Shadow-Blessed Ep. 15

I avoided the vendor hall, telling Ruby to go without me. Ice told me that they shouldn’t recognize me, but I still didn’t want to take any chances. Looking over the schedule of the convention’s events made me realize how disconnected I was from the rest of the world. It wasn’t that sci-fi and fantasy weren’t my thing. I couldn’t think of a single cast from a television show or movie I’d stand in line to meet. The last film I remembered going to see was The Pagemaster. My mom took me. I remember us sneaking food into the movie theater more than the actual story. Mom loved going to the movies. She wanted to be an actress. The closest she got was local plays. I remembered hanging out in the dressing rooms of the theater where she worked. If she didn’t get a role in whatever play they were producing, she would still devote her time to backstage roles. She probably would have loved conventions like this one. At its core, it was fans sharing their love of stories. 

Ruby found me people-watching in one of the many crowded halls. Most people were rushing to get to different panels or standing in line waiting for their turn in the respective rooms. It took me a couple seconds to realize it was her. She was wearing a hot pink and light blue outfit that looked like someone’s sci-fi version of a spacesuit. Her normally long brown hair was gone and replaced by shoulder-length blonde hair. It was clear that she was cosplaying as someone, but I couldn’t tell what character she was. Someone walking past us said what sounded like “zetus lapetus.” Ruby smiled and turned to face the person complimenting her on her outfit. Every interaction I watched made me a little sadder. I missed all these references while I grew up with the Coven. Under Vincent’s care, the only outside media I was allowed was music. The only books in my life were magical tomes, potioscipts, bestiaries, and the like. Films were only used to show how magic interacted with technology, what we needed to keep under wraps in a world where cameras were ever-present. 

“Have you gone to any panels?” Ruby asked. 

“No, I’m out of my element here,” I said. 

“There are a bunch of panels on real magic.” 

“I don’t want to risk any of the speakers recognizing me,” I explained. 

“I’ve got the perfect solution for that,” she pulled a mask out of her bag. It was a gorgeous black and gold masquerade mask. “I thought we could go to the masquerade ball tomorrow night, but it matches your outfit; There’s no reason you can’t wear it now.”

“You think it’s enough?” I asked as she handed the mask to me. 

“There are so many people walking around here. I think that people are more likely looking to spot actors rather than fugitive witches,” she said, only slightly lowering her voice at the end of the sentence. 

“I guess you have a point,” I said. 

“Of course I do. Now put on that mask, and let’s watch the masses fangirl out over some real witches.” 

We walked to the neighboring hotel and found the line for the “Magic Dispelled” panel was out the door and starting to make its way around the building. Thankfully there was a breeze. I was still hot, but I took that trade-off from the potential sunburn that I’d have in a different outfit. The group in front of us was reading spells from a book called Introduction to Magic. They weren’t actually achieving anything, but the spell was legit. When they caught me trying to get a closer look at the book, the woman holding it very proudly held it out. She told us she’d gotten it for free from the magic testing booth. According to her, the witches there were very kind and encouraging. I didn’t doubt that they were. The public relations they were trying to build here wouldn’t work if they were belittling the people there. The rest of the group had plans to go to the booth after this panel, assuming we got in. I took the time to feel out the book holder’s energy. There was definitely some talent there, but she’d need to become much more disciplined if she wanted to cast spells with consistency. I wondered how exactly the Coven was using the information they gathered from those booths. Witches aren’t locked in at a specific power level, hard work does pay off, but it takes belief too. Like most skills, magic can be learned. Some had more affinity than others, and some had advantageous connections. In the end, though, a determined enough person can get results. 

The line’s sudden burst to life quelled most of the discussion. Once we walked into the convention hall, I realized that I wouldn’t even need the mask Ruby had given me to avoid detection. It wasn’t quite as large as the vendor hall, but it wasn’t too far from it. Most of the seats were already full. We were in the third to last row of chairs, and there were still so many people behind us in line. There was no way everyone was getting a seat. I hadn’t kept track of the line growing behind us while the group in front of us was inadvertently answering so many of my questions. The staff slowed the flow of people once the last rows filled up. Someone on the stage started asking people to hold up their hands if there was a free seat near them. It took calling out a few people who’d put bags on the seats next to them before they really filled every seat and closed the doors. 

Three young witches came on stage. They were all wearing suits with the Coven’s emblem stitched onto the chest pockets. I could only see it on the giant television screens that gave a better view to those of us stuck in the back. The crowd cheered like they were the cast of the most popular show on the air. The witches gave into the pageantry of it. The first one clapped his hands together in a wide arc, sending a gust of wind powerful enough to be felt all the way in the back. The last witch made the illusion of a lightning storm appear over our heads. People jumped, gasped, and even screamed in surprise. The illusion dissipated as quickly as it appeared. The last witch disappeared in a puff of smoke from the stage. She reappeared in the center of the room at one of the microphone stands. 

“These are just a few of the more flashy tricks you can do with magic. They take a lot of practice and determination to achieve. We’ll be answering as many of your questions as we can in the next two hours. But first, we want to tell you about some common misconceptions when it comes to magic.” She disappeared again, this time without the puff of smoke. She was back on stage without any fanfare before most people were looking there again. “Starting with the fact that magic isn’t nearly as showy as it is in the movies.” 

“More often than not, magic doesn’t come with flourishes,” the first witch said. People were already getting up to form lines at the three microphones. 

“At our booths, you can get a book we at the Coven have compiled for people new to their magic. Many of you likely already visited us. We want to stress that you should not skip right to the spells. You need to prepare,” the third witch said. 

“We’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade, though. Magic is exciting. A whole new world is opening up for a lot of you. We want you to see how great that world can be without any of you summoning Eldritch Horrors to our plane of existence,” the first witch said. The crowd laughed right on cue. And just like that, she had them eating out of her hands. 

The Coven had picked the right team for this. They were doing an excellent job making sure that the world saw them as the benevolent benefactors giving the world the gift of magic. Honestly, they were doing a great job. I was a little annoyed at how well they were doing. But, the truth was this was the best-case scenario. As much as I didn’t want them to find me, I didn’t want the Coven to fail. They’d planned this out as close to flawlessly as they could have. This was a sympathetic audience which made it a bit easier. That would help them more than I considered. Essentially, they’d just gained an auditorium full of supporters who would go out into the world singing their praises. Of course, they would still have opposition ahead of them, but I watched the Coven multiplying their political power in real-time. All I could do was hope that they wouldn’t want to turn this new power against those of us on their most wanted list. 

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 14

Ice’s familiar magic waited for me on the other side of the door. Umbra reassured me that he was alone out there. I opened the door to see a nervous look on his face. I remembered him looking this anxious the first time he kissed me. Something told me that I wouldn’t be as happy with whatever was making him nervous this time. I stepped back so that he could come into the room. He stayed in the entryway instead of making himself more comfortable on the couch. My own face must have mirrored the nerves on his. My mind was flipping through possible worst-case scenarios. He wasn’t coming with us. He wanted me to go back to the Coven. His kiss was just a spontaneous mistake. He has someone else in his life he forgot to mention one his last visit. 

“I have to go. The Coven wants me to bring in Storm Ryder,” he said. 

“His little stunt wasn’t approved?” I asked. There were so many other questions I’d rather have the answer to, but I was scared to ask them. 

“Not in the slightest,” he said. A hint of amusement crossed his face before he met my eyes, and the nervousness was back. “How long will you be here?” 

“I’m not sure. We haven’t talked it through yet. I don’t know that it’s the best idea unless the rest of the Coven’s people are leaving with you,” I said. 

“They’re staying, but none of them should recognize you. They’re not hunters, and they all joined up after you were already gone. I didn’t put the ‘wanted’ list on their curriculum.” 

“So you’re going to come back here?” I asked. 

“If you want me to.” 

“Then what?” I asked. 

“I’m with you. I know there’s a lot we have to figure out, but I don’t want to lose you again,” he said. He pulled something out of his pocket with his right hand and held out his left hand in a silent request for one of my hands. I lifted my hand for him. He put a small metal object in mine. I looked down and nearly cried. “I’ve been holding on to it until I found you again. I had to clear your essence on it in case they figured out I had it, but I knew you’d want it back.” 

“Thank you.” I stared at the gold pocket watch in disbelief before pulling him into a hug. I didn’t think I’d ever see my mother’s watch again. I cried into his suit jacket. It was the only thing I had from my time before the Coven. I couldn’t bring much with me when Vincent took me in. 

“I should leave. My team has probably collected Ryder by now,” he said. 

“Wait,” I said. I took the clip off the end of the chain and slid it into place on his jacket pocket. “If we have to run, I won’t be able to leave directions for you.” 

He tilted my face up and leaned down to kiss me. It wasn’t hot like our last one. It was a promise, though. He would find me again. I kissed him back, hoping he felt a similar pledge on my lips. I’d wait for him. I didn’t have a chance to ask him if he was sure before he left me in the hotel room’s entryway. He’d built a life without me. He’d said he made the curriculum for his team downstairs. He’d become someone of value to the Coven. They wouldn’t take kindly to him abandoning his position. If he came with me, he couldn’t go back to that. Ruby already knew what she was getting into when we partnered up. She’d been on the run too. I didn’t feel like I was destroying her life when we left Orlando. If Ice joined us on the run, it would be my fault he couldn’t go back. 

“How far is the Coven from here?” Ruby asked me. 

“New York,” I said. 

“Kinda cliché, isn’t it?”

“Their compound isn’t in New York City. They own a building there, but their main base of operations is in Albion, NY.” 

“Never heard of it,” she said. 

“That’s kinda the point,” I said. “No one finds them if they don’t want to be found.” 

“So he’ll be back in a few days if all goes well?” 

“If everything goes well,” I said. 

“We need to work on your pessimism,” she said. 

“Do we?”

“Come on. You thought that we were screwed beyond belief, and instead, you got a hot make-out session,” she said. 

“We got exceptionally lucky,” I said. 

“That makes it sound like we wouldn’t have been able to handle things if they went differently. We had a plan. We would have gotten out of here just fine,” she said. 

“We can’t know that.” 

“We’re going out,” she said. 

“What?” 

“You’re reuniting with your ex, we didn’t get turned in, and the world has its first celebrity witch. That’s a lot to celebrate.” 

“You’re not gonna let this go, are you?” I asked. 

“You know me so well already,” she said with a smile. 

The “Bring Your Broomstick” ball was easy to dress for with our wardrobes. Because of my freak out in the vendor hall, we didn’t have any cosplay gear. There was a decent mix of people who went all out for their costumes and people who put in even less effort than Ruby and me. Within the first five minutes of being at the party, Ruby found two custom conical witch hats for us to wear. Their original owners looked happy to hand them over, so I assumed she gave them a financial incentive to part with them. The hotel’s ballroom didn’t quite pull off the club vibe that they were going for, but it was dark enough that I felt comfortable. Umbra vibrated under my feet. They were enjoying the music. I thought back to how they’d converted the sounds of Orlando’s streets into music for me when I first bought the cage that housed them. We shared that same joy again as the bass reverberated in the room. I took the hat Ruby offered me, and we went out on the dance floor. 

While we danced, I felt Umbra stretching out into the surrounding shadows. There were several other witches on the dance floor with us. There were other supernaturals too. With Umbra’s help, I sensed a couple werewolves, a vampire, and a succubus. I gave them all as much space as I could. They weren’t necessarily any more dangerous than us, but I was already less cautious than usual by being there. I wasn’t looking to take extra risks. Ruby wasn’t the best dancer, but she had fun and didn’t bump into anyone, so I saw no reason to try to adjust her style. I couldn’t say when but eventually, I stopped keeping track of the rest of the room and started enjoying the party. Right before midnight, the DJ said something I didn’t catch. The only words I did understand were “Storm Ryder.” The crowd cheered, and several of the witches on the dance floor imitated the actor’s magical flourish. The rest of the dancers cheered even louder as harmless sparks of magic flew through the air and fizzled out in different directions. It was a shame that the man of the hour wasn’t there to see the light show he inspired.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 13

I didn’t get as much time with Ice as I wanted. He had to go back to his fellow Coven recruiters so they wouldn’t get suspicious. He took off with the excuse of getting coffee for the group. Insane lines caused by the conventioneers would excuse his absence for a decent amount of time. It wouldn’t excuse him never coming back. If I could have my way, I’d have him join Ruby and me. It wasn’t fair to expect him to run from the Coven like I had. He’d fit in with our classmates easily enough; it was hard to think he wouldn’t have connections worth holding onto despite the passion in his kiss. He promised to come back after he’d finished his shift at the power testing booth. I started thinking about all the questions I’d ask him when he came back. I alternated between fantasies of him coming with us and dreading that he’d decide to turn me in. My more practical side won out. Ruby and I stayed in the room ordering room service and watching videos of the conference panels that had attracted the most attention. 

“Do you think that he’d turn you in?” Ruby asked me while we were waiting for a new group of actors to filter onto the stage. 

“I’d rather be wrong, but I won’t take that chance,” I said. The room was dark except for the light of the television and Ruby’s computer. Our bags sat packed and waiting an arm’s length away. If the worst happened, all we would need to do was grab our bags and sink into the shadows. 

“It was a pretty hot kiss. I think you’re wrong,” she said. Her words were uncut by her glancing at her computer. She was keeping an eye on Ice and the rest of the Coven’s people. 

“That would be nice.” 

“What would happen if he did?” she asked. 

“They’d try to incapacitate me. If somehow they managed to keep me from shadow stepping away from them,” I said. 

“Can they do that?” 

“Almost all things are possible with the right application of magic. It isn’t likely, though,” I said. It might have sounded cocky, but it was true. It would take some extremely powerful spellwork to keep me from using shadow-based magic. 

“What would happen to me?” she asked. I tried not to let my nervousness show. I didn’t want to lie to her, but I didn’t want to risk losing her either. If Ice came back with a squad of Coven witches and they managed to capture me, Ruby could get a plea bargain by agreeing to work for them. She was very skilled in her affinity, and the Coven doesn’t like to waste talent. It was risky as hell to tell her that, though. We’d been traveling together for less than a week. Who wouldn’t turn their fugitive partner in for that kind of protection? 

“If they manage to take me down, you tell them I kidnapped you,” I said. As much as I didn’t want to say it, this was as good a leap of faith as I could ask for to test our partnership. 

“What?” she asked. 

“I kidnapped you because of your reputation for making new identities. You tell them that, and they let you go. If you tell them about your friends in Vegas, the Coven will probably even find a way to protect you from them.” I couldn’t guarantee that, but it made sense. If the Coven wasn’t already aware of the cerebremancer in Vegas, they’d appreciate the tip. 

“You’re kidding, right?” 

“Not at all. If you wanted their protection instead of mine, you could go to those booths downstairs. You’re a strong practitioner; they can always find a use for strong witches,” I said. 

“We’ll just have to make sure that they don’t get a chance to knock you out then.” 

I didn’t say anything. It was one thing for her to promise solidarity; it was another thing to live up to that promise. We went back to watching the panels. They were more entertaining than I thought they’d be. Ruby had been to a convention like this before, and apparently, the questions were going entirely off from what was typical for these events. She told me that the casts answered questions about their acting process most of the time, which scenes were their favorites, and what spoilers they could give out without getting in trouble. Not to mention, they got an abundance of praise from all the fans. But as the day progressed, there were more questions about if any of the actors had visited the “Test Your Magic” booth, who on set they think could be a secret supernatural, and if there were any plans to incorporate real magic into the film industry. I hadn’t given much thought to how supernaturals could change things for tv and movies. 

Some of the actors were either more prepared for this new line of questioning, or their improv classes were really paying off. There were a lot of guesses in their answers that showed that they didn’t know enough about magic to talk about it in this capacity. Magic absolutely has the potential to be very flashy, but there was no way that magic could replace CGI altogether. I made a note of which of them gave any accurate specifics about the magical world. By the time the last televised panel of the day was starting, I had a list of five people who I felt reasonably sure were supernaturals. I couldn’t say what exactly they were, but their answers were on point. I wondered how much more influence the supernatural groups on the Coven’s level had at this convention. Was there more to the convention than their little recruitment stunt in the vendor’s hall? 

The last panel didn’t look like it had quite the crowd that earlier ones drew. I imagined that many of the conventioneers needed time to prepare for the festivities that followed the day’s panels. There were limitless parties available to the attendees between the official parties on the schedule and the events that were going on off-site. Anyone who was in that hall or watching the panel like us witnessed history. Three actors walked onto the stage to polite applause. The third let off a flurry of magic as he stepped into the audience’s view. He wasn’t even using proper spells. It was just an attention-grabbing light show. That was all it needed to be. The crowd went crazy. The actor’s fellow cast members looked shocked. I guess they weren’t in on his plan. I wondered if he’d thought it through. Whether he had or not, he became the first-ever out magical actor. 

The room filled more and more as social media blew up with the news. The other actors settled into being irrelevant to the crowd. Every question was for Storm Ryder. Ruby had to confirm for me that that was the actor’s name rather than that of the character he played. I wonder if he’d changed it to make himself more memorable. He was about to become a household name that no one would forget, at least not until someone more famous announced their status as a supernatural. If it were me, I’d wait to see how things went for Storm before joining him in the spotlight. Maybe I’d spent too long on the run, but I didn’t envy him what was coming his way. At the very least, he was going back with some angry coworkers. At the end of the panel, the camera facing the crowd showed how packed the hall had become. Whatever show Storm starred in was going to get a considerable boost to their viewership. There was a knock on the door before the television cut the view of the convention hall. 

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 12

Ice stepped off the elevator on our floor. This was the time to run, but I wasn’t moving. Any other hunter and I’d have shadow stepped us into the car. I still had time. It wouldn’t have taken more than a second. Instead, I waited for him to find us. I could feel his approach. His magic felt so familiar even after our time apart. It poured off him, filling the hall and reaching out to find us. I was familiar enough with the spell that I could have hidden from it. Every spell has its counter. That was part of what made defectors like me so dangerous. The longer a witch stays with the Coven, the more of their tricks that witch picks up. It was rare that anyone turned away from the power, status, and community that came with being part of the organization. Ice had to know I could counter this spell; we’d learned it at the same time. There had to be another he could be using. Was he giving me a way out?

“What do you want to do?” Ruby asked.

“What?” I’d half-forgotten she was there. 

“If he felt your magic through that din downstairs, there’s got to still be a connection there. You can still black hole us outta here if things go wrong.” 

“You don’t want to run?” I asked. 

“This might be the only chance you get for closure. You can’t go storming the castle just to talk to him, but this is neutral territory. Actually, since it’s our hotel room, you could have home-court advantage,” she said. 

She was right. I left her side and grabbed my bag. I fished my runes out of my bag. I had two sets. One set could still work for anyone seeking guidance. The other was charged with power. I’d spent a lot of my time since going on the run enchanting these runes. I grabbed the satchel and poured the small pieces out on the couch. I flipped through them and picked out the ones I needed. Ruby watched me from the threshold between the living room and bedroom. I got to the door in time to set the first two runes down, one on each side of the door. I could feel Ice’s power swelling on the other side of the door. This room wasn’t ours permanently, so it wouldn’t hold off a magical assailant the way a home would, but there was still power in our claim of the space. I opened the door. 

Ice stepped into the room and grabbed the door, closing it with more force than necessary. He turned to face me. I kicked the last rune to the door. It didn’t hit dead center between the other two, but it touched the door, and that was enough. A flash of gold light filled the room and faded in a second. He froze in place, staring down at me. He was half a foot taller, and I worried about looking him in the eye. I couldn’t put it off forever, so I hid my hesitance in the act of sizing him up. He was wearing a charcoal grey three-piece suit. It wasn’t his style from when I’d last seen him, but a lot had changed since then. The sharp lines of the suit emphasized how much muscle he’d put on. The purple tie fastened to his white shirt by a clip with the Coven’s emblem on it. His neck and jaw were tense. His stoic expression didn’t hint at what he planned to do. His eyes were a dark enough brown that I couldn’t differentiate the iris from the pupil in the dim room. 

He still didn’t move even as we stared at each other. My runes hadn’t frozen him in place; the stillness was his choice. If he tried to use a spell, he’d feel the runes suppressing his magic. He wouldn’t be able to cast a spell until he stepped back out of the room or the line of the runes broke. I still had access to my magic, and if he moved toward the runes even an inch, I would drop him back in the lobby before he could lay hands on one. I wanted so badly to blink or look away, but I didn’t want him to take that to mean I regretted what I did. There wasn’t a minute since killing Vincent when I felt guilty for it. Plenty of guilt over other things, but Vincent deserved what he got. If Ice didn’t understand that, then maybe that would be enough to let me let him go too. 

Ice surged forward, grabbing my face and bringing his lips down to meet mine. I didn’t know what I wanted to happen, but I hadn’t been expecting this. That didn’t stop me from returning the kiss. My arms went up around him on instinct. His suit jacket was softer than I’d imagined. My hands grabbed his shoulders so he couldn’t pull back if he came to his senses. He pressed up against me until my back hit the wall and kept kissing me. His hands moved away from my face. One went to the back of my neck, telling me that he had no intention of pulling away, and the other went to my lower back. I lost myself in our kiss. The room got even darker. And then Ruby cleared her throat. 

“As hot as that kiss was, I’m really not enough of a voyeur to stick around while you two go any further,” she said. 

Ice cleared his throat, stepped back and held his hands in front of his crotch. “Sorry.” 

“It’s okay, as long as you’re not about to take E back to the Coven to have him vaporized or whatever they’ve got planned. I kinda need him alive,” Ruby said. I was glad she had a comeback because I was speechless. 

“E?” Ice asked. 

“I’m not gonna use that stupid codename,” she said. “You can call me Ruby. No need to shake hands.” 

“I go by Ice,” he said. 

“Nice to meet you. Where are we on the ‘you turning him in’ thing?” she asked. 

“I…” Ice wasn’t doing much better than me in the speech department. 

“That was way too friendly of a Hello if you’re planning to get him killed,” Ruby said, apparently unphased by Ice and my awkwardness. 

“I’m not here to turn him in,” he said before turning back to me. “I wouldn’t do that.” 

“You did, though. You saw me kill Vincent and sounded the alarm,” I said. 

“The alarm went off automatically. The whole building is set to do that if any of the Coven leaders is maliciously wounded. The idea being that help would arrive in time to save them or at least catch their attacker,” Ice said. 

“I thought…” 

“What did he do?” Ice asked before I could find the right words. 

“He killed my mother,” I said. Ice didn’t say anything. He just pulled me into a hug. I’d told him about finding my mother once our relationship turned from hooking up to something more. “I’m sorry I thought you turned me in.”

“I wanted to come after you, but they locked things down before I could leave. By the time they let the protections go, I knew I couldn’t try to find you without leading them right to you,” he said. I didn’t pull away from the hug. I needed the physical contact to keep myself convinced this was real. I’d spent so long believing that he’d betrayed me. Even in my most optimistic imagined scenarios, I wouldn’t let myself think I could have him back. That kiss threw all those fantasies out the window. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as picking up where we left off. But he was here and holding me. That was more than enough for now.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 11

For a brief moment, I had no destination in mind. I fell through the darkness without any signs of stopping. I couldn’t face Ice. Anyone else from my past wouldn’t evoke this uncontrolled dread. Temperance Alessandra herself could have found me, and I wouldn’t lose control like this. I’d run. Anyone in my situation would. But it would have been a calculated move, not a drop into the void without thinking. Ruby’s grip tightened to the point of hurting my hand. The pain brought me back to myself. I found a shadow in our room, and I pulled us back to the world. We landed on the couch; at least Ruby did. I landed on the edge and fell gracelessly to the ground. Umbra cushioned my fall, not that it would have registered much either way. The urge to run was still strong. If I’d sensed him, he could have sensed me. He knew me better than any living person. If he knew I was here, he’d find me. 

“What the hell just happened?” Ruby asked. “Where were we?”

I opened my mouth to answer her but couldn’t make the words come out.

“Are you okay, E?” she asked. I looked at her, confused. How had she known what Ice called me? “I’m not calling you, Erebus. It’s pretentious as hell.”

“I didn’t pick it,” I said. 

“Of course not, I read more than your file. The Coven loves their little code names. Pretty smart of them not to keep your real names on file, though. Nice try at distracting me. What happened?” she asked again. I hadn’t been trying to distract her with my confusion. I assumed she knew my name. Agent Boone knew it, and she’d presumably hacked him at some point to know he was tracking both of us. I wasn’t ready to give her my real name if she hadn’t already found it. 

“I felt the magic of someone I knew when I was training,” I said. 

“It was more than that, though. I’ve seen you under pressure. You’re calm and strategic. You wouldn’t have gotten away from them if panicking like that was your normal reaction. You don’t have to tell me everything, but I need to know that you’re in control.” 

“They call him Icelus because of his strength with dream magic. I called him Ice. He was the only friend I held onto once we started training as hunters. Everyone else was jealous, scared, or both,” I said. 

“He turned on you in the end?” she asked. 

“He tried to turn me in,” I said. I could still imagine the shock on his face. He’d seen the blood pouring out of Vincent’s neck, covering my floor, my shoes, my knife, my hands. The same fear I saw in so many of my peers’ eyes reflected in his that night. I didn’t get a chance to explain before the alarms went off. 

“Why did you do it?” Ruby looked like she regretted the question as soon as she asked. I considered lying or staying silent. 

“Vincent killed my mother. I didn’t know it at the time. He presented himself as my savior, tragically a little too late. I was only seven. I didn’t know anything about magic other than I had it, and my mom wanted me to keep it a secret,” I told her. It was time for a leap of faith. She’d trusted me to deal with the pyromancer and keep her safe. There was still a lot for both of us to learn about each other, but I had to start fighting the desire to hide things from her if we were going to make this work. 

“I’m sorry. Maybe this isn’t the right thing to say,” she hesitated but seemed to feel that we needed to talk about this at some point. “Was it worth it?” 

“Yes. If I saved even one kid from ending up like I did, it was worth it.” 

“Hmm.” 

“You expected a different answer?” 

“I’ve heard that killing someone with your magic makes you go dark,” she said. 

“It’s not as simple as that. Killing someone with magic gives you a taste for dark magic, to be sure. It doesn’t take away your ability to choose, though. Also, I didn’t kill him with magic, not technically. I may have gotten to him with my magic, but I killed him with a knife,” I said. 

“That seems so arbitrary,” she said. I shrugged. 

“I don’t make the rules.” 

“So, this guy, Ice, he caught you and sounded the alarm. And he’s the reason you panicked?” She asked. There was another question in her eyes. 

“He wasn’t just my friend. He was my future—the future I wanted before I found out what Vincent did. The Coven is a lot of things, but they aren’t closed-minded about sexuality. Ice and I could have been together if I’d never run. They would have supported and even encouraged our relationship. They know the power of giving a home to an outcast. He’s my only regret. Part of me wished I’d loved him enough to do something different. I don’t know what. Even if they had high hopes for me, there was no way the other senior members of the Coven would have chosen me over Vincent.”

“Did your guy know what Vincent did?” 

“No,” I said. I’ve never told Ice. There was a point where I could have, but I didn’t want him to talk me out of it. Maybe he would have run with me, but it was bad enough that I was ruining my future. I didn’t want to take him down with me. 

“Do we need to worry about him coming to find us? I mean, if you had the magic equivalent of a panic attack because of your feelings for him, how do we know he isn’t harboring similar feelings? Is there any chance he sensed you before you got us out of there?” she asked. 

“It’s possible. The more time witches spend together, the easier it is for us to sense each other’s magic. If I could feel him as clearly today as the day I ran, he might have sensed me. The convention floor was busy, though. Maybe he was too distracted with the crowds,” I said. 

“That’s too much uncertainty for my liking,” she said. She got up and went into the bedroom. I got off the floor and followed her.

“What are you doing?”

“A hotel this nice will have a decent security system. The better the system is, the easier it is for me to find out if he’s coming our way,” she said. She pulled out her laptop and was already flipping through the security feeds four at a time before I got close enough to look over her shoulder. 

“You don’t even know what he looks like,” I said. 

“Of course I do. Your file wasn’t the only one I read from the Coven’s database,” she reminded me. 

I couldn’t keep track of the frames as she flipped through them. It was all blurs of intricate costumes to me. Even with the clear mental image of Ice in my mind, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in the crowds. Somehow Ruby managed it. She stopped on a page that featured the elevator cameras. She zoomed in on one of the four video feeds. Ice was standing to the right side of the car. He looked larger than I remembered. He’d always been tall, but now he was broad enough to be intimidating. The rest of the elevator’s passengers looked nervous, especially those closest to him. That told me he was coming to us alone. None of the uncomfortable faces around him belonged to witches who knew what he was capable of doing. We had to choose quickly. Either I would face him for the first time in years, or we were about to run from Georgia faster than we’d gotten out of Florida. 

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 10

“At least try it on,” Ruby insisted. She’d been trying to convince me to expand my color selection for the past ten minutes after realizing I was only picking out black and dark grey clothing. 

“Adding other colors would defeat the purpose. The idea is to blend into the shadows as much as possible,” I said. 

“I’m pretty sure your goth meets hipster aesthetic doesn’t blend in. People notice you,” she said. 

“I’m not trying to blend into crowds. It’s easier to hide in the shadows if I’m already wearing the right colors for it,” I explained.

“Magic is out though, soon enough, people won’t blink twice at someone appearing out of nowhere. Besides, it’s not like I’m suggesting you try on pastels or anything,” she said. 

“Fine,” I said. I took the stack of shirts from her. She wasn’t going to let it go, so I figured I’d try to get her to agree to some changes too. “You know that’s not how things are going to be. We’re not going to get to be normal people as the rest of the world gets used to magic. At the end of the day, you and I still have to hide. We don’t know how things are going to change for us. We should do everything we can to minimize how much people notice us.” 

“A girl can dream, can’t she?” 

“What is your dream?” I asked. I was genuinely curious. I didn’t let myself think about the future anymore. At least not past where to go next and how to get money or supplies. 

“What?” she asked. 

“Your dream, that might not be the right word. Do you have a goal or destination in mind?” 

“I hadn’t thought that far out. I’ve been more focused on where I don’t want to end up,” she said. If her pursuer had more limited reach than mine, there might be a way out for her. There was an equivalent to the Coven on every continent, often more than one. No matter where I ran, there was always someone that would hand me over for the right price. 

“You might want to give it some thought this weekend,” I said. If she was going to find some way out and leave me on my own again, I wanted to prepare for it. Despite how new she was in my life, I didn’t like the thought of losing her. Being around her was refreshing. I hadn’t had anyone to care about besides myself in too long. 

She stayed quiet while I tried things on. I didn’t interrupt her thoughts. When we did speak again, we kept the subjects light. I ended up buying more than my usual black and grey. All the colors were so dark that they would blend into the shadows as well. The hotel lobby wasn’t any calmer when we got back. I’d had my reservations about staying when Ruby sprang the convention on me, but I had to admit that it would be easy to lose someone in this crowd. A long hot shower and a new outfit gave me a sunnier disposition. Ruby still seemed distant, though. I couldn’t help feeling responsible for her gloom. I wanted her to take things a bit more seriously, but it didn’t feel right for her to be so sedate. She perked up at the suggestion of going down to check out the vendors. 

The busy lobby was nothing compared to the crowds milling through the booths of memorabilia, merch, and celebrities downstairs. I’d never in my life been around so many people. If Umbra weren’t with me, letting me feel out the energy of everyone in a ten-foot radius of us, I would have been panicking. My anxiety still put me on alert as we moved through the mob. So many of the costumes included weapons, as did a good percent of the booths. The security at the doors was doing their best to ensure that nothing was dangerous, but none of them had been checking for any enchantments. I forced my discomfort down. Umbra’s power was doing a lot to help with that, but we were still new to each other. I wasn’t used to relying on help. 

Ruby’s smile at the tangled mass of fandoms told me her worries were gone as assuredly as any magic could have. Her head never stopped moving as she took it all in. When she turned to face me, a bit of hesitation came into her expression. My stress must have been evident. She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the throng. She surprised me with how deftly she extricated us from the herd. There wasn’t much free space for people who weren’t moving or perusing the merchandise, but she managed to get us as out of the way as possible. The t-shirt vendors she’d pulled us towards were so busy with actual customers that they didn’t have time to see if we wanted to buy anything. She didn’t let go of my hand. 

“We can go back to the room,” she suggested. I gripped her hand tighter as people jostled us. 

“No. I’m okay.” It wasn’t a lie. This experience was completely foreign to me, but I’d been through worse without breaking down. I’d lost my entire world twice and kept going. I didn’t want to admit defeat here. 

“Are you sure?” she asked. 

“Yeah, but don’t let go if that’s okay?” I asked. She squeezed my hand in reassurance. There wasn’t any romance to it. I didn’t know Ruby’s orientation, but I could tell that she didn’t see me that way which was a relief. It would make traveling together a lot easier if I didn’t have to let her down in that way. She guided me back into the stream of conventioneers. 

Up ahead of us, a crowd was forming. There was palpable excitement in the air. It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to make another escape like the one we just did without using more brute force than would be justifiable or taking a more magical route out. As I was considering that idea, I started to hear some of the excited chatter filtering back to us. The crowd was talking about magic, real magic, at the convention. There were as many people saying it was a cheap stunt pandering to nerd culture as there were exclaiming how excited they were for their turn. The mass pushed us relentlessly forward until we couldn’t go any further. There were multiple queues set up, all leading to a series of tents that lined the entire back wall. The same message scrawled over and over the whole length of it. “Safely Test Your Magic Here.” 

I let go of Ruby’s hand. Her reflexes were fast enough to get a grip on me again immediately. I was looking around for any way out. I was so stupid for not thinking of it before. Of course, the Coven would have a presence here. It served them well. They looked open and welcoming, all while they had enthusiastic new potential recruits rushing toward them. I couldn’t push my way back the way we came, and I hesitated to use magic to escape. No matter who they sent, anyone with the most basic recruiting training would be able to feel a flair of power like the one it would take to get Ruby and me to freedom. She tried to get me to answer her, but I couldn’t even focus on what she was saying. Hers was another voice in the crowd even as she put her other hand on my arm to ensure she wouldn’t lose me. I was still paralyzed with uncertainty when Umbra’s ever-shifting shadow touched someone I recognized all too well. I didn’t think. I reacted. The shadow underfoot of the crowd swallowed Ruby and me. Noises of excitement followed us out of the room, but they were senseless when my mind was so focused on him. Icelus. Ice.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 9

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.