My word count this week was 1312. It’s been a rough week. The only writing I got done was the newest episode of Shadow-Blessed. Getting my new place ready for move-in is taking a lot more time than I want it to. I know it will be worth it when it’s all done, but it leaves me exhausted. Hopefully, y’all are having better weeks than I am.
The letter Ruby wrote to me explained a lot in an attempt to even things out between us. She gave me stats and data about herself equal to what she knew about me, if she was honest. I wanted to believe that she was. The new identity she’d given me was a show of good faith. If I decided not to work with her, she wouldn’t do anything to damage the alias she made. The ring was what sealed the deal for me, though. It was enchanted to let the wearer move unnoticed by modern methods of security. She could be an excellent ally. All I had to do was trust her. I hadn’t trusted anyone in the past two years. Even before I was on the run, I didn’t let people in easily. The two people I’d allowed past my walls most recently both betrayed me. One of them was dead by my hand. The other tried to turn me in for that crime. As I considered my options, the silver-haired fae woman sat down across from me. I waited for her to speak first.
“Yes.” It isn’t smart to give the fae anything more than you have to.
“Would you like some advice?” she asked.
“Is it free?”
“You know better.” She smiled. Her teeth shone like pearls.
“What will it cost?” I asked.
“A memory,” she said.
“I’ll pass.” Never give any fae permission to mess with your mind. It was one of the first things that the Coven taught their witches.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying. It would have been nice to see Vincent Tanner die as if I were there. You’re always welcome here, Milo. That’s something you’ve already paid for. I wish I could tempt you more, but I’m sure you’ll want to test your new cards with some of the vendors before you meet Ruby,” she said it like an inevitability rather than a decision I was still debating.
I didn’t like her knowing me by name, even if she thought of me fondly. All my senses told me that she was powerful. She’d essentially claimed that the market was hers by extending that open invitation. I nodded politely and got up from the table. I planned to barter when I walked through the booths before. With Ruby’s gifts, I wouldn’t lose any of my scant possessions. The booths closest to the bar were filled with weapons. I passed them by without much interest. I understood the basics of how to wield most of them. Everyone who trained under Vincent had to learn the basics. I would have learned more if he’d had the chance to turn me into the assassin he wanted me to be. If I couldn’t solve a problem with my magic, I doubted a sword would help me.
A set of gold ear cuffs drew my eye on a jewelry vendor’s booth. Everything on display was enchanted. The seller must have a talent for enchantments. It takes a lot of patience to make good quality magical items. I’d only ever made two for myself, and I lost one of them. It killed me that I had left the watch my mom gave me behind when I ran from the Coven. It was either that or get caught, though. I pushed the memory aside and focused on the merchant. Her smile was welcoming. She was short, but anyone who thought they could intimidate her for that was in for a rude awakening. I noticed that she wore several of her creations and had no doubt that she’d saved the best for herself. Despite looking very similar, each of the ear cuffs had very different functions. One was a universal translator, working on multiple levels to give denotation and connotation. The second allowed its wearer to slow time to a standstill for five seconds. As far as time magic went, that took a lot of power. The next one would guide the wearer to the nearest food source based on what they were craving. Last diverted attention away from the wearer. Together they had the potential to give someone like me the edge while on the run.
“See something you like?” the enchantment dealer asked.
“This set,” I said, pointing to the ear cuffs.
“The survivor’s quartet. Good eye,” her smile grew. “$5,000 for the set.”
“All right,” I said, trying to keep hesitation out of my voice. I was about to find out how much Ruby had set me up with. I handed her the card and silently prayed that I wasn’t about to be laughed out of the marketplace. She swiped the card and nodded happily.
“Would you like me to wrap them up, or would you like to put them on now?” She gestured to a mirror as she asked the question.
“I’ll wear them,” I said. I felt the enchantment responding to my magic as I put each one on.
“Looks good,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Come back any time,” she said.
I walked around the rest of the booths giving more thought to Ruby’s offer than the wares laid out on the tables. Despite my reservations, I genuinely considered meeting up with her. It would be nice to kick my bank-robbing habit, especially given Agent Boone’s ability to connect me back to some of the previous jobs. I was nearly ready to leave when something on the booth I was passing called out to me. I was confused for a moment. The man was selling familiars. Cages and cages of small animals surrounded him, giving him little room for himself. My lifestyle wasn’t well suited for a familiar. Even seeing the cleverness in these animals’ eyes, I knew none of them was right for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something there was calling out to me. I stepped closer, looking from one pair of eyes to the next, not being able to find what was pulling at me.
“Do you know what skills you’re looking for? I guarantee you won’t find more talented creatures in the state,” he said. My eyes finally landed on a small gold ball too small for anything but a bug to be inside it.
“What’s in this one?” I asked, pointing at the shining sphere.
“A rarity. Never seen the likes of it in my thirty-four years of raising familiars. It’s a living shadow,” he said. I gave him a questioning look. It was the stuff of legends. I thought that if they were real, I would have found one by now, given my abilities. “You have my word. Pick it up. Look through the holes. You’ll see it moving in there. I can’t let the craft bugger out, or it’d be gone in a second.”
I picked up the tiny cage and knew he was telling the truth. I could see minuscule movements through the holes. There was a kinship between the magic of the shifting shadows and my own. I handed the man my credit card as I watched the swirling darkness. He took it and slid it into his card reader without questioning me. I didn’t even think about how much he was charging me until he handed me back my card and congratulated me. When I finally turned my gaze back to him, he looked relieved like a burden lifted off his shoulders. He handed me a folded piece of paper saying something about the cage. I put it in my pocket and thanked him. I could feel the creature’s desire to be free, but I resisted the urge to let it out then and there. It was a breed apart from any of the other animals he was selling. I shadow stepped out of the marketplace back to the library’s portico. Happiness radiated from the little golden ball.
My word count for the week has suffered for the sake of preparing to move. I only got 1280 words this week. Definitely my lowest count for a while, but it was for a good cause. Soon enough I will be able to move in and have more time to write again. I hope any of you who are working on stories of your own had a better writing week than I did. If you didn’t that’s okay. Just keep going back to that story every chance you get until you figure out how to move it forward.
Once I calmed down enough to take in my surroundings, I felt the advantage I had here. We were in a large round underground flea market with dim lighting. There were shadows everywhere. The teleport had dropped us onto one of two raised platforms. They both had steps down to a landing centered between them; from there, a single flight of stairs descended into the marketplace. From our vantage point, I saw 13 pillars around the circumference of the room. There was a bar on the far side, across from the stairs. Along the edge, between the stairs and bar, there were booths of all sorts. A ring of seven pillars stood evenly spaced between the second circle of vendors. Three pillars form that last circle around a stage. Ruby led me down the stairs and through the market. I did my best to look for anything valuable I could come back for later. Some of the vendors nodded as we walked past. I didn’t recognize any of them, so I knew they weren’t acknowledging me. Ruby was important in this community.
An attractive woman with dark grey skin and shining silver hair waited for us. As she walked us to the most secluded table, I tried to tell if her skin and hair color were natural or if she was using a glamour. A lot of people in the magical community could manage a glamour, but I’d seen a fair share of fae without any disguises. Their bodies had a lot more variety than humans. If this look was fake, it was the best quality I’d seen. She assured us that a server would be with us soon. She didn’t return to the hostess station after we sat. A human server came to the table and took our orders. Ruby got us an expensive bottle of whiskey. I didn’t plan to drink any of it, but I didn’t say as much, not wanting to cause the server any grief. We waited in silence for him to come back, pour us each a glass, and leave again. Once we were alone, I manipulated the shadows under our table, wrapping them around her legs without her noticing. I could tighten them like a snake when I was ready.
“Did you even let Boone get through his offer, or did you knock him out as soon as he approached you?” she asked before sipping her whiskey. I did my best to keep a neutral expression. My worries multiplied. She knew about The Coven and the DPI. On top of that, she was important to the locals. If I got rid of her, there was a chance I’d have even more people after me.
“He made promises he stood no chance of keeping. He’s lucky all I did was knock him out,” I said.
“And you’re doing fine on your own anyway,” she said with a smirk.
“Are you working with him? Did they send in a witch thinking that you’d have a better chance at convincing me or at least a better chance at remaining conscious?”
“Not quite. Agent Boone is at my apartment right now. I’m on his list, same as you,” she said.
“All right, so what does he want from us?” I asked.
“So, you believe his offer?”
“To a degree. I’m pretty sure that he underestimated how bad The Coven wants you. I mean, their favorite assassin killing one of their senior members isn’t easy to forgive and forget,” she said.
“I’m not an assassin,” I said.
“That’s not what the file says,” she said.
“What file?” I asked. She reached for her bag, and I tightened the shadows so that she could feel them. She froze and looked back at me. “You might have noticed I have some trust issues. If whatever you’re reaching for looks the least bit threatening, you’ll never walk again.”
“You sure you’re not an assassin? I’m getting my tablet.” I didn’t answer her. She reached into her bag and pulled out a tablet slightly larger than my own. She unlocked it and placed it on the table in front of me.
The screen displayed a picture of me looking severe with stats of my physique. Under that, there was an incomplete list of the ways I could manipulate shadows. The file went on in a clinical index of the magic they taught me and how proficient I was with each skill. There weren’t any surprises until I got to the notes on my training as a hunter. Vincent was in charge of training hunters. He liked to rank the trainees under his wing, and I ranked highest among my peers. That wasn’t the surprising part. Thanks to that system, I only had one friend in the group, more than a friend, really. In the progress reports, I found one that said I was ready to move to private lessons. I remembered that well enough. When he sat me down to talk about teaching me one-on-one, he never said anything about making me an assassin. But it was there. Private training to become the Coven’s Blade. While the hunters brought their quarries in for judgment, the blade went after those too dangerous to contain.
I couldn’t prove that the file was real. I couldn’t prove it wasn’t either. A talented technomancer could fabricate or alter more complicated evidence than this. Ruby had finished her drink and was refilling her glass when I looked up from the tablet. I couldn’t read anything about her expression to tell me whether she was on the level or not. I handed her back the tablet and loosened the shadows that gripped her legs. I’d gotten so used to running that it was the first thing I thought of. The idea of another person coming after me was exhausting. She might not follow me, but I wouldn’t know unless she caught up again. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to fortify myself.
“What’s your angle?” I asked.
“I want to partner up,” she said.
“Don’t make it sound so absurd. We’d make a good team,” she said. “Look, I know that there’s a lot you don’t know about me. I have an incentive if you’ll let me reach into my bag again without paralyzing me from the waist down.”
“Go ahead.” She reached into the bag and pulled out a large black envelope from her purse. She opened it herself to show me it wasn’t a trick before handing it to me.
“If this is enough to make you trust I’m on your side, meet me at the address in there by 7 pm,” she said. She started sliding out from the booth.
“Wait,” I said. She paused.
“Where are we right now? How far from the initial point of the teleport?” I asked.
“We’re under the fountain in the lake.”
“All right,” I said.
She got up and left me at the table with the envelope. I reached inside and pulled out a letter. I set it aside and took the rest of the contents out. There was a fake i.d. with the name Nicholas Foster and my picture on it. She’d included a credit card and a debit card bearing the same name and a smaller black envelope. I opened it cautiously to see a small stack of cash. The last item was an earring with some kind of enchantment on it. Assuming the cards worked, she’d just given me everything I needed to keep me moving. If she could do all this on her own, what was she looking to gain by partnering with me?
Alright so today is a weird pic but I’m really excited about it. The space I’m moving into has a built in book shelf which is something I’ve always loved but never had. I spent my whole day painting and I’m still not done. Still I couldn’t wait to share the progress so far. I’m in love with the purpled the walls. I’m gonna paint the inside of the shelf a light purple to make it a focal point. They will have glass shelves in place once I’m done painting. I will definitely be posting finished pics when it’s done. For real though I can not express how awesome it is to have my first built in shelf.
This week’s word count closes down at 4177. That’s actually more than I thought I would get done because this week was depression heavy. It’s a bit reassuring though that the number wasn’t too far off from previous weeks. If you’re having a rough week and your word count isn’t what you wanted it to be remember to be kind to yourself. It is okay to work at your own pace or even less than your ideal pace. Just keep going.
Agent Arthur Boone slept the rest of the way to Orlando peacefully. If he had back-up, they didn’t come after me. I didn’t even catch anyone looking in our direction till the train stopped. One of the benefits of traveling light was that I didn’t need to wait to get off with the other passengers. I sank into the shadows under my seat and landed on the sidewalk next to a power-line pole. I started walking away from the station. Running would only draw attention. I wasn’t sure that DPI or the Coven didn’t have anyone waiting for me in the station. I avoided any confrontation by skipping the station altogether. By the time someone woke Boone to tell him that the train arrived in Orlando, I’d be out of his reach. I didn’t know much about Orlando, past the tourist attractions. I had no idea where anything was, but that didn’t matter too much for the moment.
Once I was several blocks away from the station, I grabbed a burger to go and kept moving while I ate. It was only a notch above the protein bar, but it would due until I figured out where I was going. I couldn’t check into another hotel without a new credit card. That limited my options. Luck was on my side, though. I spotted a sign pointing the way to the closest library. I found the Orlando Public Library in a little under ten minutes. The building was all sharp angles. It wasn’t my favorite style of architecture, grey rectangles layered on top of each other in a design that was more interesting than beautiful. There was something about it that I loved. A large portico covered the whole entrance in shadow no matter what time of day it was. This was the closest thing I would get to a safe haven until I found the underground magic scene here. I stood in the shadows for a few minutes until my magic harmonized with it. I’d sense any threat that passed through these shadows while I was in the building.
I didn’t have time to explore, though I would have liked to. Instead, I found a place to sit and got my tablet out. It was the most valuable thing I owned. Not that there was a lot of competition after most of my belongings went up in flames at the hotel. Someone enchanted the device to allow access to the specternet. If you’ve ever heard of the dark web, it’s like that, but instead of creepy illegal stuff, it helps you find supernatural communities and services. Technomancers created and sustained it. Only a device enchanted by one of them can access it. I fed some magic into my voice and whispered Abracadabra. The tablet backlit a dark grey screen that was only distinguishable from black as it shrank to the shape of a cauldron on the even darker background. The illustration of purple liquid boiled so that steam and bubbles floated up. The bubbles popped to reveal letters spelling out Specternet. The animation faded and let me start searching for what I needed.
Most major cities have some version of a magic underground. News that the supernatural was real was still too fresh for that to change. I imagined that these spaces would mutate rather than die out as people started accepting our community. They would become places for those of us who didn’t want to or couldn’t follow the new rules. The specternet was the easiest way to find other magic users. The greater Orlando area had three places where supernaturals liked to gather. The closest of the locations was only a short walk away. My luck was too good to last. Before I’d finished mapping my walk, someone stepped into the book aisle I was sitting in. I looked up out of instinct. The woman looked down at my tablet with a knowing smile. She was wearing light-up sneakers, dark blue jeans, and a black shirt with LED lighting on the front spelling out “ErMerGerd!” I turned off my tablet and slid it into my bag, trying to decide on a course of action. She didn’t fit a Coven hunter’s typical look and definitely didn’t look like a federal agent. Neither of those things meant she wasn’t a threat. My indecision must have looked like nervousness. The message on her shirt changed. Don’t be scared!
“I’m not,” I said. It wasn’t completely true, but of all the things I that frightened me, this witch wasn’t on the list. She’d only surprised me because I was sloppy in my haste to figure out where to go next. She hadn’t passed through the entrance since I’d come in. I hadn’t accounted for any supernaturals inside the library. “A bit surprised is all.”
“Sorry, I felt technomancy and couldn’t resist checking it out.,” she said. “I’m Ruby.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, but can’t stay,” I said. I stood and started walking. She seemed like a nice enough person who made me want to leave even more. I’d been living the last year and a half without any attachments for a good reason. If she truly was just a young curious witch looking to make friends, then I didn’t want to risk her getting hurt if The Coven’s hunters caught up to me again.
“Headed to the market Erebus?” she asked. I froze. It was my day for strange encounters.
“How do you know that name?” I asked. No one outside The Coven should know that name.
“You sure you want to have this talk out in the open?” she asked.
“Where do you suggest?” I asked.
“The market isn’t far from here,” she said.
We left the library together and walked to Lake Eola Park. This was where I was planning to go. Maybe I could still make this work out in my favor. There were people everywhere I looked as I followed the woman. Some were walking their dogs, others exercising, some were even out on the lake in pedal boats made to look like swans. There were plenty of actual swans out on the lake too. It would have been a nice walk if I wasn’t worried that this witch was about to sell me out. The only thing I had working in my favor was that the park was so close to the library. If things went sideways, all I needed was to reach a shadow, and I’d be back under the portico and running like hell in the opposite direction. I couldn’t afford to run again until I knew that it was the only option. I didn’t want to add any more names to the list of who was trying to track me down. If there was a possibility that I could bargain with her, then I had to try at least.
We stopped at an Asian-inspired pavilion. She went from one red pillar to the next, knocking on each of them one more time than the one before it. After she knocked on the last one, I felt a swell of energy. I realized what was happening a second too late. The pavilion teleported us. It wasn’t like when I shadow-walked. For me, stepping into one shadow and out of another was as natural as breathing. This jump was jarring. I lost all sense of direction. I couldn’t tell how far it was taking us. I had to hope it wasn’t too far for me to step back to the library. All I wanted to do was curl up as small as I could and wait till the world came back to me. Instead, I forced myself to maintain the rigid posture I’d been in when the teleport started. Whoever Ruby was, I knew I couldn’t afford to look weak in front of her. She knew the name Erebus. That was enough link to The Coven to make me put up a strong facade. When we landed again, she wore a wide smile. The teleportation had been a rush for her. She was a risk-taker. I didn’t like that smile—the smile of an unpredictable woman who knew too much about me. I wasn’t going to get away from her as easily as I had the hunter or Agent Boone.