Shadow-Blessed Ep. 31

I woke up with Ice’s arm stretched across my chest and his hand gently rubbing my shoulder and upper arm. Clark’s arm. It was going to take a while for me to get used to that change. Black-out curtains made it impossible to tell what time it was. Umbra sat by the door, ready to defend me if necessary. They recovered faster than I did; the exhaustion wasn’t as heavy as when I last woke, but I still wasn’t at full strength. Hunger pangs reminded me that no matter how tired I was, my body had other needs. I put my hand over Clark’s, stopping it on its way back toward my shoulder. Despite my empty stomach, I wanted to stay there with him. We’d lost so much time when I ran, and I longed for a chance to make it up. But we weren’t safe. As long as we still had a witch loyal to the Coven with us, there was the risk of her calling them down on our heads. 

“Morning,” Clark whispered in my ears. 

“Is it morning?” I asked. 

“For a little while longer, yes.”

“How long was I asleep?” 

“Nineteen hours. I checked on you in your dreams to make sure everything was okay,” he said. 

“I remember,” I said. 

“How are you feeling?” he asked. 

“Still not 100%, but more hungry than tired.” 

“Right. Of course. There’s plenty of food,” he said. 

We got out of bed, and Clark led me to the kitchen. Umbra slipped into my shadow, making me feel more confident in my stride. I vaguely remembered Ruby giving us a tour of the house, but it seemed more like a dream than the black sand beach where I’d told Clark my real name. Eli welcomed us into the kitchen. He was already cooking thinly sliced steak and onions in a skillet. I hadn’t processed how spacious the kitchen was when we first arrived. The island didn’t make the room feel crowded despite being the size of a twin mattress. It had a black and green granite countertop. The rest of the kitchen followed that color scheme. The walls matched the forest green flecks, and the appliances were all glossy black. I didn’t even know what several of them did. I knew the basics of cooking well enough to follow uncomplicated recipes. The nomadic life I’d been living didn’t include many kitchens, though. 

“You’re up! I hope you like steak sandwiches. They’re almost ready,” Eli said. 

“It smells great,” I said. 

“If it’s anything like the rest of his cooking, it will taste even better than it smells,” Ruby said. She walked into the kitchen from the other side. “Turns out Eli is a master chef. I’ve told him he’s never leaving. I hope that’s okay?” 

“As long as you guys are okay with it, he can stay as long as he likes,” I said. Eli was smirking at me. I’d told him to win Ruby over, and apparently, it hadn’t taken him very long. 

“Here you go. Eat up,” Eli said, putting plates down in front of Clark and me. He’d had two sandwiches in the oven melting cheese on top. He moved the meat and onions from the skillet into two more hoagie rolls and put cheese slices on top of those before sliding them under the broiler. “Should I make one for our guest in the panic room?” 

“Yes, and a second one for E, it looks like,” Ruby said. I’d burned my mouth on the first bite, but after a very low-level cooling spell, I was already halfway through my sandwich. 

“No problem,” Eli said. 

“How is she?” I asked. 

“Annoying. She said she’ll only speak to you,” Ruby said. 

“She’s keeping herself from sleeping by biting the inside of her mouth,” Clark said. 

“So we’re no closer to getting your answers,” I said. I knew he was uneasy about her being able to shrug off the dream magic he’d used on her. 

“I don’t want to resort to hurting her. If she doesn’t tell us at all, then we can leave her here. If we take the blocker off her, the Coven will find her before she even gets too hungry,” Clark said. He was right. As long as we had our blockers and kept moving, the Coven would have difficulty finding us even if they got her back. 

“Agreed. I’ll see if I can get anything out of her. If not, how soon can we move on?”

“I can have another safe house for us by the end of the day,” Ruby said. 

“Go ahead and start working on that. Whether she talks or not, I’d like to keep moving,” I said. 

I took my second sandwich and one for the bibliomancer with me. The panic room was in the master bedroom’s closet. The homeowner built it into the closet, which was already the size of a small bedroom. I couldn’t even imagine how over the top this person’s main house must have been. I watched the witch on the control panel. They’d tied her to a chair at her wrists, ankles, and waist, but she didn’t look scared or anxious. Clark called her Calliope. In the myths, Calliope was the leader and most outspoken of the muses. I’d seen enough of her magic to trust that she’d earn that name. The door opened without my prompting, a good thing since my hands were full, and I had no idea how the control panel worked. Ruby’s doing, I was sure.

“My associates told me you wanted to speak to me,” I said. Once I was through the threshold, the door closed behind me. My magic cut off. I didn’t need to look above the doorway to know that there was a sigil above it. This was how the Coven kept prisoners. It made me a little nervous; invoking magic they’d designed wasn’t a beacon or anything, but I’d gotten used to avoiding Coven magic. 

“Associates? What are you? Some kind of crime ring?” 

“That would be interesting, but no. We’re not criminals,” I said. I set the plate on her lap then started eating my own sandwich. I would untie her hands after we’d finished talking. 

“You are. You’re a murderer,” she accused me. 

“Fair enough. But you can’t paint them with the same brush.” I didn’t actually know if any of my companions had killed anyone. Maybe Eli had, but I doubted Ruby would have. If Clark had killed anyone, it was definitely under the Coven’s command, so I wasn’t willing to lay that blame on him. 

“They’re helping you that at least makes them kidnappers,” she said. 

“As I remember it, you were desperate to come with us. None of the other Coven witches leaped headfirst into the shadows with us,” I said. 

“You think that you’re clever, but even if you kill me, the Coven will catch up to you,” she said. 

“I’m not going to kill you. Believe it or not, but I don’t go around killing everyone who gets in my way.” 

“Just Senior Coven Leaders then?” 

“Only Vincent Tanner,” I said. It didn’t matter if she believed me or not; my motive wouldn’t make me any less culpable. 

“Why?” she asked. 

“What does it matter to you? You’ve already made up your mind about me.”

“Vincent was my godfather.”

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 30

Ice took my hand, and the sky changed from its natural light blue to purple so dark I could only differentiate it from black close to the glow of the moon that suddenly appeared. We were standing on a shore of black sand, watching silver waves roll in and out, burying our feet a little at a time. As if these unnatural colors weren’t enough to tell me Ice was visiting my subconscious, a pod of whales flew up out of the water. They kept going up, indifferent to the change from water to air. I looked at Ice. He looked younger than his waking self. This was the version of him I’d gotten to know when we were in training together at the Coven. I wondered if he’d chosen to appear this way or if my mind picked the version of him I felt I knew best.

“Testing your powers?” I asked.

“Yes, but that’s not the main reason I’m here,” he said.

“No one can listen in here,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. My necklace used to keep him from visiting me this way, but it couldn’t keep him out when he could make physical contact.

“You’re worried,” I said. It wasn’t a question. His emotions had more weight here, and his anxiety took the form of a storm out toward the west of this beachscape.

“I wish I wasn’t,” he said.

“It’s not too late. If we could guarantee that your involvement was erased from her mind, you could take the bibliomancer back to the Coven with a story about rescuing her from me,” I said.

“No. I’m not worried about my choice to be with you. At least not in that way. It’s just been so long since you left, E. What if we’ve changed too much?”

“Milo,” I said. Under Vincent’s tutelage, we’d been instructed never to give someone our real names. I wasn’t going to let the teachings of a dead man rule my life anymore.

“Milo?”

That’s my real name. Milo Grimshaw. You don’t hav—”

“Clark Rogers,” he said. He lifted our joined hands between us. “I’m with you, Milo.”

“All right, Clark. That’s going to take some getting used to.” We both laughed. “That’s not the only thing bothering you, though.”

“No,” he said. The storm was getting closer.

“Is it the Bibliomancer?” I asked.

“I can handle Calliope,” he said. “I’m worried about the witch Ruby ran from.”

“Mr. Newton? She told you about him?”

“I wanted to get to know her; she is important to you. She told me she’s running from a cerebremancer. The Coven has no record of him. If he’s as powerful as she and Eli say, he needs to be stopped.”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” I said. “Eli says he won’t stop looking for Ruby. These blockers we got are the best protection we could hope for, but they’re not guarantees. There will always be a risk as long as he’s looking for her.”

“The Coven will be looking for us too,” he said.

“It’s a lot to run from. I’ve been tempted to see if Ruby can get us out of the country unnoticed.”

“It’s not a bad idea, but I don’t think I can walk away knowing that someone like Newton is out there and going unchecked,” he said.

“It’s not going to be easy getting Ruby to go back there,” I said.

“I think you could convince her. She trusts you.”

“Let’s hope she still does after I tell her we wanted to walk her back to her worst nightmare.”

The storm didn’t dissipate, but it stopped rolling toward us. I imagined a breeze pushing it further out, and my dream obliged me. There was no need for spells here. Ice’s presence, no Clark’s presence, was enough to give me control of the dream. He gripped my hand tighter, and the clouds sped up until they were minor details on the horizon. The stars started dancing across the sky, growing and shrinking as they went. I made the moon slowly shift through the color spectrum. We fell back in time to when we were both teenagers. We learned to love each other through the beauty we found in each other’s magic.

I remembered nights where I would tell stories with intricate shadows on the walls until we got tired enough to fall asleep. Then we dreamt miracles while we slept. We did this long before we felt any sexual attraction for each other. I cried when the wind started to sound like a flute. Other instruments joined from nowhere. Soon the stars were moving to the rhythm of the orchestra. I’d missed this more than I could articulate; having it back overwhelmed me. Ice pulled me into an embrace and held me while I cried. It felt as real as if we were both awake, the tears, the waves, the sand, and his arms. He held me until the tears stopped flowing.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 29

I woke up in the car leaning against Ice. Eli and Ruby sat in front of us. He drove, and she typed on her laptop. The bibliomancer slept in the seat next to me with her head hanging down in front of her. I saw the extra blocker we’d made around her neck. The last thing I remembered was her grabbing hold of me as Umbra and I shadow-stepped the tent. There was no way that she’d agreed to come with us. That meant we were kidnapping her for the second time. I wasn’t looking forward to her waking up. Considering how exhausted I was, I wouldn’t be the one who had to deal with her. Umbra was right about how defenseless that escape had left us. I could barely feel them resting in my shadow. I couldn’t do a spell to save my life at this point. Ice rubbed my shoulder. 

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked. 

“Tired but otherwise fine,” I said. “What happened?” 

“You dropped the whole tent through the shadows. We landed in an alley a mile from the marketplace.” 

“Are Billie and June okay?” 

“We offered to take them with us, but they decided to go their own way,” Ruby said. 

“Willard?” I asked.

“He wasn’t with us in the alley,” Ice said. 

“Where are we headed?” 

“Out of Georgia,” Eli said. 

“What about her?” 

“I need to know why my magic didn’t work,” Ice said. 

“All right,” I said. 

I didn’t remember drifting off. When I woke up, Eli parked the car in front of a two-story house. Ice was rubbing my shoulder gently to wake me up. I smiled at him, and he kissed me. It was a soft and brief kiss, but it reassured me. Some part of me was waiting for him to realize he made a mistake and go leave me alone again. I reminded myself that I wouldn’t be alone even if Ice left. I had Ruby. For better or worse, Eli didn’t seem to be going anywhere either. As long as we had this bibliomancer with us, I would be happy for his company. I didn’t know who’d knocked her out after we landed in the alley, but she’d been more resourceful than I’d liked when I fought her. I doubted she’d let something like us outnumbering her stop her from trying to escape again. 

Ruby waved her hand, and the garage door started rolling up. At a glance, it was a well-organized space with tools of all sorts on all the walls. Eli pulled the car in. There was enough room for another car and maybe a motorcycle, even with the impressive collection of tools. The garage door started rolling down behind us. Ice got out of the car and held a hand out to me; I took it, not confident that I wouldn’t need the support until both feet were firmly planted beneath me. I still didn’t feel up to using any magic, but at least I wasn’t walking on Bambi-legs. Ruby and Eli didn’t let me carry any of our luggage. I was glad to see that they’d gotten our things from the hotel before hitting the road. I’d already replaced my wardrobe once this month; I didn’t want to have to do it again. Ice carried the sleeping witch. Being treated like I was fragile was going to get old fast. 

The door into the house responded to Ruby’s magic just as the garage door had. She woke the house with her powers. Whoever designed the house filled it with every luxury technology had to offer. That made it perfect for Ruby. She walked from room to room as if she’d lived here before. Maybe she had at some point. We’d gone through so much together so quickly that it was easy to forget how little we actually knew each other. I had no idea where she’d been before Las Vegas or Florida. We followed her until she stopped in a living room with dark grey walls and light grey furniture.

“We’ve got this place for the week. I don’t think that it would be safe to stay put much longer than that,” Ruby said. 

“We should probably sleep in shifts as long as we’re keeping the Coven’s bookworm with us,” Eli suggested. 

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Ruby said. “This house has a panic room. I can control everything about it. If we put her in there, she won’t be going anywhere unless we want her to.” 

“Lead the way,” Ice said. 

“Sure thing,” she said. 

I sat on the couch and tried not to look as exhausted as I felt. 

“Can I get you anything?” Eli asked. I gave him a suspicious look. “What? A guy can’t offer a friend a favor?” 

“We’re not friends, Eli,” I said. 

“Maybe not yet, but I think I could use a friend like you. So if you’ll give me a chance, I think I can make it worth your while,” he said. 

“What’s brought this on? I would have figured you’d be off on your own as soon as you got that blocker.” 

“I know this thing should mean I’m free to live my life, but I’m not sure what that would really look like,” he said, fiddling with the ring June made for him. “I went from being a thug for hire to one of Newton’s enforcers. The longer I’ve spent with you since you cut that compulsion off, the more I think you’re worth sticking with. I think you could use an extra pair of eyes watching your back.” 

“If you’re going to stick around, you’re gonna have to get on Ruby’s good side, too,” I said. “She might not be as welcoming considering how you ended up with us. Get her to say you can stay, and I’ll be good with it.” 

“That’s fair. You got yourself a deal,” Eli said. 

Once she and Ice secured the bibliomancer, Ruby gave us a tour of the place. She’d never stayed here before, but the latest gadgets filling every room made it easy for her to guide us. Security cameras were everywhere but the bathrooms. The owner rented the space out as an Airbnb but didn’t want to trust the guests. Ruby would make sure to delete all the footage of our stay before we left. She’d already made sure they weren’t broadcasting anything since our arrival. It was the safest we could get while we were still on the run. If anyone came looking for us, we’d know before they got close enough to trap us. The house had five bedrooms and three bathrooms, a significant upgrade over the hotel room. Thanks to Ruby letting a delivery man in while we were still on our way, the refrigerator and freezer had plenty of food. Eli won himself some points with his cooking skill. It was still early when we finished eating, but the pleasantly full feeling made me even more tired. I went to lay down. I didn’t know how long this respite would last but needed to rest before we moved again.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 28

“You’re not going to force me out of my city!” Willard shouted. Ice had us rolling to the left before another blast of fire could hit us.

Willard’s magic didn’t affect the tent at all. He didn’t get another chance to attack us. Billie’s manticore was on the offensive. Ice and I got to our feet and joined everyone else, watching the mad enchanter facing off against the automaton. There wasn’t much else I could do. Ice, Ruby, and Eli all looked as exhausted as I did. Billie pulled what looked like a tent-spike out of one of their pockets. They threw it at the floor, and an energy barrier came up between us and the fight. June went back to fastening the stones into their settings. Billie seemed satisfied to watch Willard bob and weave to avoid the manticore’s swipes. He wasn’t attacking it, but he kept trying to get closer to the automaton’s head. I did not doubt that the metal creature would kill Willard if he slipped up. 

“Billie, call off the manticore,” I said. 

“Why? Did you miss the part where he tried to kill you?” they asked. 

“I can reason with him,” I said. I had to try, at least. If he died, it would be my fault for dragging the three of them into my mess. 

“You can barely stand,” they said. 

“Let me try.” 

“It’s your funeral,” they said. I didn’t see any signal, but the manticore stopped attacking and folded its wings around itself. 

“Willard,” I said. He didn’t turn to face us; instead, he kept his eye on the metal cocoon. “It’s not going to attack. Can we talk about this?” 

“What’s there to talk about?” he asked, looking over his shoulder rather than turning around. “Those two want me gone, and I don’t think they care how it happens.” 

“That’s true,” Billie said. 

“For the record, I don’t want him dead. Just gone,” June said, not looking up from her work. 

“I don’t want you dead either. There has to be something we can offer to make it worth your while to move,” I said. I doubted there was much in the way of creature comforts that Ruby couldn’t arrange given an internet connection and enough time. 

“I don’t want to start over. Why should I have to?”

“Because you’re an abusive asshole who deserves worse,” Billie said. 

“What would you know about it?” Willard asked, finally turning to face us. 

“Enough,” they said. 

“Screw you.” Willard threw a handful of slime at the barrier between us. It started to glow and expand. In only a few seconds, I lost sight of him. 

“Still think you can reason with him?” Billie asked. 

“Did you know he’d react this way?” I asked. They wouldn’t look at me. “You never believed I could make him leave. You just wanted to force him into a confrontation.” 

“If you could have convinced him, I would have been happy to see him go. I’m not going to pretend he doesn’t have this coming,” They said. The slime was nearly covering the whole energy barrier. Its color shifted from green to a mix of boiling yellow and orange. 

Billie thrust their arms forward, and the barrier pushed the slime all the way to the other end of the tent. There was a bright flash as Willard’s enchanted sludge hit the tent wall. I shielded my eyes. When I looked again, the muck was black and crumbling. I didn’t see Willard anywhere, but the manticore stood untouched by the action. For a brief moment, I thought it was over, and then the metal beast opened its wings. Willard came out from behind them and rolled marbles across the floor. Billie plunged their hands down and threw them back up. The floor moved like a wave, rolling the marbles back at Willard. The manticore shielded him again. The marbles’ explosions didn’t leave a mark on the metallic wings. Billie grimaced. 

“Why is it protecting him?” Ruby asked. 

“Loyalty charm,” Billie said. They didn’t explain any further. The automatons from downstairs came up and started attacking the manticore.

“Milo, we’re in danger,” Umbra said. 

“I know.” 

“Not from the enchanter.” My familiar showed me what they saw outside. Coven witches were on their way, following the Bibliomancer we’d encountered. Umbra sensed them when they entered the market and came to warn me. I knew Coven’s procedure well enough to know we had a little time before they’d attack. First, they would clear the area of civilians, then surround the tent, and finally, open fire with deadly force. If the Bibliomancer was leading the charge, I doubted she’d attempt to capture me after our last encounter. I was too dangerous to take in alive, and everyone in this tent was guilty by association. 

“Billie, you wouldn’t happen to have an escape hatch, would you?” I asked. 

“Why? I can handle Willard,” they said. The automatons were making slow progress breaking through the manticore’s wings. 

“We’re being surrounded by Coven witches.”

“What?” Ice asked. I met his eyes and knew he hadn’t betrayed us. He looked scared. The same fear that I saw on his face the night I ran from the Coven. This time I knew what he was afraid of because it was the same thing that frightened me. I couldn’t lose him again so soon after I got him back.

“Something went wrong. That bibliomancer is leading them here now,” I said. 

“I’ve got a low range teleport. It lets out at the park’s entrance,” They said. 

“No good. They’ll have people waiting there,” Ice said. 

“How many were on the recruiting team?” I asked. 

“Fifteen. But she’ll have called in back up,” he said. 

“I don’t have the charge to take on one Coven witch right now, let alone fifteen,” Eli said. 

“Do you trust them?” Umbra asked me. 

“Why?” I thought. 

“We can get them out of here safely, but it will leave us both exhausted. If they can’t protect us, it would be better to escape on our own.” 

“Ice will keep us safe,” I assured Umbra. “I can get us out of here. Deal with Willard. I don’t want to get us out of here just for him to kill us.” 

“Everyone, take your blockers. We don’t want them following us,” June said, holding out the finished pieces of jewelry. I took the spare necklace she’d made for me. Billie split the wall closest to Willard, pushed him and all of their automatons out, and resealed the canvas with a few quick hand gestures, making it clear they’d been toying with him this whole time. 

The stairs reminded me how shaky I still was. Umbra was confident that we could do this. I got to the bottom level of the tent and felt our shared magic start to gather. I needed to see it, though. I got to the entrance and found the bibliomancer looking smug. A few of the Coven witches threw spells at me, but Billie’s protective enchantments came to my aid. Ripples of energy showed the place where their will met the attacks and slapped them down. I watched as the Coven witches’ shadows left them entirely and pooled beneath me. Our magic didn’t stop there. The shadows of the other tents, the trees, and every other thing in the market drew in closer and closer until they left their sources and joined Umbra and me. I smiled at the Coven bibliomancer and watched the confidence drop off her face. She ran forward as Umbra and I sank the entire tent into the massive shadow beneath us. All my focus was on the biggest shadow-step of my life. I couldn’t stop her from grabbing onto me. The rest of the Coven’s witches watched in disbelief as I took her and three stories worth of enchanted canvas with me.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 27

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.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 26

I felt Ice’s magic before as we got off the elevator. Ruby opened the door before we got to it. She looked a little nervous. I tried not to interpret that as a bad sign. There were too many things to worry about. Ruby could just be anxious about how our visit to Willard went. The other Coven witches could be looking for the bibliomancer. Ice could be pissed that we’d taken one of his underlings hostage. The list went on and on, and it got worse with each new thought. I walked in to see that Ice was kneeling at the couch with one hand on each side of our prisoner’s head. His magic flowed in the space like electric circuits, the colors shifting from purple to blue to green and back. His ability to influence the sleeping mind was a strange sibling of cerebremancy. He couldn’t give commands and have them obeyed outright. Subverting another person’s will like that was powerful but short-lived in most cases. Instead, his magic could influence a person’s thoughts for a lifetime. He could sew doubt into a person’s memories, lessen an addiction that plagues them, uncover desires they hide even from themselves, and so much more.

“Who’s he?” Eli asked. I nearly clapped my hands over his mouth. Dream magic could be mercurial; enough stimulus of one kind or another could make things harder on Ice.

“Shhhh,” Ruby hissed. She gestured for us to follow her. We did.

“That’s Ice. He’s who we’re getting the third blocker for,” I said once Ruby closed the door.

“What’s he doing?” Eli asked, matching my hushed volume.

“With any luck, eliminating our problem without raising more suspicion from the other Coven witches,” Ruby said.

“I’ll give you this much Ruby, you don’t disappoint. When Newton sent me after you, he said you’d have found some interesting company. An umbramancer was impressive enough now you’ve got an oneiromancer on top of that,” Eli said. I wondered if he cared that the name of their mutual enemy made Ruby uncomfortable.

“Did you convince Willard?” she said, ignoring Eli’s comment.

“I think so,” I said.

“You’re not certain?” she asked.

“We scared him enough that he might be thinking about running rather than stick around to help us,” I said.

“I don’t think he’ll run. But he’s not gonna be happy with us,” Eli added.

“Well, at least you didn’t kidnap him too. This hotel room is already more crowded than I like,” Ruby said.

“Could you get a hold of June and Billie to let them know Willard agreed to their terms?” I asked Ruby.

“Yeah, no problem,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said.

I went back out to the living room. Ice was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch. His fellow Coven witch was still sound asleep. I joined him on the floor, and he held his hand out palm up. I rested my hand in his. I watched his fingers close around my hand; his grip tightened, and so did mine. I needed him to know I wasn’t running from him. We had a lot to talk about. But I wanted to stay in that moment for as long as possible. I rested my head on his shoulder, breathing in the smell of him. It was the same faint oatmeal and mint as when we were training at the Coven compound. His mother made soaps and bath bombs for a living, and he would always bring some back when he visited her. He couldn’t go see his parents anymore if he came with us. The Coven would start monitoring them. It was selfish to ask him to choose me. Still, I wanted him to.

“Have you thought this through?” I asked.

“Every day since you left,” he said.

“What about your family?”

“They’ll understand. I’ll find a way to tell them I’m okay.” He didn’t hesitate at all; I relaxed against his side.

I could have fallen asleep right there. We still needed to figure out our sleeping arrangements. There were two beds in the bedroom. Ice and I could share, but I didn’t want Ruby to share with Eli. He could take the couch. I was confident he wouldn’t try anything with Ice and me only a few inches away from her. He’d shown impulsive and destructive behavior too many times for me to trust him. I’d lock and ward the bedroom door. Sticking him on the couch meant we needed to deal with the Coven’s bibliomancer sooner rather than later. It was getting late, and we’d need as much rest as we could get if we had to supply the magic necessary to make the blockers.

“What’s the room situation for the Coven members here at the convention?” I asked.

“Two to a room. In the hotel across the street,” Ice said.

“Is her roommate likely to be out?”

“Definitely. She’s rooming with me,” he said.

“What’s your room number?” I asked.

“1121,” He said. Umbra left my shadow. “That’s new.”

“A living shadow; I found them in Florida,” I said. I closed my eyes and focused on Umbra’s path.

“Of course you did. You go to the sunshine state and find the darkest shadow,” he said. I could hear the amusement in his voice and didn’t need to look to know he was smiling.

My familiar slipped from one shadow to another, rarely visible outside of someone or something else’s shadow. It would take someone extremely observant to notice them. Umbra slipped between the closed elevator doors and climbed the floors with the same ease of sliding across the ground. I hadn’t known they could do that. There was a lot I still didn’t know about Umbra’s capabilities. I wasn’t too worried. So much of our connection came to me instinctively when I needed it that I didn’t want to stress about forcing myself to learn faster. Umbra slid under the door. I didn’t feel any wards. Either they weren’t there, or they couldn’t keep a living shadow out. Umbra paused inside the bedroom.

“Which bed is hers?” I asked.

“The one on the left if you’re looking at the beds from the bedroom door,” Ice said. Umbra heard his answer like they were sitting with us still. They moved to stretch out on the bed that Ice indicated.

“You ready for me to send her there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Ice confirmed.

We replaced all her belongings, and I used my magic to sink the witch into her own shadow. She rose out of the shadow Umbra made on the bed. Umbra slid out from under her and made their way back to us. Eli came out of the bedroom and told us that we would be working on the blockers at Billie’s workshop the following day. Ice and I went to bed together for the first time in years. He held me close, and I fell asleep faster than I had the entire time I’d been on the run.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 25

Things hadn’t calmed down much since we’d left. Several of the vendors had actually closed up shop. Hopefully, they’d gone to restock. The shops that were still open were packed with people. Across the second level from the elevator, two walls worth of booths had been repurposed as a bar. I looked down and saw that the actual bar was filled to capacity and spilling people out into the surrounding stalls. They’d made do with turning those into extra seating. They’d likely commandeered more spaces that I couldn’t see from the second floor. Without Ruby around to guide us through the crowd, Eli took charge. He was more forceful than she’d been, making a path by shouldering people and giving static shocks to move them out of his way. It was faster, but it came with a lot more dirty looks than Ruby’s smooth weaving between people.

We arrived at Willard’s booth in time to catch the end of him auctioning an item off. He was down to his last three pieces of merchandise. One was a black umbrella. The next was a metal water bottle. The last was a small wooden box. They were all unassuming items, but that didn’t mean they weren’t powerful. He picked up the water bottle and held it high over his head. The crowd started bidding without him telling them what enchantment he’d put on it. I felt Umbra stir. I didn’t need them to tell me that they’d recovered; I could feel it. Whatever the Bibliomancer had done wasn’t completely healed, so I started drawing the shadows from everyone around us towards me. I wasn’t sure how I knew it would work. It was an instinct. Umbra was drawing small amounts of power from all the witches’ shadows.

“Not a single one of them can feel that you’re drawing energy from them?” I thought.

“No. To be fair, it is a minor draw, and I’ve had far more practice doing this than they have with magic in general,” they said.

“Can you sense the enchantments on the items Willard is auctioning?” I asked.

“The water bottle will never run dry. As long as it remains enchanted, the holder will have clean, cold water to drink.”

“That’s not bad if you’re on the run or going camping,” I thought.

“But worth hundreds less than he’s going to sell it for,” they said. It was true. The final bid was $587. It would take a lifetime of drinking out of that bottle before they managed to make it worth that price tag so long as the buyer continued living in a world of modern conveniences. Willard handed the bottle off. The buyer was so caught up in the excitement they didn’t even ask what it did. These people had more money than sense, it seemed.

The process repeated itself with the umbrella, enchanted to allow the holder to summon the closest rainstorm at will. The box, which could turn anything placed in it to silver, might be able to get the buyer the $750 they paid for it back if they were ambitious and used it well. The crowd at Willard’s booth slowly dispersed. He handed his card out to every person who would take one. Eli and I waited patiently for the last of them to clear out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d made enough money over this weekend to live off of for a year. That was good. I wouldn’t feel as bad about uprooting him, knowing that he’d had plenty of money to make his landing somewhere new as smooth as possible.

“Welcome back! Where’s the little lady you had with you last time? Did Billie manage to steal her away from you?” Willard asked. I didn’t let his apparent joy influence my demeanor.

“No, she had other business to attend to,” I said. “We spoke to June and Billie. They’re in, but they have some conditions. The only one that you need to worry about is that they want you gone.”

“Gone?” He didn’t look shocked, but his smile faded quickly.

“Out of Georgia,” Eli said. He looked a bit taller than usual, and I felt the faintest of hums from his magic. I didn’t want it to come down to a fight. It’s never a good idea to go up against an Enchanter. You don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeve, both figuratively and literally.

“I can’t even stay in the state, Those vicious girls. Which of them came up with that little clause?” Willard asked.

“It doesn’t really matter,” I said. He gave me an annoyed look.

“This is my city as much as it is theirs. What if I refuse to go?” he asked.

“I don’t think they’d help us,” I answered.

“Ha!” Willard exclaimed. He wasn’t going to make this easy. “You can either go back and negotiate for me to stay, or you can forget it.”

“I’m pretty confident that the two of them would be able to make the blockers without you. It might take a little longer than we want, but I like their timeline a lot better than yours,” Eli said. His power raised the hair on the back of my neck. Willard had to be feeling it too.

“You really think you can threaten me in my own shop?” Willard asked. The canvas tent’s flaps flew at us. I dropped through my shadow. All of the canvas wrapped itself around Eli’s limbs, torso, and neck. I stepped out of Willard’s shadow and tapped him, forgetting my sleeping ring was with Ruby. I tried using the ring I’d taken from Eli to phase through his neck but it did nothing. “Never fought an enchanter before, huh?”

He knocked my arm away from his neck. I stepped back quickly to avoid him grabbing me. I had no doubt that any of the many rings he was wearing would be strong enough to knock me out or worse. Eli’s magic was so strong that alarms started going off. The fabric wasn’t a good conductor, but his electricity was strong enough to catch the flaps on fire. The first set of guards to show up were vampires. They didn’t dare come close enough to do something about us attacking Willard. The fire was spreading quickly up the canvas. They knew better than to get closer until the fires went out. The alarm kept going. Soon enough, someone else less afraid of fire would be showing up to try to help Willard. It was going to be hard enough fighting him. I didn’t need any other supernaturals complicating things. As annoyed as I was with him for cutting negotiations short, I couldn’t leave Eli behind. The fire was casting plenty of shadows for me to work with. I pulled the whole tent through the shadows along with us. The fires kept burning as I set us down in the parking garage that hid the Market.

Willard froze in his confusion and shock. Umbra jumped on the opportunity to restrain him. Eli was still letting off so much magic that arcs of lightning shot out from him, hitting cars. I dropped Willard and myself down one more floor. There wasn’t anything I could do to help him while he was still that lit up. Umbra’s disarmament of Willard left him naked on the ground. I couldn’t say it surprised me. If I was a powerful enchanter, I would work magic into everything I wore too. Unlike the Coven witch we’d taken hostage, Willard looked scared when I got down to his level. I wondered how long it had been since he’d been without even a single enchanted item. He looked from me to the pile of clothing and jewelry and back. I vanished his effects. I needed him to be truly afraid.

“I have no desire to kill you. All I want is the blockers. We can even set you up somewhere with a fresh start. Eli has no such compunctions. If killing you is the only thing standing between him and safety, he will do it and sleep soundly. Do you understand?” I asked. I didn’t really know if that was true but considering he’d been encouraging me to murder his former boss back at the hotel, I felt safe in the assumption. Willard nodded his head in rapid affirmative motions. “Good choice. Come to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

I summoned his belongings back, except for one of his arm braces. I went back up to check on Eli. Umbra followed me, taking a bit of Willard’s hair as they left the enchanter to dress. Eli was standing away from the skeleton of the booth. He didn’t look hurt. I was expecting him to have a few burns at least, but I didn’t even see ash or scorch marks on his clothes. He’d said that Newton wouldn’t bother trying to find him because his skill set wasn’t that unique, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the whole truth. For him to discharge that much energy and still be standing wasn’t easy. We went back to the hotel in silence.