I took over driving after we crossed the state line between Florida and Georgia. Ruby made arrangements for where we would stop at that time. She never told me where we were heading. I probably should have asked, but I didn’t. As long as it was away from Florida, that was fine with me. We’d had too many close calls in too short a time. Once we’d put a bit more distance between ourselves and our pursuers, I’d worry about a specific destination. I imagined us stopping at some hole in the wall long enough to sleep and then getting back on the road. The GPS shattered those imaginings as it led us to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Before I could get out an argument against staying in such a busy hotel, I noticed something odd. A group of people dressed like superheroes walked out of the hotel and got into a waiting minivan.
“It’s Dragon Con weekend!” Ruby said before I could form a question.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s kinda like Comic-Con. You know a bunch of hardcore sci-fi and fantasy fans get together and geek out over all their favorite shows, movies, and books,” she said.
“And what are we doing here?” I asked, already considering the possibility of leaving.
“Who is going to look for a couple of real witches here?” she asked. It was a fair question. Anyone trying to find me would try to find the real magical scene in Atlanta. I’d been a ward of the Coven for most of my life, and that meant a near-constant training schedule. The closest I got to recreational reading was picking up unassigned spell books and reading through them in my spare time.
“Fine, but if you’re wrong, I’m picking the next stop,” I said. When I considered it, I was curious about how the news of magic being real would affect people who’d been wishing for exactly that all their lives. I wouldn’t admit that to Ruby, though. We got out of the car, and she told the valet driver a room number.
My fight or flight response jumped into overdrive when we walked into the hotel’s lobby. It was packed. That many people alone stressed me out but adding the fact that I couldn’t see so many of their faces behind their masks and I was ready to run. The urge passed when I felt Umbra pulling my attention inward. I calmed down enough not to make any drastic moves. As my mind cleared, I felt that there were some witches in the room with us. It would normally take a lot more time and focus for me to sense them. To get this level of precision before, I’d have needed silence and a lot more darkness. With Umbra’s help, it was a matter of wanting to know. There were five witches in the lobby, including Ruby and me. One of them had a minor talent that they might never discover their power without the right push. The other two were stronger, definitely aware of their gifts. I sneaked a look at the one nearest to us—a tall man with close-cropped salt and pepper hair.
I looked away, not wanting to draw his attention. Witches can often pick up on when people are staring at us. If I gave him any more attention, he would notice me. I turned my attention to the last witch. She was a petite black woman with oversized snowflakes in her hair. Her outfit was a floor-length white gown that continued the snowflake theme. It wasn’t cold enough in the lobby to keep the snow from melting, but it held its shape. Other people likely assumed that the snow was fake. Natural snow wasn’t big enough for the naked eye to pick up that much detail. She had to have a strong talent for aquamancy to pull off the costume she was wearing. I didn’t recognize either of the stronger witches as the Coven agents, but that didn’t clear them completely. It was a large organization. It had to be to keep real witchcraft a secret for as long as they did. I didn’t know the face of every witch involved with them.
Ruby didn’t seem to notice my preoccupation as we walked through the lobby. I’d been so distracted with scoping out the other witches that I didn’t realize we’d skipped the front desk until we stopped in front of the elevator. There were too many people waiting for the elevators with us for me to ask any of the questions that were piling up in my head. So I waited, tracking the other witches’ movements to make sure none of them were paying attention to us. The group waiting for the elevator grew so much that there was at least one full load of people left waiting when the first car reached capacity. I was glad that we weren’t stuck waiting. More people were constantly arriving, it seemed, and I didn’t like feeling so crowded. Most of our fellow passengers emptied out before us. And I was grateful that no one followed us off on our floor.
“Won’t we need keys?” I asked.
“I am the key. That’s the nice part about hotels going in for the whole magnetic strip key card deal. There isn’t a technomancer worth their salt who can’t get past one of those,” she said.
“So are we gonna squat in someone’s room while they’re out enjoying the convention?”
“That’s not what I had in mind. I thought we might enjoy the con a little ourselves. Being on the run doesn’t have to mean that we can’t enjoy life anymore. This is one of the first fantasy conventions held in a world where magic is public knowledge. I’m not saying that it’s going to make history or anything, but we can learn a lot about how the world is going to react right here.”
Ruby stopped in front of a door and waved her hand over the key card reader. The light flashed green, and she opened the door. The room was enormous, and I was only looking at the living room. The bedroom was just as grand. There was only one bed, but it was large enough to both sleep in it without disturbing each other if we wanted. I went back to the living room and tested the couch. It was comfortable. If Ruby didn’t want to share a bed, I could get a good night’s sleep there too. Umbra stepped out of my shadow and moved about the room. They looked like the shadow of a large dog passing over the floor and walls. After they completed a circle around the room, they slid under the door out into the hall. Between Ruby’s access to luxury and Umbra’s security, it should have been easy to relax. But I couldn’t help remembering the last time I’d let my guard down. I was still wearing the only outfit I owned because of a careless mistake. I didn’t have much left to lose if something like that happened again.
“I’m going to shower, and then we should grab some food. You want to look up what stores are around so that we can get you something new to wear?” Ruby suggested.
“Yeah sounds like a good plan,” I said.
I pulled out my tablet and started searching for nearby stores. There were plenty of choices. The sudden financial windfall that came with being Ruby’s traveling companion meant that I didn’t have to look for bargains. Umbra came back while I was narrowing down my options. They’d shifted to look like the shadow of a mouse while they were away. They reassured me, settling into my shadow again and sharing their exploration. Nothing in the surrounding rooms was going to threaten us. Their occupants were excitedly preparing for the convention. How much more excited would they be to know that a living shadow had just spied on them for a couple of witches.