Agent Arthur Boone slept the rest of the way to Orlando peacefully. If he had back-up, they didn’t come after me. I didn’t even catch anyone looking in our direction till the train stopped. One of the benefits of traveling light was that I didn’t need to wait to get off with the other passengers. I sank into the shadows under my seat and landed on the sidewalk next to a power-line pole. I started walking away from the station. Running would only draw attention. I wasn’t sure that DPI or the Coven didn’t have anyone waiting for me in the station. I avoided any confrontation by skipping the station altogether. By the time someone woke Boone to tell him that the train arrived in Orlando, I’d be out of his reach. I didn’t know much about Orlando, past the tourist attractions. I had no idea where anything was, but that didn’t matter too much for the moment.
Once I was several blocks away from the station, I grabbed a burger to go and kept moving while I ate. It was only a notch above the protein bar, but it would due until I figured out where I was going. I couldn’t check into another hotel without a new credit card. That limited my options. Luck was on my side, though. I spotted a sign pointing the way to the closest library. I found the Orlando Public Library in a little under ten minutes. The building was all sharp angles. It wasn’t my favorite style of architecture, grey rectangles layered on top of each other in a design that was more interesting than beautiful. There was something about it that I loved. A large portico covered the whole entrance in shadow no matter what time of day it was. This was the closest thing I would get to a safe haven until I found the underground magic scene here. I stood in the shadows for a few minutes until my magic harmonized with it. I’d sense any threat that passed through these shadows while I was in the building.
I didn’t have time to explore, though I would have liked to. Instead, I found a place to sit and got my tablet out. It was the most valuable thing I owned. Not that there was a lot of competition after most of my belongings went up in flames at the hotel. Someone enchanted the device to allow access to the specternet. If you’ve ever heard of the dark web, it’s like that, but instead of creepy illegal stuff, it helps you find supernatural communities and services. Technomancers created and sustained it. Only a device enchanted by one of them can access it. I fed some magic into my voice and whispered Abracadabra. The tablet backlit a dark grey screen that was only distinguishable from black as it shrank to the shape of a cauldron on the even darker background. The illustration of purple liquid boiled so that steam and bubbles floated up. The bubbles popped to reveal letters spelling out Specternet. The animation faded and let me start searching for what I needed.
Most major cities have some version of a magic underground. News that the supernatural was real was still too fresh for that to change. I imagined that these spaces would mutate rather than die out as people started accepting our community. They would become places for those of us who didn’t want to or couldn’t follow the new rules. The specternet was the easiest way to find other magic users. The greater Orlando area had three places where supernaturals liked to gather. The closest of the locations was only a short walk away. My luck was too good to last. Before I’d finished mapping my walk, someone stepped into the book aisle I was sitting in. I looked up out of instinct. The woman looked down at my tablet with a knowing smile. She was wearing light-up sneakers, dark blue jeans, and a black shirt with LED lighting on the front spelling out “ErMerGerd!” I turned off my tablet and slid it into my bag, trying to decide on a course of action. She didn’t fit a Coven hunter’s typical look and definitely didn’t look like a federal agent. Neither of those things meant she wasn’t a threat. My indecision must have looked like nervousness. The message on her shirt changed. Don’t be scared!
“I’m not,” I said. It wasn’t completely true, but of all the things that frightened me, this witch wasn’t on the list. She’d only surprised me because I was sloppy in my haste to figure out where to go next. She hadn’t passed through the entrance since I’d come in. I hadn’t accounted for any supernaturals inside the library. “A bit surprised is all.”
“Sorry, I felt technomancy and couldn’t resist checking it out.,” she said. “I’m Ruby.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, but can’t stay,” I said. I stood and started walking. She seemed like a nice enough person who made me want to leave even more. I’d been living the last year and a half without any attachments for a good reason. If she truly was just a young curious witch looking to make friends, then I didn’t want to risk her getting hurt if The Coven’s hunters caught up to me again.
“Headed to the market Erebus?” she asked. I froze. It was my day for strange encounters.
“How do you know that name?” I asked. No one outside The Coven should know that name.
“You sure you want to have this talk out in the open?” she asked.
“Where do you suggest?” I asked.
“The market isn’t far from here,” she said.
We left the library together and walked to Lake Eola Park. This was where I was planning to go. Maybe I could still make this work out in my favor. There were people everywhere I looked as I followed the woman. Some were walking their dogs, others exercising, some were even out on the lake in pedal boats made to look like swans. There were plenty of actual swans out on the lake too. It would have been a nice walk if I wasn’t worried that this witch was about to sell me out. The only thing I had working in my favor was that the park was so close to the library. If things went sideways, all I needed was to reach a shadow, and I’d be back under the portico and running like hell in the opposite direction. I couldn’t afford to run again until I knew that it was the only option. I didn’t want to add any more names to the list of who was trying to track me down. If there was a possibility that I could bargain with her, then I had to try at least.
We stopped at an Asian-inspired pavilion. She went from one red pillar to the next, knocking on each of them one more time than the one before it. After she knocked on the last one, I felt a swell of energy. I realized what was happening a second too late. The pavilion teleported us. It wasn’t like when I shadow-walked. For me, stepping into one shadow and out of another was as natural as breathing. This jump was jarring. I lost all sense of direction. I couldn’t tell how far it was taking us. I had to hope it wasn’t too far for me to step back to the library. All I wanted to do was curl up as small as I could and wait till the world came back to me. Instead, I forced myself to maintain the rigid posture I’d been in when the teleport started. Whoever Ruby was, I knew I couldn’t afford to look weak in front of her. She knew the name Erebus. That was enough link to The Coven to make me put up a strong facade. When we landed again, she wore a wide smile. The teleportation had been a rush for her. She was a risk-taker. I didn’t like that smile—the smile of an unpredictable woman who knew too much about me. I wasn’t going to get away from her as easily as I had the hunter or Agent Boone.