Willard was waiting in the lobby bright and early. Umbra sat in his shadow undetected despite the fact that he’d added several new enchantments to his wearable arsenal. I might have scared him a little too well. He looked ready for a fight. When he spotted us nodded. At least for now, he was going to play nice. I was afraid that we would be revisiting the subject of his relocation before the day was up. Hopefully, he’d wait until the job was done before he made a scene. I nodded back, and he joined our group. Ruby had an SUV waiting for us in front of the hotel. Ice and I got into the rearmost seats; I didn’t want anyone out of my line of vision. Ice and Ruby were the only ones I trusted to stick with me once the blockers were done. I didn’t want to give Eli or Willard a chance to do anything behind my back.
The trip to Chastain Park passed uneventfully. Ruby made small talk with the driver. I stopped paying much attention to their conversation when he started telling her about the most exciting costumes he’d seen while driving conventioneers around town. Given my lack of pop culture knowledge, I couldn’t recognize many character names. Instead, I spent the car ride strategizing to make sure no one peeled off from our group once their blocker was finished. I trusted Billie and June to stick it out to the end. I felt confident they were doing this as much for the joy of their craft as the payout. Billie, in particular, struck me as the type of witch who never lost their sense of wonder when it came to magic. That level of showmanship wasn’t just an advertisement of their skills. So I had to make sure they got ownership of the first blockers we made.
“You’re worried,” Ice said. “It’s going to be alright.”
“Are you sure you don’t need to be back with the Coven group?” I asked.
“They don’t know that I’m back,” he reassured me. It didn’t help as much as I wanted it to. He’d told me that none of his underlings would recognize me, and yet the Bibliomancer did. I didn’t blame him exactly, but I wasn’t going to take these kinds of statements as facts because he said them with such confidence.
It was a peaceful walk from where the driver dropped us to Billie’s tent. Most of the vendors hadn’t opened their shops yet. Ruby and Eli walked ahead while Ice and I stayed behind Willard. I hoped he wouldn’t notice that we were boxing him in. When we got to the three-story tent, I caught a stunned look on Willard’s face. It must have been a while since he checked in on his fellow enchanters. That was probably for the best, considering how abhorrent they found him. While I planned to make sure he complied with Billie’s mandate that he leave, it did seem malicious to force him out of his home. I didn’t know what he’d done to deserve that loathing. Whatever it was, I chose to believe that he’d earn this outcome.
The automatons welcomed us as we passed them on our way up. Ice threw up a shield spell between our group and the metallic manticore on instinct. It glared at Willard with an intensity that made me wonder about how sentient it was. The metal wings closed, revealing that June had beat us here. She and Billie were already working on something. Billie scribbled rapidly as June counted spells off on her fingers. They paused as we walked around the manticore into the workshop. June’s eyes focused on Ice. She hadn’t met him yet and appraised him without subtlety. Billie’s gaze went straight to Willard. He stared back at them with contempt. I trusted him less and less by the minute.
“We should get started. Everyone pick the stone you want to enchant,” June said, gesturing toward the table that held the raw materials. There was more on it today than when we’d first come. “E, we need to examine your necklace.”
“Sure thing,” I said, lifting the string over my head and handing the necklace over.
“I think that we have enough power between all of us to do this in one go,” Billie said. They were holding a monocle to their eye and looking each of us over.
“Are you sure?” I asked after sending Umbra to watch the perimeter. Billie looked me over again and raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I’m sure,” they said. They gestured at the center of the room, and an altar appeared. A dark blue fabric with silver and gold flecks flowed over the altar and onto the floor. Candles sat around the circumference of the space. A plain-looking string wove from candle to candle, making a web about an inch up from the cloth. “Everyone put your stones in front of a candle.”
We did as they instructed. Billie placed stones for both them and June. Willard had taken gemstones from his pockets instead of from the supplies on the table. I picked up one from Billie’s collection. It never hurts to be prepared. Considering how intricate the spell work was, I thought having an extra might come in handy. Once all the stones were in front of the candles, June handed me back my necklace. She showed Billie the additions she’d made to the list they’d been making when we arrived. Billie nodded. June held the paper across the altar for Willard to look over. I got a look at it over his shoulder. There were two long columns of spells, arrows pointed from one column to the other in several places, correcting the order in which the spells should be cast. He nodded his approval. June took the page back and waved a hand over it, creating two duplicates. She handed one to Billie and the other to Willard. I saw this list was free of the notations I’d just seen. All the spells were now in their proper place.
“We don’t need copies?” Ruby asked.
“No, we will funnel your magic into the spells,” June said.
“Join hands,” Billie said.
I took Ice’s hand on my right and Willard’s on my left. Eli stood on Willard’s other side. Then Ruby between him and Billie. June completed the circle taking Billie and Ice’s hands. I felt a slight draw from my energy, and the candles spontaneously lit. Billie started speaking the spell. A second later, June picked up the same spell. Willard joined the second after. Their echoing voices had a song-like quality. A slow but steady pull of my magic came a moment later. The thread linking all the candles started glowing in a spot in front of Billie. The light moved along the string as they kept chanting. The more of the strand the light reached, the more colors it included in its glow. It went through a full spectrum as it made it to the next candle. The colors started over as the light started moving toward the next candle.
After hours of continuously flowing magic, the stones started to glow. The enchanters stopped one at a time in the order they’d started. The light of the gemstones faded, followed by the light of the thread. We didn’t let go of each other’s hands until the candles went out. I felt like I’d gone without eating for days. Bone-deep exhaustion took hold. I wanted to lean against Ice for support, but by the looks of him, he felt as drained as I was. Billie and June didn’t seem tired at all. They got to work fitting the stones into various types of jewelry. Willard picked up his stones and slipped them into his pocket. My instinct not to trust him saved mine and Ice’s lives. I knocked us both to the floor as a jet of fire shot over us.