My magic alerted me as soon as Holly entered the market. I owed her money. She wasn’t the only one, but she was the one who threatened to bury me alive if I wasn’t ready to pay her back the next time she saw me. With her affinity for terramancy, it wasn’t an idle threat. Since then, I’d been avoiding her and the market across town she frequented. Hopefully, three floors between us would be enough that I’d make it out of the building before she knew I was there. She didn’t have a talent for power tracking like me, but gossip travels fast in magical markets. I looked around the bar and didn’t see Peter anywhere. I couldn’t wait around any longer, even if it meant missing out on a job. Holly wasn’t likely to accept I’ll pay you as soon as I finish conning some mundanes as an excuse.
I cast a spell to keep unwanted eyes off me. It wasn’t particularly powerful, but as long as no one was looking for me by magical means, it should have worked. Halfway down the stairs, someone stood in my way. I shifted to go around him, but he stepped to block my path again. I scrutinized the bulky man in front of me. There was the faintest trace of magic, but it wasn’t coming from him. Even supernaturals who don’t cast spells gave off their own kind of magic. My senses honed in on the glasses he was wearing; someone enchanted them. He lunged forward, but I hit him with a low-powered push spell. As he steadied himself to keep from toppling down the stairs, I levitated the glasses off his face. He looked around, once again stable, but his eye went right past me.
I slid by him, went downstairs, and into the bathroom. I’d never met the man, but he’d definitely recognized me and tried to grab me. The list of people who wanted to find me was longer than ever, but it was too much of a coincidence this guy came for me at the same time Holly showed up. I focused on the glasses and felt six other pairs with the same energy spread throughout the market. Holly hadn’t moved from the front door since she walked in. The enchantment on the glasses matched Holly’s energy. They had to be worth twice what I owed her easy, so she was doing this to make a point more so than because she needed the money. I needed to get out before she could make an example out of me.
With the glasses in hand, I could keep track of her lackeys. That wouldn’t get me past her as long as she blocked the entrance. If Peter had shown up, I could have asked him to distract her for me. No one else in the market would be inclined to help me. None of them were out to get me, either. Most of my debts were waiting for me on the other side of town. I was doing my best not to owe anyone anything at this market. Standing in the bathroom wouldn’t get me anywhere. If Holly wanted me bad enough to orchestrate this plan, there was only so much time before one of her people found me. She wasn’t the type of person who gave up once she set her mind to something.
One of Holly’s people got closer. I couldn’t stall anymore. I used a smoke summoning spell on my way out of the bathroom. The glasses could see past my last spell, but this one created a real distraction rather than diverting the eyes. None of the vendors seemed concerned about the growing cloud of smoke that poured from the men’s room around me. The smoke didn’t enter the square of their booths. When it hit the beginning of their space, it billowed up as if there were solid walls to keep it out. Several customers cast protection spells and walked through the smoke as if it weren’t filling all the available space. I moved toward the exit as quickly as I could without running. The person I’d felt coming stopped short of reaching me. I heard someone coughing nearby. The smoke spread out ahead and behind me. After a few minutes, there was enough that it flowed over the protected booths and started falling to the floor below.
I walked right by another one of the mundanes that Holly recruited, letting out a sigh of relief that he didn’t see me. He covered his mouth and waved his hand in front of him; it didn’t do much to clear the surrounding smoke. As soon as I stepped off the last stair to the first floor, wind magic blew from the fifth floor. More and more witches started blowing the smoke down with similar spells. If I timed it well, I could still make it work for me. I sped up. Holly shifted the earth until a triangular obelisk stood in front of her. As the winds grew stronger, the barrier split the smoke into two columns that flowed around it and out the door. It would be a tight squeeze to get through, but I had to try. I kicked my smoke spell up a few notches as I got closer to Holly’s pillar, turned to the side, and slid through the gap. I thought I was going to make it without her seeing me. And then my jacket’s zipper hit the pillar.
Holly didn’t need to see me. As long as her magic supported the construct, it didn’t matter if it was a gentle tap or if I plowed into the thing. Her hand grabbed the front of my jacket, and she pulled me the rest of the way through the gap. The pillar slowly collapsed in on itself, and the ground beneath me felt softer. I quickly shrugged my jacket off before she could get her other hand on me. I ran without looking back or breaking my smoke spell. A trail of smoke flowed behind me, so I couldn’t see if she was chasing me. The unsteady feeling of the ground beneath me followed with every step. I kept running for several blocks before her magic stopped trailing me. I needed to find somewhere to get the supplies to summon my jacket back to me. She had my wallet, keys, and a link to my essence as long as she held it. I’d only bought myself a brief reprieve unless I could get it back. But it was better than being buried alive, something I didn’t doubt she’d do.