A portal opened near a wall in the room, and Sarah walked through. Matthew was sitting on a couch in the living area.
“How are the rooms? Comfortable?” Sarah was genuinely curious.
“You didn’t even bother to disguise the portal as a doorway or something.”
“What do you mean?”
“The rooms are comfortable, but this is obviously a cell. A cage, no matter how pretty, is still a cage.” Considering the situation, she expected him to sound more upset. “So why am I in here?”
“Matthew, we’ve been friends for a long time. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you aren’t a captive. Please don’t insult mine by pretending you don’t know why.”
He studied her face for a few moments. “When did you know?”
“I had suspicions from the start, but I wanted to trust you.” She walked over to the table and picked up a decorative stone. She sat as she asked, “Do you remember when you made this for me?”
“When those two mages escaped. You became lost in the Long Hallway. That wouldn’t have happened if you still had the badge I gave you. And those mages couldn’t have gotten out of the House without it. I couldn’t come up with any more excuses for you.”
“So now what?”
Sarah was surprised a little. “You aren’t going to deny it? Make up some excuse?”
“You asked me not to insult your intelligence.”
“I did.” She continued looking down at the stone in her hands. Matthew didn’t often work with earth, so this had always been special to her. Different minerals spiraled around the surface of the piece, and every time its position changed, the colors seemed to shift. If she looked at him, it might crush her spirit. “Why? Why did you side with people that want to destroy this House?”
“Why? You know why. He nearly killed you. Still, you stayed. Giving him chance after chance. How many people would have to get hurt before you give up on him?”
“And Solomon,” she shot back, “if that’s his real name, has actually killed someone. Nearly two people, if Thomas hadn’t taken precautions. A mana worm, really? His actions even put Rebecca in jeopardy. So far, your new ‘friends’ have done more actual damage than Thomas has.”
“I had nothing to do with the mana worm.”
“Really? That’s your response?” Anger rose in her throat and threatened to choke her. She forced herself to look up. “And when you found out about it, did you leave? Did you even hesitate?”
He was looking down at his hands, as though he was searching for an escape. “I wanted to protect you.” There was no remorse in his voice, only discomfort.
“I don’t need protecting. I need my friend to stop trying to kill other friends.”
“That’s not . . .”
“I don’t care.”
“So what are you going to do with me?” He still didn’t look at her.
This was the question Sarah had been wrestling with. Could she forgive him? Did he even want to be forgiven? And how would Julia react if she discovered his true role in all of this? “For now, nothing. You get to stay here so you can’t cause any more problems. Once we’ve dealt with Solomon, the House will decide.” She stood and walked back to the wall where the portal had been. “Please don’t do anything to make matters worse.” He didn’t respond.
“Julia? Portal.” A portal opened in front of her and she stepped through.
Back in the hallway, Sarah quietly closed the door behind her before dropping the portal illusion.
“Do you think he bought that?” David was waiting for her.
“I think so. My illusions seem to be holding well. So far he hasn’t really tested anything. Have we heard from Julia? Or even Aisha?”
David shook his head. “Still nothing. As far as Rebecca can tell, they aren’t even in the House.”
“Damn. I really wanted Julia to create a truly closed off room. No matter how good my illusions are, he knows my work. He’s bound to get suspicious eventually.”
“So far, he seems willing to stay put.”
“Yeah. But for how much longer. Now that I’ve openly admitted he’s a prisoner, he might start looking for ways out. I hate to impose, but can you keep watch a little longer?”
“Thanks, David. I’m going to try to find Julia once more. Be back soon.”