Seeing Victoria bound to the chair, unconscious and head lulling to the side, I felt pain more intense than a jolt of lightning to the chest. Memories of our times together came unbidden. My bottom lip quivered. Tears reamed my eyes.
“Gods damn it,” Aiden said. “No. She broke the Accords. It’s over for her. We are taking her in.”
“I never said anything.”
“The fuck you didn’t. It’s all over your face. She’s bonded. There’s no coming back from that. She’s the enemy.”
“What if there is a way to come back?”
Aiden stared at me as if I was simple, mouth open at the shock of my sheer stupidity. The worst part was, I wasn’t certain he was wrong. His face scrunched up in anger, then disgust, and finally settled into bitter resolve.
“How are you so certain? Have you looked?”
“Yes. I went through this a hundred years ago. Do you think I did not try to save Abby? There isn’t a way to break the bond.”
“There is always a way to undo magic. No one has looked hard enough.”
“That’s precisely what I told Grandmaster MacGregor, just after she gave me the kill order on her own daughter. When I refused, the grandmaster banished me from the Hebrew Collective.”
I had always suspected that might be the case, but he rarely spoke of the events of Abby’s fall. I chose my next words with great care. “Do you no longer believe she was wrong?”
“Look. I have chased down several promising leads and got nothing. Texts I found in hieroglyphs claimed a ritual using blood of an ancient would sever the bond, but the ritual required the bonded mage and was not specific on what the hell an ancient is. I found an artifact in Atlantis that could be used to break any bond, but it is owned by Theseus of Athens and hidden at the center of a Labyrinth. There isn’t a way to get it.”
“So, you have given up? You think your mother is right?”
“No. All magic is unworkable. Cancer has a cure. Teleportation can be achieved by machines. ”
I am an ass. I know this is a vulnerable point for Aiden. He’s been dealing with Abby’s fall for a century. I’ve only known about Victoria for a day. But I knew I could not kill her. If I took her to the Collective, I might as well have severed her head myself.
Doing my best to ignore the guilt of manipulating one of my oldest friends, I gestured to Victoria. “Well, here’s our chance to find out if you are right.”
I could see the gears turning behind his eyes. He was way ahead of me on this. When it came to solving puzzles, Aiden was relentless. And he’d never been closer to anyone than his sister. Despite what he claimed, he was still looking for a way to save Abigail.
“Okay,” Aiden said at last. “Fine. But I have two conditions.”
“First, she stays shackled and I keep the key. So long as she is in our custody, we are not criminals. Though the directives are clear on escorting her kind, we can bend them a little if we have good reasons. You’ll need to think of some gods-cursed good ones by the time we get back to the Collective.”
“Agreed on all accounts.” I fished out the metal pentacle that would unlock Victoria’s shackles and handed it to him. He did not put it away immediately. Aiden didn’t fully trust me at the moment. It hurt, but I understood.
“Second,” he said, “I am in charge. The very moment I say we are through, that’s it. Game over. We take her back to the Collective. No arguing. No questions asked. You do as I say.”
Taking orders from a guy who was just riding a chariot through a party an hour ago seemed unwise at best, but at the same time, I knew what Aiden was capable of. Though it felt like taking a gut-punch to admit it, Aiden had a more level head in this. And he was helping me.
I gave him a stiff nod of agreement.
“Nope. I need to hear you say it. I am in charge.”
“Yes. I agree. You are in charge.” Gods, that hurt.
“Was that so hard?” As I frowned, he gave me a shit-eating grin. “Now, open your dimensional pocket.”
“No questions, remember.”
Biting my tongue, I pulled the bag from my shoulder and opened it. Aiden walked in without invitation. He looked around, shaking his head. “This place hasn’t changed since Paris.”
“Why should it?”
He walked through the stands of my formal wear and held out one of my older suits. He pulled it out with two fingers and raised an eyebrow at me.
“What?” I said, “It’s vintage.”
“Tailcoats went out last century, but hey … if you want to hit up a renaissance fair, I’m sure you’ll kill it with all the ladies who want to be with an aristocrat.”
“Can we please get back to the task at hand?”
He dropped the coat and looked around. Speaking some Hebrew, Aiden drew ether and began to move my things.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
Aiden ignored me. My wardrobe moved to the far edge of the space. Stone dividers began materializing, hiding the blackened end of the dimensional pocket. Rather than some otherworldly place, it began to look like a castle’s interior. He moved my Maserati Gran Turismo closer to the front, near the exit. Rooms and hallways appeared, all made of stone. The spheres of light clinging to the top of the space, like tiny stars were plucked loose and placed into sconces along the walls. The doorways hung empty. Wood came from living material and could not be created from ether. Elemental energies are far easier to conjure, which is why every tale of wizards have them at the tops of towers. It’s just far simpler to make.
“Do we really have time for this?” I prodded.
A few minutes later, the torrent of ether stopped and Aiden nodded to himself. He looked at me with a self-satisfied grin. “There. Much better.”
“I liked it the way it was.”
“You’ll like it this way better. And now, the prisoner can be secured. Come on. Let me show you around your new travel house.”
I followed Aiden through the halls. He had shoved my clothes and the canopied bed together into a large room at the back of the space. My artifacts and shelves of arrium were across the hall. The front of the place had a stone fireplace, complete with hearth. The space around it was empty, except for the rug I’d had beneath the bed.
With a burst of ether, Aiden moved the rug, revealing a large stone square. The stone lifted, revealing a darkened room below.
“Okay, how did you create an extra space?”
Aiden gave an arrogant snort. “You should know as well as I that applying force to the resin layer around a dimensional space will allow it to expand. The stone will keep it in place.”
“Right. I knew that.”
“Sure. Of course you did. Come on. Grab Victoria and lets get her inside.”
“But it’s dark in there.”
“How would you like being trapped in the dark?”
“I wouldn’t. That’s the point. Neither will she. If she gets comfortable, she might get the idea that she can escape. If she cannot see, she cannot find a way to do that. Grab her. Let’s go.”
Victoria was right where we left her, head lulled to the side. I unfastened the latches, releasing her shackles from the chair. She slumped forward. I caught her before she hit the ground and lifted her in my arms. As her hair fell across my face, the smell of her fruity shampoo filled my senses. I looked at the dimensional pocket.
Aiden stood in the opening, watching me with a concerned expression on his face. Having second thoughts, no doubt. Not that I blamed him.
“I owe you,” I said.
“Yeah ya do. And I swear to the gods, if you get me killed over her, I’ll haunt you til your death.”
Carrying Victoria into the pocket, I snorted a laugh.
“I am serious. It’s not a joke. Whatever you do, I will be there, taunting you. You’ll never be able to have sex again without mockery. And just not from the poor girl showing you some pity. You’ll hear my laugh from beyond the grave.”
“Great,” I said. “Fine. You will haunt me. But we are still alive now. Would you like to help me with her?”
He shrugged. “I already lifted the stone. Just drop her in.”
I pulled in ether and with an effort of will made a globe of light and let it fall. It hit the stone and stuck. The cubic space was small, no more than three meters across in either direction. No pillows or cushions would soften the stone. Knowing better than to protest, I gathered in more ether and took hold of her with air and lowered her into the prison.
Aiden was kind enough to lift the massive stone to cover the hole. He kicked the rug back over the square and turned toward me. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, with one hand propped up so he could chew on his thumbnail. He did that when he was about to suggest something ridiculous.
“So,” Aiden said, “how do you feel about going up against a few minotaurs on their home turf?”
“Atlantis?” I said, musingly. “You want to steal from Theseus?”
“It’s either that or hunt down an ancient and kindly ask for its blood.”
“Either way sounds like suicide.”
“No one who knows what we know will give up their blood willingly, least of all a being as old as time. And I don’t know about you, but I would rather not go into the Fae’s Realm without a proper guide.”
“We have to cross through Fae to get to Atlantis.”
“True, but the ferryman will take us across. For a price.”
“If we go in the front door,” I said, “Theseus will know we are there.”
“So what? Atlantis is huge and ethermages are welcome. It isn’t as if we are going to run in screaming, ‘Hey! Theseus of Athens, we are here to steal your prized artifacts. Come forth and do battle!’ Well, at least we’ll try to come up with a better plan first.”
“Atlantis is neutral ground,” I reminded him.
“Wythermages are also welcome. Bonded mages will be there. Some of those people we have personally hunted have gone to Atlantis for asylum against the Collective.”
“Why the hell do you think I haven’t gone for the arrium before now? If you are having second thoughts, we should just take Victoria to Bhodi Caderyn now. He will put her down as humanely as possible. He is the one person who has felt her loss as much as you. It is not too late to change your mind.”
I thought about it for less than two seconds. “No. I need to try.”
“Alright then,” he said, voice cheerful, “Let’s go to Atlantis, rob the greatest ether-warrior of all time of his prized possession. Then, we can break Victoria free of her bond to the goddess of the hunt, track down Abigail and stop her from taking over Poseidon’s nexus of power, freeing her of Artemis as well. And … am I forgetting anything?”
“Yes,” I said. “The most important part.”
“Yeah. What’s that?”
“Pfft. I’ll settle with live. Who’s happy in our line of work?”
I let out a sigh. He had me there.