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.”

Thought-Provoking Thursday 9/9/2021

Hey Fans, Friends, and Fellows,

I love to customize things. If I see a means of making something more fabulous, I’m absolutely going to do it. This is especially true if I can get things on the cheap. The tray I made to keep my wallet and keys in is a good example of this. I know there are plenty of other people who share this passion. Sometimes I think of writing as one of the best means of customizing. We take an existing plot, form of poetry, character archetype, or trope and make them our own.

Writing Prompt: Write a piece that involves the concept of customization.

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.

Thought-Provoking Thursday 9/2/2021

Hey Fans, Friends, and Fellows,

It bums me out just a little that parasols fell out of style. Before you tell me I could just carry an umbrella, I already do. I also put a crap ton of sunscreen on because my family has a history of skin cancer. So what am I complaining about? Parasols are pretty. And yes, I can get a pretty umbrella. (In fact, I already have one.) It just doesn’t ever feel quite like I’m a wealthy aristocrat who wants to go for a leisurely stroll with my suitor but can’t survive the sun. Okay, I’m joking, but if at any point I get a time machine, I’m absolutely going to hop in there and go steal a legit parasol from the height of their popularity.

Writing Prompt: Write a piece about something that’s fallen out of style that you miss or wish was still popular.

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.