Archive for the ‘ Chapter 10 – Witch War Side Note ’ Category

(215) The Witch War (part 1)

Pay attention to your dreams.

As a modern witch, I know things don’t work the way the witches in fantasy seem to think. A dream is not a wish your heart makes. It’s a fantastic evaluation of conscious and subconscious information combined to make an unfettered excursion in the realms of whimsy. They’re also greatly influenced by our latent anxieties and because of that susceptible state, magic.

That subconscious information told me I was under attack.

If I think about it, I can imagine that the first strike was accidentally mine. I did what no other witch had done. It was a mistake. I did something that I had ethical qualms about both then and now, but I still haven’t come up with a better answer. I give you the riddle; if you know of a group of people who were brought to a state where they did things they would not have done given the choice, would you leave the traces of that event to break them?

I thought not.

And yet, who was I to choose for them? I took away their opportunities for growth, for regret, for developing new communities and connections because of the event they shared. I made my own scar upon their identity with my own best intentions in mind. As their protector, I robbed their of their capacity to reclaim the power that was taken from them.

Not just any witch could have done it, but I did, and that pride sheds its own shadow upon the act.

A signature.

I am ahead of myself. Let me step back. I need an action plan, a report of what has happened, an analysis. We are losing this war, inch by inch, and if we do, I cannot tell you what worse things will break free.

I was not aware we were under attack in the first dream. I often drift during my sleep, sensitivities slipping to dreams of power and of passion, as they are born of the same roots. I remember dreaming a dream of lust that was not mine. I rarely like men in the first place, and then I do not like the hypermale image, the hair and the bulging muscles, and the sense of wanting to possess things that such a creature usually projects. This person’s dream was explicit in the desire, although never the face. There was an enormous power in her lust, for it was a woman, and she focused on the things that brought the fastest pleasure. No build-up, no suspense, just pleasure never-ending in a release of madness and wet streaks of salt.

I recognized the emergence of the incubus right away, and in tasting my power it pushed me out of the uncomfortable voyeurism of the dream and into my own waking concerns. Cubim, as I think of them, are common and harmless in small doses; an artist paints open a passageway, and then once fed they disperse. They’re hungry, but our culture exhibits so much in the way of lust that it takes little to bring them through, and just as little to dispel them. They don’t like witches; we can, of course, use our networks to bind them, our roots to control them and get what we want, from what is within their power. They’re common servitors because they, like many other extradimensional entities, have the ability to move faster and through realities we cannot. Could I say honestly that I’ve never had traffic with such creatures? No. Do I dial them in for my own personal pleasure? No. Do I know those who do?

Perhaps I should explain my role in the talent underground? There are many who confuse power with deity. I say, Confuse, without any real rancor. While some of the witches call on Names, that is all that is left of many gods. The power remains only because of repetition, and, well, competition. The sluggish remnants of the thought forms may retain self-interest, and that interest is generally of the Thou shalt have no other gods before me, to help sustain their power. The role of priestess is often to act as occasional avatar, proponent, and conduit for those gods. A smart priestess controls that conduit, making sure the web does not feed them wantonly.

Ah yes, the web. See, witches are connected, like roots to a tree. Very rarely do the esoteric arts spawn seeds of independent talent these days; there is almost always a connection, an initiate and the initiated, and their initiates, and so on, a branching web of connections. That was the problem. The lure.

Ahead of myself, again. Oh yes. I am not a priestess. I can take the role, but I do not have the component of belief. I think of the god-forms as tools. Tools that we utilize to adapt the universe to our convenience, whether that convenience be something as small as hitting only green lights, or vengeance against the one who broke our hearts. My ex-boyfriend, E, once described me as, Hermione if she’d been chosen for Slytherin. I can live with that. It’s not that I have no moral brakes, it’s just that I don’t let ethical concerns act as air bags. I drive fast. I live clean. I worship nothing. I enjoy power. It all flows together. I’ve no patience for those witches who only listen to their intuition and allow things to grow organically: my web is a crystalline matrice of design. I choose those who I will give access to power (my students) very carefully. I nurture them how I need them. My newest had a great deal of potential power, but needed to know how to focus it, as is often the case. We were working together well, although she didn’t seem interested in women. They can’t all be perfect.

My ex- and his friend always go to the same bar. (He also always orders the same thing at Dairy Queen. I didn’t date him because he was super into redesigning himself. Sometimes I like consistency.) Even though he wasn’t a regular, I knew he’d be there. I… kind of still have a thing for him. I know where he is… most of the time. I got up, washed a little, and put on a suit and my battle face.

It’s not quite a dive, although it’s primarily a student bar. A little young, in my opinion, for the boys, but they have some older clientele who aren’t creepy. “So, E.” I slid onto the seat next to him. He was annoyingly inebriated, and staring at my legs. “Up here, E.” I crossed my legs and pointed to my face. I gave him a moment to focus. “Are you listening?”

He nodded a little too vigorously. He wasn’t listening. I changed my tactics some, deciding to get him more involved.

“Good, because I’ve got a problem. And it’s 37 minutes to midnight, which is when it becomes your problem.”

He laughed kind of weakly. The I kind of think it was supposed to be funny, laugh I dislike coming from men. It’s a judgment on women that we like men described as having a good sense of humour, but then we’re not allowed to take advantage of it. I sighed inwardly. Time for a brace of cold water, because I didn’t want to have to repeat myself.

I snapped my fingers. One sobering cantrip, calling on spirits to relieve him of spirits, so to speak. See? I can be funny.

“I hate when you do that.”

Something was sharper about his gaze. I’d pay for it later: magic isn’t free, but I couldn’t be bothered now. “It works, doesn’t it?”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.” He sighed.

“I thought Ed would be bringing you here. I tried not to pack the scorn into it that I thought it deserved. Look, I think we’ve got a demon.”

He looked away like he was taking it personally. What do you want me for? You know I don’t do exorcisms.”

“I just want you to keep out its friends.” If I’d wanted an exorcist, I’d hire one. You can’t exorcise cubim; they don’t possess. They’re ephemeral, a happening of time, space, and desire.

“What kind of things are we really talking about?” He said it like he didn’t believe me. That’s one of the things that frustrated me about him. I considered what he meant by the question. Oh. Every time I tried to keep things on an even keel, he came at it from some crazy fourth dimensional angle you weren’t expecting.

“Certainly not about our relationship again,” I sighed. I let that one sink in, while he considered the situation. I leaned back, taking up his cup. Good enough. I sipped from his ice cubes. “I think you can handle it.” Always tell a man that; it’s good for their confidence.

He rolled my eyes and once I placed his drink back down, he moved it back pointedly closer to him. “You’re leaving me a choice of bad or gross. Since you’re smarter than to enlist my help except as cannon fodder for `bad’ and by the way, I’m smarter than that, too, it has to be gross.”

“It has been a busy season for Nyquil.” It was a joke between us that saying bless you still had meaning.

“Oh man. Snot demons.”

I laughed. “No, not Phlegmnauts. I made up the name. Besides, they’re a myth.”

He sneezed, then winkedà’cause that’s the kind of guy he was.

“No, I thought you’d like this one. Incubi.”

He groaned. “You know I don’t have a girlfriend, right?”

I smiled. “As much as I’d like to remind you that I don’t inquire into your personal life, yes.” I slid off the stool. I couldn’t help but tease him, though. I never could. You know, dear, you don’t actually have to sleep with them.”

He looked up at me. “An army base,” he guessed.

I shook my head.

“It’s not a convent is it?” he asked, as if he were hoping.

I laughed aloud. “Seminaries and sentinels?” I gave it the tone of ‘Really?’

I decided to throw him a bone, so to speak. “Where are we?”

He groaned. “College town. That means only one thing.”

I nodded. “Roommates,” we said together.

He finished the dregs of his drink with a sigh, and caught Ed’s attention. Ed never liked me. I never cared for him. That kind of mutual antagonism was the source of many a sitcom laugh. They passed some man sign that was indecipherable to the testosterone-impaired.

“You done with your smoke signals or should I just wait in the car?”

While he was paying, I looked out over the parking lot. I took a moment to check the aura of the place. I’d felt…something. Witches are better at knowing when they’re being watched, or if someone is talking to them, or all those other things that raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It was unnerving that I did not recognize it, so I got my keys out and caught up as he walked over to my car.

He had to adjust the seat, but I spun out and started driving. He clicked his seatbelt in pointedly.

I laughed at him. First, do no harm.”

“Second, do no harm, third, do no harm, but by the time you’re in fifth, you’ve driven past harm and are into really sorryville,” he muttered.

“I heard that.” You have to let them think they’re clever, but not too clever.

I focused my will and knew suddenly where I was going, and why the dream was so vivid. Sylvia. The newest addition to my web. She got ahold of me over craigslist,” I said aloud. He didn’t say anything, stumbling out of the car door when we arrived. I shivered as midnight passed. The earth has its forces, and the trailing waves of what was dark at midnight peaked once more between 3:00am and 4:00am, in the darkest before the dawn, sense.

It was an old wooden house converted to apartments. It only had one door in the front, and several windows with drawn shades. There wasn’t a directory or a buzzer, so I just knocked on the door.

“Sylvie?” I called. I put a little of her Name in it. Witches get facets of Names in rituals, and the one between student and teacher was one I could use.

She opened it, blurry-eyed and reeking of sex. She was barely dressed in an oversized man’s shirt, some jeans that might have been hers, and she was covered in an aura that spoke to me of brimstone.

“Sylvia?” I asked again, slowly. Was she aware of me?

She nodded. I glanced at E. He wasn’t drooling, yet. I shot him a look.

“How many people are in there?” I asked.

“Eleven, including me,” the girl whispered. It was the sexiest voice I think I had ever heard on another woman, and I had to take a breath. I adjusted my jacket, bringing my armor to mind mentally.

“Making us thirteen. Stereotypical,” I muttered. “Will you let us in?” The invitation. Always important.

“Oh, yes,” the girl said, way too quickly. Then I saw her energies change, like a light trying to peep out of the darkness. “Please, you have to help us.”

I walked into the hallway, leading the way towards the noise. I turned around and saw that Sylvie had draped herself and was kissing E like she had dropped something she needed down his throat and her tongue was the best tool to retrieve it. I rolled my eyes, but he didn’t see me.

“No, no, we need to join the others,” I heard him say, but I was too far staring at the horror in front of me.

The act of sex is one of those things that is beautiful in concept and grotesque in action. This was not beautiful in concept, but bestial, primal, with no sense of restraint. Bodies writhed and groped and snarled. I counted three of the demons, only one male, the other two female. E was on his own. The radio was blasting a wall of noise.

I dropped my jacket, because I was going to have to lure one to me. Oh, fine, and my pants. I drew upon powers of lust, bringing his attention to me. He tried pulling my hair, and pulling me to him and his engorged, if very pretty, penis. I began to send repulsion towards the hands that grasped towards him. I had also looped in a succubus. Great. Perils of being sexually flexible, I guess. The lust rose within me, and I got distracted for a moment, so I grabbed what was at hand.

I suppose I should offer a polite cough at that statement. At the time I just smiled at its noise of pain as I began to twist what I had in my reach. E stared at me in horror. “Remember why we’re here?” I changed my polarity, such as it was, my energy from lust to sleep, pushing the others to it. The demon began to fade, although I could feel its desire turn to anger and then sadness.

As the gate began to call them back, I found my pants and my jacket. E stood staring at the sleeping, naked masses.

“You know,” he began, awkwardly, “they really messed these people up.”

I shook my head. I knew. Imagine waking up after that, entwined with your neighbor who you barely knew and liked even less. At least there was no risk of fertility in this act; a side-effect of demons was the effects they had on the reproductive system, but still, waking up wet and sticky with little knowledge of how you got that way… well, I looked at an older lady who would have been the poster child for a grandmother with too many cats. It was probably not how she intended to spend her evening.

I made up my mind.

“Get out.” I started closing windows and got to that radio as soon as possible.

He held up his shoes. You mean you’re going to do something definitely gray edging to black to make it all better? Ends justify the means?”

I sighed. “What do you want me to say?”

“I think I just said it.” Judgy McJudgypants stood there like a five year old not getting his way.

“Close the door on your way out.”

“I’ll wait in the car,” he offered. Good, he could get out of my way.

Sylvia was stirring, less under the spell than most. I focused on using her energies to bolster this, her connections to these people; it wouldn’t be easy. Mass mind-control efforts never were, but they were something most of the orders had done. That feeling that something important happened in your dream? That’s generally backlash. The laying out of bodies, the cleaning, this was the classical role, and the returning them to their beds was just a bonus. The freshening of the room, that took us until dawn was a whisper in the sky.

Sylvia was a blessing. She did not ask too many questions, although I suspect half of it was apologetic for her behaviour and half of it was because I kept her working too much to think about it. I didn’t want to invest so much of myself into this place, this stranger’s house, but I know I had to seal the process.

Hindsight isn’t perfect. For one thing, it’s easy to suddenly consider that you knew more of what was going on at the time. Asking, How much did I suspect subconsciously? isn’t a reasonable question. Did I know then about the betrayal? Did I know then that the seeds that blossomed were seeds of war? Should I regret? Would I change what I did?

Let’s draw the curtain to close on this scene. There is more to discover.

(216) The Witch War (part 2)

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.