Chapter 18: Ramifications

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While my mind played out that unpleasant little scenario, Bruce walked the inner perimeter of the shop. I guessed he was scouring it for anything that might tie this place to our secrets. Meanwhile, in the office, Ephraim had slit open his palm and was squeezing several drops of his own blood into the pool of Lucia's and mine. His lips were moving, but his words were so soft they didn't carry through the open doorway. When his mouth stilled, there was a loudening hiss, and the entire pool of blood evaporated in a plume of white smoke.

"Wow," Lucia said.

"That was really not good," I muttered. Humans could not ‒ did not ‒ know about sorcerers unless they were bonded to them or in their involuntary employ. And Ephraim hadn't made any effort to hide his magic from Lucia.

Her look told me she didn't follow.

"He isn't bothering to keep his magic a secret," I clarified. "That means ‒" I didn't know how to finish the sentence. Lucia and I had talked about how our respective people maintained their secrecy and I could tell from her anxious expression she was remembering that conversation now.

Her face grew pale. "Does this mean you saved me just so I could end up getting killed by your father's cronies or, worse, forced to become their slave? I should've have stayed on the floor." She was mad and she had every right to be.

"I won't let that happen," I vowed, but I had no idea how I would stop it. How far was I willing to go to protect Lucia? Would I run away with her? Would I fight my father? With my magic? With bond magic? With Keel? I'd be changing sides - or maybe creating a third one.

"You'd better not, or else you never should have saved me," Lucia said.

"Don't talk like that. Don't you dare!" I erupted. Bruce stopped what he was doing and shot us a concerned look. I waved him off.  

"Mills, don't you think your father's going to figure out what I am? Then what?" Lucia's voice was low, her eyes were wide and her hands were trembling. The stakes look different once you've lost the hand, that was something else I used to hear Fredrick say, only now I understood it: humans weren't particularly good at believing the worst-case scenario could happen to them.

But I knew better. Should have known better. This one was on me. I knew the dangers of letting anyone too far into our world, but I had done so anyway because I'd wanted a friend, one I didn't have to lie to. I'd been selfish and I'd played fast and loose with her life. If something happened to her as a result, it was my guilt to carry. "I don't know. I'll think of something," I told her. "I promise."

I hoped that would reassure her, if only a tiny bit, but none of the colour returned to her face. I'd messed up real good, and completely obliterated someone else's world in the process. I sucked. I reached out to squeeze Lucia's hand, but she knocked mine away. I made no attempt to reach for it again.

When Ephraim returned to where we were standing, he stopped in front of us and pressed his bloody palm against each of our foreheads. Lucia looked appropriately terrified, which I could only pray would be in our favour. "Stay close to Bruce and me," he instructed, "and don't speak."

Lucia and I nodded timidly in unison, then followed Ephraim and Bruce out the door. There were a lot of frightened-looking civilians milling around, talking loudly to each other and into cellphones. The front of Lucia's mom's store was a spectacle in itself: the wood and siding was bullet-ridden, allowing rays of late afternoon light to breach the confines of the structure, but the door and windows were completely intact, without so much as a chip or crack in any of them. Guess Ephraim and Garstatt's spell worked after all; we just didn't cover a wide enough surface, I thought. I wondered how the humans would explain this anomaly. As if on cue, police cars pulled up on the curb behind us.

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