Shadow-Blessed Ep. 5

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. 

“You’re hesitant.”

“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. 

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 4

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. 

“Recruits.” 

“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. 

“With me?” 

“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?

Go To Party Playlist

Hey Fans, Friends, and Fellows,

My best friend made a playlist a while back that is our go-to playlist whenever we need some music to give us an energy boost. We call it Party Playlist Bitches, and we just spent most of yesterday painting with it playing in the background. Everything on it is high energy, so it really keeps us moving. I’ll share it below. Hopefully, it inspires you to think about what kind of music your characters default to. Generally speaking, we play it on shuffle, but the embedded player won’t allow that as far as I can tell.

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 3

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. 

“All right.” 

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.

Wide brim hat, backpack with tarot cards and rune box set showing in front pocket

Shadow-Blessed Ep. 2

I ditched the car as soon as possible, casting a return home spell on it. Vehicles are too big for my magic to teleport, but the spell would find a way to get the car back to the garage. I don’t like taking things when it was evident that the owner needed them. Given that a fast-food uniform was hanging on the back passenger side, I doubted they could buy a new car like it was no big deal. I got on a train headed for Orlando. A highway would have been faster, but I didn’t want to steal another car when I didn’t have to. The hunter hadn’t caught up yet. The train station would stall him if he did manage to track me that far. An airport would have been better. There were so many possible ways to leave airports that even a skilled witch needs a fair amount of luck to track someone from there. But I needed to be careful with the cash I had since I threw out the card. Taking the train was the cheaper option. Plus, the more witnesses I had, the less likely the hunter would force a confrontation. 

The world might know the truth about magic now, but would The Coven want one of their agents scaring people with a display of combat magic so soon? It could work against their public relations campaign. I wasn’t sure of that, though. My certainty that I had room to breathe back in the hotel almost got me caught. I couldn’t relax. For all I knew, The Coven would crack down on people on their shit list. They could show the mundane world one face and the magic community another.  I’d only seen him for a second, but I knew this new hunter was a lot bigger than me. I hadn’t stuck around long enough to see him use any magic. I had no way of knowing how good he was. If it came to a fistfight, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I had no intention of letting things get to that point. I didn’t kill a member of The Coven by playing fair. There was no reason to change that now. 

I fished a water bottle and protein bar out of my bag. It wasn’t ideal, but I was starving. The hunter found me between meals. The time I’d spent leaving false trails behind hadn’t included any stops for food. I was regretting that now. When I got to Orlando, money would be my priority. I was pretty good at bank jobs these days. If I couldn’t find the local underground, I’d have to pull one off pretty quickly. I’d need a good meal and new clothes soon enough. I ate the protein bar in two unsatisfying bites and drank half the water bottle. It was enough to ease the hunger pangs. That let me focus enough to scan the train for any magic users. It was a skill I’d perfected fairly quickly to survive on the run. I should have done it earlier, but the combined hunger and lack of quality sleep would have made it shotty at best. I closed my eyes and reached out with my magic. I only picked up a few minor talents. Two of them were so faint they likely didn’t even know they could use magic. The other three were dabblers. They likely didn’t have any family that could teach them, and they weren’t strong enough to draw The Coven’s interest. 

When I opened my eyes, I noticed a man walking towards me. He was a clean-cut and fit man with a confident stride. I tried to convince myself that he wasn’t coming for me but was just walking the length of the car. His gaze had lingered on me too long, though. There was determination in his dark brown eyes. He wasn’t one of the witches I’d sensed. Maybe he was looking to harass someone. I’d had my fair share of confrontations with assholes who had a problem with openly gay men. Now that people knew about magic, I’d probably attract the attention of people who wanted to provoke witches too. There was no shortage of stupid in the world. It wouldn’t get that far if he were dumb enough to be looking for trouble. He slid into the seat next to me with casual ease. As close as I was, it would only take grazing his skin with my ring to knock him out. No one else would notice the interaction. 

“Milo Grimshaw?” he asked. It was enough to make me pause. I didn’t answer. It had been sixteen years since someone called me by my birth name. The Coven called me Erebus. “I know that you have no reason to trust me, but I promise you I don’t mean you any harm.” 

“You have one minute to tell me how you know that name.” 

“The Coven can cover up a lot of things, but they got sloppy with your mother,” he said. Vincent was sloppy. He’d acted alone. “I’m going to pull my badge out of my pocket. Please just give me a few minutes to explain.” 

“All right, but if you don’t convince me, you should know I’m not as sloppy as The Coven,” I said. It wasn’t true, but it got the threat across. 

“I’m with the DPI,” he said, handing me a badge that said Department of Paranormal Investigations. It looked real enough. I’d seen my fair share of amateur fake ids. At the very least, he’d put some effort into this. 

“Let me guess. It’s an off-the-books organization tasked with proving that magic is real?”

“Not quite. There was already enough proof out there to justify starting the organization. We cover up things that could cause public panic, and we learn everything we can about the supernatural world.” 

“So what do you do now that everyone knows about the things that go bump in the night?” I asked. 

“Recruitment. Ordinary law enforcement isn’t going to be ready for all the changes coming their way.” 

“So you want to offer me a job?” 

“Essentially.” 

“I don’t think so,” I said, handing him his badge back. 

“You might want to give it a little more thought than that. We can link you to several bank robberies in Florida.” 

“An ultimatum? Do you even have back-up?” 

“Not an ultimatum. I know that I couldn’t stop you from making me disappear right now if you wanted to. It’s more than just a job offer. It’s protection. You wouldn’t need to worry about anyone coming after you for the banks. I know what it looks like for a man to be on the run. I don’t know what happened between you and The Coven, but we can keep you safe.” 

“That’s not a guarantee you can make. You probably don’t even know a tenth of what they’re capable of.” 

“Maybe not, but we’re an official government organization. If The Coven wants things to go smoothly, they’re going to have to recognize the authority we represent.” 

“Past my alleged involvement in bank robberies, what do you know about me?” 

“Enough to make this offer,” he said. It told me nothing, and I had no talent for mind-reading to find out more. I couldn’t risk it. As he said, if The Coven wanted things to go smoothly, they had to work with the government. His offer could be a trap meant to bring me in without hurting anyone. He hadn’t answered my question about back-up. I needed to know at least that if I was going to give him the slip. Leaving him behind on the train would only help so much if he had others all set to start following me. I didn’t have an easy exit. If I shadow stepped, I couldn’t guarantee a safe landing. I didn’t know the surrounding area.

“Do you have a card?” I asked. He pulled one out of his jacket pocket. I used the enchantment in my ring to put him to sleep as I took it.

Seeking Gay Cover Songs

Hey Fans, Friends, and Fellows,

So I’ve been listening to one of my favorite bands from my high school a lot again. They’re called Patent Pending. They bring a sense of humor to their music that I really appreciate. I found out that they did an album called Other People’s Greatest Hits. On it, there is a song on there called “Shout Out to My Ex” that I can’t stop listening to. The band didn’t change the pronouns which makes me so happy. It rewrites the story of the song. Now I’m hunting for other songs like this where the band has kept the lyrics making the song feel like some part of the LGBTQ+ experience. I’m hoping to make myself a playlist to inspire my writing. If you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments.