After order was restored and the bill was paid (which took some alpha posturing, if you must know) we were loosed upon downtown in its glory.

There is a particular smell to the air when it’s turning cold.  It’s a different smell than the rain of the past few days, different than people starting their heaters or fireplaces, different even of the smell of my day-jacket and all of the memories it brings with it.  It’s sharp and it sets quickly into your bones.  Maybe that’s old age speaking – I don’t know for sure.

Sylvia and Maggie were looking up what movies were playing on my phone, while Matana watched the crowds go by.

She was smiling, her eyes feasting on their diversity, the very living parts of them.  I suspected there was some predatory analysis going on, but I would always suspect a vampire in my midst.  I wasn’t any kind of Slayer – it was an ache knowing there was something from the Outside melded as it was to something within, but it wasn’t something I really could Close, so it wasn’t any of my business.  If she was trying to open a gateway and invite more of her fellow creatures through to prey on humanity I might have a shot.  I was considering dropping an anonymous e-mail on a forum with some reputed Slayers, but even that seemed a little passive-aggressive.

She caught my eye for a moment, smiling.  No fangs, of course.  Then she looked past me at Doloise.

There are moments I wish I was an artist.  If there was a way to capture how she looked towards the lights, both attracted and repelled by humanity.  Neon reflected off her amber sunshades, somehow natural even in the dark.  She stood apart from us, but not entirely alien.  Her body language was almost impossible to read; perhaps she was evaluating the same groups of people as Matana.

Was there always someone inside it, controlling the Realm?  A group of people looking out from its eyes, making the decisions?  How much of it was automaton, responding to the need of the magic that developed her?  She could learn, could she grow?  What of memories, dreams, desires?  She had no need to sleep, but she dreamed.  She wanted to be free.

And I wanted to save her.

Matana’s gaze had wandered back to me, and I could catch the telltale of laughter in her expression as Sylvia and Mags argued over times.  Or maybe I had a guilty conscience.  I hadn’t said or done anything funny.

I had spent an afternoon in a fairyland, marked by a Shadow King.  I was going up against a Dragon for the heart of a sorceror.  What was one more Dragon?

Maggie handed the phone back to me.  “I need to get myself one of these,” she said.  “I have been considering the writing of many helpful applications to the magical artist.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a pocket reference of spell components that also tagged in the phase of the moon and aspects of the stars?”

I shrugged. “Not my kind of thing.”

“Funny, you used to think big.”  She looked at Doloise.  “Well, maybe having a feminine influence in the household has changed you.”  She frowned.  “Do you want to go straight in or wait for the next showing?  If we hurry, we won’t miss any previews.”

I protested.  “I do think big.  I just think it leads to checking twitter during rituals.  Unless you’re getting responses from Big Moon Lady saying that the West has been closed against negative influences, that just sounds frustrating because your energies are distracted.”

“Any more than hauling around a great big grimoire?  I’ll have to consider it.  Some of us have adopted more modern methods.  I heard of one of the Priestesses getting together a Kindle Book of Shadows.”  She looked at me. “And when will you tell me the truth about Doloise?”

“What do you mean?”  You mean the truth that she’s not only a fantastic being in the “not of our reality” sense, but that she’s an amalgam of them?  And that she was sent to have me get marked in a war between a Dragon and the Shadow Kings?  And that her favourite animal is the meerkat and she raids my boxer drawer for clothing inspiration?  What truth could you possibly mean, Mags?

“I saw the way you look at her.”

I closed my eyes.  Just for a moment.  “And?”

“You never looked at me that way.”

I opened my eyes and looked at her.  “I’m not in love with her.”