Retrieving our challenge envelope, Mike ripped it open and started to read. ‘Your first task is to survive the wilds. Find yourself shelter for the night and stay safe from the elements. There will be significant disadvantages given to the last team to set up camp.’
Excellent. ‘I know where shelter is,’ I declared. ‘My hotel is about ten miles that way. We just need to hitchhike in that direction and we’ll be there in no time.’
Harriet rolled her eyes, while Mike produced a map and waved it at me. ‘We’ve been given several choices,’ he said. ‘And none of them involves going back to Tomintoul and getting a hotel.’
I couldn’t see why not. It was creative. And there’d be a duvet. Not to mention hot running water. I suspected that the choices displayed on the map would be considerably less comfortable.
Ruing the day I’d agreed to do this, which I was very much aware was still today, I peered over his shoulder. Good grief. We’d be up for half the night. And I wasn’t forgetting that this was Enchantment. There was bound to be some magical stuff to contend with before we could bed down for the night. That was the formula.
‘This one.’ Mike jabbed his thumb at the nearest marker. ‘We pick up now and head straight there. It’s the closest.’
He really was an idiot. ‘It’s up a mountain. It might be the closest but it’ll take us longest to get there. We need to be smart about this.’
He stared at my breasts. ‘We go there. I’ve made the decision.’
My eyebrows flew up. He had, had he? ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’m a taxi driver. I know how to read maps. I do it every day.’ I was lying about the last part; I use sat nav. That doesn’t mean I can’t orienteer myself when I really need to.
‘I thought you were a witch. Why would a woman drive a taxi?’
Harriet’s lip curled. ‘Sure she’s a witch but all she can do is bespell clothing.’ She sniffed. ‘So why she’s wearing that, goodness only knows.’
She was right here. Except I simply didn’t have the energy for an argument, much as I wanted to bop Mike on the nose for being sexist as well as stupid. I pushed back my hair and sighed. ‘Please,’ I said. ‘Don’t be plonkers. If we head for the nearest point, it will take hours. This is not as the crow flies. We don’t have wings. We still have to get there.’ I turned to Lou. ‘Help me out here.’
Lou looked like the last thing she wanted to do on our first day was to get into a fight. She gave a helpless smile. ‘I’ll go with the majority. I have no sense of direction anyway.’
When it was me against Mike, Harriet would choose Mike every time. She’d choose anyone who wasn’t me; I’d be on a constant losing streak. I considered my options, glanced at the map once more and made a decision. Reaching out so that one hand touched Mike’s arm and the other touched Harriet’s, I drew out runes on both their bodies. An almost immediate wave of exhaustion overtook me but it was nothing compared to what happened to them. They yawned in unison before collapsing to the ground.
‘Oh my goodness!’ Lou shrieked. ‘They’ve passed out! We need a doctor!’
‘They’re just sleeping,’ I said, feeling sour. I’d like to be sleeping too.
Her mouth dropped open. ‘Did you do that to them? Did you make them fall asleep?’
‘Trust me, it’s for their own good.’
Barry, hovering nearby with another producer, seemed concerned. He stepped forward but I held up my palm. ‘They’re absolutely fine. There’s nothing to worry about.’
I watched the cameraman swing his lens towards them. Mike looked kind of cute when he wasn’t conscious. I retrieved the map from under his arm. ‘Look,’ I said to Lou. ‘There’s a river just round the next bend.’
She still couldn’t get over what I’d done to Mike and Harriet. Her jaw worked but she couldn’t appear to find any words.
I shrugged. ‘All we need to do is to get these two to the river. Then we float all the way down to here.’ I pointed to one of the marked locations. ‘It’s right next to the river itself. Even though it’s further away, we can get there much easier than the place Mike wanted to aim for. It’ll take us no time.’ I fixed my eyes on her. ‘Are you with me?’
‘Lou! Come on. If you really think we should tramp up a mountain, I’ll wake them up straight away and we can tramp up a mountain together. Trust me though, this way is much better.’ Please, Lou. I wasn’t up to mountain climbing. Not today.
She swallowed. ‘The river seems the best course.’
Praise the heavens. ‘Great. I’ll take Mike, you take Harriet.’ I expended some more energy in spelling away their weight but, even so, I dragged Mike along the ground, scuffing his heels in the process.
Lou, bemused by how easily she could lift Harriet’s prone body, slung her over her shoulder fireman-style and caught up with me. ‘You really are a proper witch. You’re not like the rest of us at all.’
I grunted. I was aware of the camera following my every reaction. This would be easier if it didn’t keep getting in my damn way.
‘I really wanted to win,’ Lou whispered, more to herself than to me.
She jumped, startled. ‘I can’t compete against you.’
‘I’m not here to win,’ I said without thinking.
‘Then why are you here?’
Arse. ‘Er … I want to test my limits. And…’ think, Ivy, think. ‘…prove to the Order that they were wrong to boot me out.’
‘You want to rejoin them?’
Not even if Winter himself stripped naked, prostrated himself on the ground for my delectation and begged. ‘No,’ I said slowly, seizing any reason I could think of for being stuck in the past and motivated by revenge. ‘I just don’t want any other witches to go through what I did when I was kicked out. If I can show the Order they were wrong to expel me, they might think twice before doing it to someone else.’
Mike’s heel caught on a stone so I tugged at him. There was an ominous sound of ripping fabric as his trousers caught on something. Oops.
‘Aren’t you afraid?’ She hesitated. ‘I spoke to Benny a few times. He was a nice guy and to be killed like that…’ She shivered.
‘Benjamin Alberts? Yeah,’ I agreed. ‘That was pretty nasty.’ And if I had anything to do with it, the person who was responsible would spend the rest of their life behind bars.
‘At least we know they caught the bastard who did it.’
‘Mmm.’ I craned my neck round the last of the trees. ‘Do you know why Benjamin went up that mountain in the first place?’
She shrugged unhappily. ‘He just wanted some fresh air. That’s what he said anyway.’ She looked as if she were about to cry. That was the last thing I needed.
I pointed. ‘Look. There’s the river.’
We walked to the bank and lay down Mike and Harriet’s bodies. I gave the river a critical glance. This was summer so it wasn’t quite as deep or fast flowing as I’d hoped.
Lou looked around dubiously. ‘Is this going to work?’
Spotting a hole in the sandy shore opposite, I felt around inside myself. I probably had enough energy left. Just. I grinned. ‘Watch this.’
I sketched out a complex rune, binding together what I knew of Myomancy with my knowledge from experimenting with Brutus. For a moment nothing happened then some of the sand shifted and a small questing nose appeared.
Lou stiffened. ‘What is that?’
‘Shhh,’ I said. ‘Don’t scare it off.’
The otter emerged fully, whiskers quivering. It wasn’t entirely trusting and took several moments to scan the area. For good measure, I added another rune into the mix. Unwilling to deny the call any longer, it swam across.
‘Hey buddy,’ I said, crouching down beside it.
It squeaked in response. It was kind of cute. Now that Brutus had apparently abandoned me, maybe I’d take on an otter instead of a cat as my new familiar. I wondered whether it could be trained to make tea.