Training Sylvia was troublesome and problematic. The girl was too bright for her own good, too powerful, and alas, too straight. (sigh)  She was eager but she burned through precautions as if they had no meaning. “More a guideline than a rule,” she quoted. I don’t teach my students ethics. I figure if there is a threefold rule it will bite them in the rear sooner or later, and if there isn’t it’s up to them to make their own decisions if no force of superstition will do it for them.  She was a perfect pupil, practically a blank slate to scribe the things I wanted on, and as I was stymied sometimes so was I challenged. If the forces had chosen to design someone perfect for me, she was close.

What have I taught her?  No, that’s skipping ahead.

One of the things I remember having trouble with was the concept of chains of energy. The law of conservation of energy is true in the magic we do. We are bound by the laws of our reality, after all.  (E says that that’s what makes wizards so terrifying; they’re not so bound, but I think it’s just that we haven’t discovered the laws that apply to them yet.)  One of the important abilities of magic is energy transmutation, or as I like to say, “The energy of the possible made probable.”  I said it before, and I will likely say it again: Witchery is a web, and every witch is a point of energy, a node in that web.  It’s related to ley lines, and other aspects of the connection between Earth and magic.

(As a sidenote, E and I once had a very interesting argument about whether or not magic would be possible in space. He believed very much that it was, whereas I believed that the biosphere was a more important feature than he believed. He countered with science fiction, tardigrades, and other extremophiles. He started grilling me on whether or not I believe a blue whale to produce more magical energy because of its size, and I realized that yes, there are some things I take on faith.  The tools to measure magic really don’t exist that I know.)

To be a witch is to be a part of that web, and while there are individual practitioners, their lights are dim for they don’t have the connections.  I had always wanted to know how much one could pull from the web, how much energy could be wielded, how much I could change the world.

I was told that that was the failing of the gods.

I’ve twisted that thought into a million permutations.  What is a god? Did the witches create them? There’s a saying that the Church created the devil, but when I look back at the reality of magic and the way it so much of it works in, well, mysterious ways… I wonder.

I wonder where the roots are for the web.  Does it stretch back to the first witches? How do shamans and wizards relate? I chided E for his little winding paths into nomenclature, but what faith did the amoeba hold?

Sylvie. That’s where we were.

My feelings for E were complicated.  My feelings for Sylvie were simple.  I wanted to go ahead and set the two of them up in making some kind of balance in my universe.  To anchor my opinion, I asked Matana to attend as well.

Matana was payment for a favor I had asked a while back. I hadn’t expected to host a vampire let alone one with particular appetites, but fair was fair.  She had a very different perspective, and I kind of wanted to gauge her feelings on the matter.

“What are you doing tonight?” I asked him.  It was far better to put him on the spot and pin him to a decision or he would go all waffle.

“Um,” he responded.  Anyone who saw my expression would recognize my, “I told you so,” that flashed briefly across my face.

“Nothing?  Great.  Come out to eat with me and a couple of friends.”

“Is this a blind date?” he asked.  Sometimes he was more perceptive than I wanted.

“Could be,” I hedged slightly.  “Why, you’re not involved with anyone, are you?”  I knew better.

“Um.”  No, he wasn’t.  “Not exactly, but I have someone I’d have to take with me.”  This surprised me a little.

“Does this someone have a name?” I rallied.

He sighed.  “Yes.”

“Good.  You’ll have to tell me it sometime.  Does this someone have…a beard?” I tried not to make it sound naughty.

“Doloise, and no, is that a problem?  Or are you trying to find out if my companion is a guy?  You know I prefer women.”

“Remember to shave.    And a preference isn’t a rule, dear.  Is Doloise…” It was an odd name. Not one I recognized immediately, with kind of a retro 50s feel to it.   I decided I’d look it up.  “Of drinking age?”

“Um.”  Oh, E… don’t, just don’t.  “Yes.”

“It sounds complicated.  That’s definitely not your type.  Anyway, meet us downtown at the mall & Market Street just after sundown, unless you’re,” I smiled, “off fighting Dragons or something.”

“Um.” Did that sound like a gulp? Was he serious.

“That wasn’t funny.”

“You have no idea.  See you then.”

“You, my dear, are going to owe me some answers.  Bye.”  I hung up.  Why did I call him “my dear”?

Sylvie drove us and we were early. I watched E get out of his car and analyzed the woman who got out of the other side with the usual checklist. Long legs? Check. Cleavage? Check. Dark skin? No… Hmmm. She was beautiful, but not really E’s type.  She also glared daggers immediately at Matana, and I could tell she wasn’t… well, she wasn’t human. I don’t hold that against her, of course.  Why would one?

“Whoa, hold on, these are friends,” I said, doing the introductions.  “E, Sylvia, you’ve met, this is Matana.  And you are… Doloise?”

She had beautiful hair, with curls I wanted to have wrap around my fingers. “I do not give my name to beasts.”  The attitude was a little off-putting, but I’d had worse.

Matana smiled in a feral fashion.  She’d dressed up without my needing to recommend it.  I hadn’t thought maybe Matana for E… no, that’d be weird.  Doloise was causing some kind of friction, though, and I glared at E. She was his guest, after all.  Pet?

“Doloise, Magda is not a beast.  Sylvia is not a beast.  Hi, Sylvia.  Matana is what Matana is, and I would reference that she was a lovely woman.”

“Not human, but not a beast,” Matana said.  She offered her hand and E took it gently, kissing it.   She smiled, but I could see it didn’t reach her eyes.  “I see.  Magdalena, you were not entirely wrong in speaking about your former gentleman.”

“She is one of the cold ones,” Doloise said, hissing.

“Look on the bright side,” E said to her.  “At least she’s not a Dragon.”  There it was again.

“Well,” Matana’s smile widened, “it is one of the aspects.”  She winked at the two of them.

“This isn’t a black thing, is it?” Sylvia asked.

E raised an eyebrow at me, and I did my best not to laugh, shaking my head.  “I told you, Sylvie, not everything is as it seems.”

“Ah,” E said.  “Know what they call a group of witches?” he asked Sylvia.  I tensed, because it sounded like the start of a joke.

“A…coven?” she asked.

“A conspiracy.  But that may be any group of women.”

I punched him in the arm.  “Come on.  Since you’re not going to stake a fellow guest, and Doloise is going to be on her best behaviour, let’s go to dinner.”

“Best behaviour?” he asked Doloise, hopefully.

Oh, great. “It is a matter of Hospitality,” I said, giving him a Look.

“I don’t understand everything you’re saying,” Sylvia acknowledged, “but if I listen I’ll learn.”

I think it was a warning.

I had to move around the seats to get everyone sat the way I wanted. “I do not drink wine,” Matana said, passing the list over to me.  She didn’t say it with an accent, but she was referring to the joke. I just passed on the menu to E – I knew what I wanted.  E quirked an eyebrow as a question to me, as he placed the passed wine list back on to the table.

“I am well in control of my hungers,” Matana said.

He smiled, but it didn’t look friendly.  “Just don’t bite Doloise.  She bites back.”

Doloise made a noise of assent.

“What’s the occasion?” E asked after we ordered our food.

“Matana is an exchange student from a coven back East,” I explained, “and we’re inducting Sylvia.  I figure anyone with the kind of control she had deserves a chance to develop the power.”  Sylvia smiled shyly.

“Exchange student?” he asked Matana.

“There are many ways to deal with the infection, my dear gentleman E.   I decided on a course of temperance, and so I learn techniques which flow with the laws of this place rather than the coldness Outside.”

E interrupted, looking at Doloise. “Use the spoon,” he said. “It hurts more.”

She dropped the fork and picked a spoon up instead.

“Sylvia, really, it’s nice to see you.”  E’s mouth continued.  “Sure you’re going to learn the right things from the Mags?”

I kicked him under the table.

“I do want to learn,” she said.  “I am a bit cautious as we are expected to take certain oaths before we are even told what the oaths will mean, but I am anxious to gain control.”  She pointed gently over to Matana.  “For example, I had guessed there was something special about ‘Tana, but I have figured out she’s a vampire from your uncoded language.  I am not sure about your…friend.”

“Doloise isn’t my friend,” E said it a bit too quickly.  I knew I would be a bit peeved at his hurry.

“Indeed.  I am his guide and guardian.”

“That is, she is a friend, but that’s all it is.  Sorry, Doloise.  I didn’t want her to think you were anything…but what you are.”

“And of course, you are correct. I am only what I am.”  Oh, he was digging deep.

“Doloise, let’s go take a powder break.  You do, do that, right?”  I stood up and grabbed Doloise’s hand.  “Girls, don’t eat E alive.   We’ll be back in a minute.”  Doloise looked as if she was going to resist, but I influenced it with a hint of compulsion, and whatever she was reacted to it.  I led her to the restroom, looking all the world like a mom walking with her daughter… except I wasn’t that old.  Still, it was a handy illusion, and I maintained it.

“Your energy is not human,” I decided to go on the offensive.

“No, it is not,” she agreed.  “I am not of the mortal kind.”

“And you guard E?”

“Guard and protect,” she said.

“From what?”

She looked at me with a cold expression and did not answer.

“I’m not going to harm him,” I said, closing my eyes.

“Then why the spell?” she asked, sounding confused.

“What spell?” I hadn’t put any…oh. “No, that’s not mine.”

“You were the last to activate it,” she accused.

“It was there, and he can be…” how to describe it? “…irritating.”

She laughed. “Yes.”

Since we seemed to be on the same page, and she wasn’t offering any more answers, I left it at that.  E had been gone when we returned.  I went to grab the bread, and saw him from the same direction we’d gone.  I broke it, while Doloise idly decorated the paper with a pretty design of leaves and vines in periwinkle blue.

He insinuated myself into the conversation by asking what we’d been talking about while he was gone.

“Matana is taking the semester off for these visits,” Sylvia explained, “but I have a full schedule.  I was going for pre-law, but I’m officially undeclared right now.”

“And Matana?” he asked, making small talk.

“No law for me.  I am not that much of a bloodsucker.” She gave the joke the required pause, then continued. “I was in integrative physiology before they changed the name.  Exercise science.”

“I thought adrenaline ruined the flavour,” he said, as if it was expected.

She ignored him.  “I was studying the effects of exercise with the intent to see how it interacted with shapeshifting.  You don’t see a lot of  werewolves… with extra weight, but do they still need to take aerobics classes for their hearts?  What is the actual source of their enhanced strength, and can it improve through weight lifting or other programs?”  She smiled.  “It has been hard work sneaking that focus through, but I have a pretty liberal advisor who just thinks I have a strange sense of humour.  I was also on the track team.”

“Until?” Sylvia asked.

Matana just waved her hand towards her mouth.  “Until another opportunity interfered.  I do not regret it. ” She laughed. “I am a little short for it, anyway.”

“But you tried harder,” E suggested.

“Indeed,” she said, giving him a hard look.

I pulled a little magic in getting our plates to arrive, but then I felt a flare of energy.  Doloise’s tea spilt across the table and into Matana’s lap.

Doloise did not get up and apologize, but both I and E did.  Matana’s eyes were wide, and I could see there was a problem.  She scooted her chair back.

“I cannot get up.”

E hurried with the napkins while Sylvia called over a waitperson. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I seem to be stuck to the chair.”

Doloise laughed, and I saw the symbols in the flowers she had drawn, and smelt the faint smoke as the smell released, burning the paper. Matana made it off her chair with a half-stumble and a frown.

“That is a petty charm,” she said to Doloise as she finished wiping off her lap.

“A moment’s freeze for the cold one,” she said.  Doloise stood up and asked the confused waiter, “May I have some more?”

E and I struggled over the bill.  I won by recommending we go out further.

“Let me borrow your phone and see what’s playing.”  Sylvia came over and we browsed the listings.

I handed the phone back to him.  “I need to get myself one of these. 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?”

He shrugged. “Not my kind of thing.”

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

He 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.”  I just looked at him and changed the subject. “And when will you tell me the truth about Doloise?”

“What do you mean?”  he asked, missing the point.

“I saw the way you look at her.”

He closed my eyes.   “And?”

“You never looked at me that way.”

He opened my eyes and looked at me. “I’m not in love with her.  And before you get on me about protesting too much, I am not going to get into the argument we had at the restaurant.”

Men. “So, you put her up on a pedestal like the rest of your collection, forgetting that women are living, breathing creatures, with desires of their own that don’t wait for your interest to come alive?” I asked.

Sylvia and Matana took this opportunity to say very loudly that they were going off in search of ice cream.   They offered Doloise, to come with her.

“If you knew what she was, that would almost be funny,” he retorted.

“What, she’s some kind of sexbot? That’s sick, E.”

“She’s less human than Matana.  And what’s with that, anyway?  You know how I feel.”

“About women?  Black girls?  Vampires?  Yeah, I do know.  I know you better than you think.  You’re right, you can’t be in love with her because she doesn’t represent an ideal.  You’re only capable of being in love with your own delusions.”

I spun around and grabbed Doloise’s arm. She didn’t need to be with him.

There was a burst of thunder above us, and a flash of light, and I fell raising up all of my shielding at once.  Doloise’s amber sunglasses fell upon the ground.

I looked up from where I had fallen sprawled on the sidewalk.  A couple of passing gentlemen were waved away.  “I’m fine,” I said.  I picked up the shades, and extended them to Doloise, taking the option to look into her eyes.

Not human. Very not human, and powerful.  Things…lived behind those eyes.  Protecting E?

He strode over and grabbed the glasses, pushing them into her hands.  “Put these on,” he said. He looked at me, and helped me to my feet, “Breathe,” he said.

I made an incantation and then the circle of warding with my right hand, and then I stumbled back a little.  E helped guide me to one of benches.  “Sit,” he commanded.

I slapped him, then.  I could only take so much “handling.”

He bent over me and looked into my eyes.  “Is it out of your system?”

“You’re insane,” I shook my head.

“No, I’m just in over my head and losing the energy to keep treading water.”  He turned his back on me and approached the Creature, speaking to it in low tones for a moment.  He came back to me, but I was done.  “I’m getting out of here,” I decided.  “You’re crazy, flat-out crazy, being involved with that…thing.”

“You know stronger language.  I’m surprised you haven’t used it,” he said, sighing again.  He sat down next to me on the bench, watching as I stared at my metallic pink cellphone.  “She’s what she is.”  he said. “Who are you calling?”

“Sylvia.  We took her car.”

“She’s just over there with Matana.”  They were coming back with cones.  “Come on.  Everything will be better after ice cream.”

“You really are insane.” I was in a bit of disbelief.

“No, my life’s just gotten a little weird lately.”

I laughed.  “Anyway,” I said, standing up, “that’s only true if it’s frozen custard and it’s chocolate.”

“I think that’s Doloise’s favourite, too.  You two can fight it out.  Dibs on strawberry if they’ve got it.”

I looked at him, and then touched his face.  “I’m sorry.  It’s not going to work out between us.”  Never would.

“I know.”  he smiled.  “Especially since I’m going to beat you to the cones.” He ran to make his boast true.

“Well, we could only hold one extra cone each, so we decided you were a man, and could just cowboy-up,” Sylvie said.

“What does being a man have to do with not getting some ice cream?”he demanded.  “Let alone being a cowboy?  Which, I am most certainly not.”

Matana, Sylvie, and I giggled.

“It’s okay, pardner,” I drawled.  “I can buy you a double scoop,” I put a hand on his shoulder.  “Ya like vanilla-r?  Or maybe some rocky road?”

He shrugged my hand off, pouting.  Sylvia gave Doloise her portion.

“It’s for eating,” he told her. “Like the shake from earlier, only not with a straw.”

She tried her tongue on it, and found it good.  Of course.

“I think we should skip the movie,” I said. Sylvia and Matana shared a glance, and they got it right.

“How about you three go to the movie, and Doloise and I will head back?” E said.

“If you don’t think we’re trying to ditch you,” I said in a hurry.

“No, I have some work to do,” he hedged.  “Go on, and have fun.  Thanks for inviting us to dinner; it’s been real.  Doloise, you have a hot date with National Geographic.”

“Let us purchase the tickets,” Matana said to Maggie.  “I do not believe these vampires sparkle.”

“Hey, E?” Sylvia called him over, and pulled a card from out of her purse.  “Here’s my number.  Give me a call sometime?”

“Um,” he finally managed.

“You’re cute.” I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, but she giggled and then ran to catch up with Matana and me.

“He is that,” I said, sighing.

Matana just flexed her fingers, thoughtfully.  “He looks like he lives his life in over his head.   The girl, though…” she trailed off.

I nodded.  “C’mon.  I want popcorn.”  I left things behind to sprout and grow.