before we let this witch go. Once I was sure he didn’t have any other tricks on him, I went into the bedroom to wake Ruby.
“Go away,” she said in a groggy voice.
“Can’t. We have a visitor.”
“Your boyfriend is back already?” she asked, not bothering to open her eyes.
“Nope. Some witch looking to cash by bringing you back to Vegas,” I said. Her eyes snapped open at that.
“Where is he?”
“In the other room. I’ve negated any threat he posed,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“So what do we do? Do we run? Will Ice be able to find us if we go?”
“We’re not going anywhere. I thought you’d want to be awake when I questioned him.”
“You think he’ll tell us anything?” she asked.
“I’ll ask him very nicely,” I said, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice. If it came down to it, I was capable of some terrifying things. For many people, a show of force and then implication that the same could happen to them was enough to get them talking.
“Give me a minute to get dressed. I don’t think my pajamas will help the intimidation process,” she said.
“I’ll do the same,” I said.
I’d been so caught up in securing him that I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was only wearing boxer briefs and a tank top. I didn’t have the time to put on clothes when he was breaking in, but I could take my time now. The sleeping enchantment would last a couple hours if I didn’t remove it sooner. I could have let Ruby sleep until morning, and we could have questioned him then, but I was too energized from taking him down to wait that long. I got dressed and waited on the couch. She came out of the bedroom wearing a dark red dress that emphasized her curves. I hadn’t given much thought to how conventionally attractive she was before now. How pretty she was didn’t interest me as much as how smart and savvy she was. The way she looked now, though, made it clear that I’d undervalued her appearance. If my intimidation tactics didn’t work, she looked like she could seduce him.
“What?” she asked. Apparently, I’d stared for a bit too long. “I’m never going to pull off something scary. I thought this would be better than my casual clothes.”
“This will work perfectly. I’m just considering strategy.” It wasn’t a complete lie.
“What do you think will work best? I’ve never questioned a prisoner before,” she said.
“You don’t need to say anything. I think it will be enough for you to sit on the couch and look cold and confident. He’ll think I’m hired muscle, magically speaking,” I said. I wasn’t scrawny, but I wasn’t going to meet anyone’s idea of a bodyguard when it came to my physique.
“Okay, sounds good. Do we know anything about him?” she asked.
“Not much past his plan was to use that twine to cut you off from your magic and then do whatever he had to to get you out of here quietly,” I said.
“Not the smartest then, huh?”
“We won’t know until we get him talking. It could be that he miscalculated, or he could be dumb enough to come in underprepared,” I said. Ruby had admitted that she wasn’t much of a fighter, but I doubted that she’d give up just because she didn’t have the upper hand. She was right that he wouldn’t have taken her quietly.
“Fair point,” she said.
“Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
“Here we go then,” I said.