The problem with being the most powerful witch in the city, and possibly the most powerful witch in the world, was that it made the already-complicated process of dating that much harder. Every man Cassandra went out with was either terrified of how powerful she was or only interested in her because of how powerful she was. It was exhausting. So when Jenna proposed her ridiculous plan for a blind date, Cassandra was just worn down enough to offer only a token protest.
“Look, I know it sounds a little crazy,” Jenna said.
“A little?” Cassandra asked. “How do you know this guy again?”
“I don’t,” Jenna admitted. “If I knew him, it wouldn’t work, because everyone who knows me knows I’m your best friend and I had to find someone who didn’t already know you so he could get to know you as you before he got know you as, you know, Cassandra the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Might-One-Day-Accidentally-Destroy-Us-All-In-A-Fit-Of-Rage you.”
“Please don’t call me that,” Cassandra said. “I am neither all-powerful nor all-knowing and it is highly unlikely that I will destroy everyone, intentionally or unintentionally, for any reason.”
“Unlikely, but not impossible,” Jenna said. “So it’s a friend of a brother of a friend of a coworker of a friend sort of thing, but I promise, he has been fully vetted and is not insane or evil or anything like that. He’s just a normal warlock who recently moved here from another state and so has no idea what Cassandra Morgan, who keeps all the Shadowfolk in the region in check, looks like. Just don’t go doing anything too flashy and you should be able to have a nice, normal date where the two of you can get to know each other without all that extra pressure right off the bat.”
“Fine,” Cassandra relented. “What’s his name?”
“I have no idea,” Jenna admitted. “You’re both supposed to bring a purple orchid so you can recognize each other. Oh, and you better start getting ready now because you’re supposed to meet him at The Evil Eye in an hour and a half.”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry for the short notice, but you know this is the best day of the year to do this,” Jenna said. “Any other day, some numbskull would summon a demon or something and you’d have to leave early and your cover would be blown. But it’s Halloween, and no one’s tacky enough to try anything today. So let’s get you all dolled up and ready for your date!”
The entrance to The Evil Eye was technically the same as the entrance to a restaurant called La Bella. However, the wards on the door meant that any Shadowfolk entering La Bella were automatically diverted into the pocket dimension that had been created some centuries back for The Evil Eye’s predecessor to exist, though no one was quite sure what that predecessor had actually been and most everyone figured they were better off not knowing.
Despite the short notice, Cassandra arrived fifteen minutes early and secured a table in a dimly-lit back corner where she hoped most of the other customers would either not notice her or would take the hint and not interrupt. Her purple orchid was pinned to her shirt, albeit with magic instead of an actual pin as she’d never managed the trick of using a safety pin without accidentally pricking herself. At five ‘til, a man she didn’t recognize walked in the door, looking around uncertainly. Given her familiarity with most of the Shadow community, she would have bet it was her date even if she hadn’t been able to see a hint of purple petals being slowly crushed to death in his tightly-clenched left hand.
Standing slightly, she gave a half-wave to catch his attention. Relief spread across his face immediately and he made his way towards her. He was more…normal-looking than she had expected. Not that there was anything that actually set witches and warlocks apart from non-Shadowfolk, unlike the vampires or the fae that had to work a little bit harder if they wanted to blend in. But warlocks, at least in Cassandra’s experience, tended to always be immaculate in appearance through a somewhat frivolous use of their magic, while the man standing in front of Cassandra had windblown hair and a slightly rumpled shirt. She couldn’t help but find it a little endearing.
“I’m Cassie,” she said, extending a hand to shake when he got close enough. It was technically true. Her name could have been shortened to Cassie if she’d ever wanted to. Though she decidedly had not.
“Devon,” he said. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Oh, you’re not at all,” she assured him. “I’m just early. Please, have a seat.”
Jake, one of the servers, appeared at the table and handed them both menus. Devon jerked back in surprise. Cassandra grimaced. She’d always suspected ghosts in other parts of the country were more considerate about surprising people, but she’d become fairly immune to their antics herself. It looked like it might take Devon awhile to get used to the local customs.
“Thank you, Jake,” she said. “Could we have a few minutes to decide?”
“Sure thing,” he said, popping back out. Devon flinched again. At least Jake hadn’t used her name.
“Wow, uh, so, you guys really go all out for Halloween around here,” Devon said.
“I suppose,” Cassandra agreed, though she wasn’t really sure what he meant. She glanced around the room. It was a pretty quiet night. A group of fae up by the bar, a werewolf and a vampire that looked to be on a date of their own across the room, a djinn drinking alone. Nothing worth commenting on, really. Most of the Shadowfolk preferred to stay in on Halloween. The constant reminders of how many things people had forgotten about them over the years and turned into silly costumes and games quickly went from amusing early in October to downright obnoxious by the end of the month.
“So, um, I have to admit, I’m not really sure what I should be asking about,” Devon said. “I mean, the way this whole thing was set up, I don’t really know anything about you, and I’m not really great at starting conversations anyway, which I guess is why my friend thought I needed to be set up on a blind date. Oh! I probably shouldn’t have said that. I mean, I’m not completely socially inept, just, maybe eighty percent socially inept.”
Cassandra laughed. “You’re fine. I’m here on a blind date, too, remember? And we can talk about anything except work. I really need a break from work. So I’ll go first. Do you like to read?”
“Of course,” he said. “Who doesn’t like to read?”
“A surprising number of people, but that’s kind of my gateway question,” Cassandra said. “I’m not saying I don’t have a couple of friends who don’t like to read, but we definitely don’t have as much to talk about. So, next obvious question then. What’s your favorite book?”
The conversation flowed easily after that, from books to music to places they’d been to places they wanted to go one day. Cassandra was surprised at how easy it was to relax around Devon. She hadn’t met someone she connected to that easily in…well, years, if ever. And the more he relaxed into the conversation, the more eloquent he became as well, his earlier nerves seeming to disappear. His passion for every topic they covered was clear, and it was wonderful to be able to lose herself in the discussion and know that neither of them were watching their words for fear of offending the other. It was all going so well.
So of course that was when the demons showed up.
The four-foot-tall leather-skinned creatures popped into existence just in front of the bar, causing the whole room to shake and several pictures to fall from the walls. Cassandra held a hand out parallel to the floor in front of their table, shoved it down, and then drew it quickly up, raising a shield, before taking a closer look at the demons.
The good news was, they were just imps, not greater demons, so it looked like this was going to be more of a nuisance than anything. The bad news was, it was pretty hard for a date to recover from being crashed by a couple of imps. She turned to apologize to Devon for the inconvenience only to find him cowering on the ground behind the table.
“What are those things?” he cried.
“What do you mean?” Cassandra asked. “They’re just imps.” A sudden burst of fire struck her shield, leaving sparks behind as it dissipated. “Imps with a slight case of pyromania apparently, but still just imps.”
“What are imps?” he asked. “And what’s the shiny blue curtain thing you made? Please tell me this is all part of some Halloween show.”
“Oh my God, you’re not a warlock!” Cassandra realized.
“Of course I’m not a warlock!” Devon said. “I’m a CPA. Warlocks aren’t real! I mean, unless you count those crazy guys with the make-up and piercings and—”
“But you’re here, for our date, with a purple orchid,” Cassandra said. Another burst of fire splashed against her shield, and someone shrieked on the other side of the restaurant, but that could wait. This was more important at the moment.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Devon asked. “I just met you at La Bella with a purple flower like I was supposed to.”
“Harold!” she snapped, turning towards the bar. The centaur poked his head up over the top of the counter. “How many times have I told you to make sure the wards on the entrance are kept refreshed and not allowed to degrade?”
“Do you really think this is the best time for that conversation, Cassandra?” Harold yelled back.
Grudgingly, she admitted that he might have had a point. It looked like several tables and a few curtains were on fire now. Setting aside her disgruntlement at the revelation about her date, she started nimbly weaving a net with her fingers, letting invisible thread gradually turn into white-blue string. Once it was large enough, she stepped through her shield and tossed it over the two imps. They sat down where they were, muttering disappointment, while Cassandra extinguished the fires and returned the restaurant to its previous state of being with a wave of her hand.
“All right, you too,” she said. “Hand over the tokens of whoever summoned you and I’ll send you back home.” The imps looked at one another and one of them slowly produced a small stone, dropping it at Cassandra’s feet. “All of the tokens of all of those who summoned you. Now. Or I might just decide to keep you here in this net for a very long time to come.” Two more stones swiftly appeared and Cassandra plucked the net off the imps, sending them back below at the same time.
“Cassie?” Devon asked, voice wavering.
“Just a minute, Devon,” she called. “There’s something I need to see to first.”
Cupping the three stones in her hands, she felt for the trace to the individuals who had summoned the imps. All three were unsurprisingly familiar. With a quick flick of the wrist, she sprayed the stones out into a line in front of her. Two teenage witches and a teenage warlock appeared before her as the stones hit the ground.
“Melinda Carmichael, Jaxton Deveraux, and Chastity Hill,” she said. “Fancy seeing you three here. I believe you have now qualified for our local version of ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ Though I admit, having the stupidity to pull something like this on Halloween of all nights, I probably would have skipped the first two strikes anyway.”
She snapped her fingers and a circle of runes appeared around each of the teenager’s right wrists. “You are now officially on probation. You will not be able to perform any magic unless previously authorized by me. You will also be participating in weekly classes regarding the responsible and ethical uses of magic, beginning this Saturday at six a.m.”
“Miss Morgan, please!” Jaxton cried. “My mom—”
“Your mother and I have already had several discussions on her lack of interest in adequately instilling in you the proper respect for your abilities, as have your parents, Ms. Carmichael and Ms. Hill,” Cassandra said. “I’ll be having further discussions with all of them tomorrow. That is not your concern. Your only concern is learning what I will be teaching you so that you do not find yourself one day making a mistake that costs someone their life, be it you or someone you care about. Now, have a good evening and I will see you Saturday.”
Cassandra clapped her hands together and the three teenagers disappeared. Sighing, she turned back to face Devon, who was cautiously approaching her at the bar now. She offered him a half-hearted smile.
“Sorry about all this,” she said. “If it helps, it was quite a surprise to me as well.”
“Shouldn’t have been,” Harold grumbled from behind the counter. “Woman just has to look into her crystal ball to see the future and here she is, always complaining about being surprised.”
“You can see the future?” Devon asked. He still looked a little shell-shocked, but at least he was getting some color back in his face.
“Crystal balls are for fools,” she said tartly, directing her reply at Harold before turning to Devon to explain. “Just the act of knowing the future changes the future. So then you’d have to look to see the new future you created by looking at it the first time, which would change it again, which creates a never-ending cycle and gives you nothing but a headache. Besides, what would be the fun in life if you always knew what was going to happen next?”
“I can see that,” Devon said. “So what do you think happened to the people we were supposed to be on a date with?”
Cassandra closed her eyes for a moment and reached out. Seeing, in this sense, took a bit more effort than she was used to her magic needing. After a moment, though, she caught a glimpse of them.
“Apparently, the wards that kicked you here put the warlock I was supposed to be meeting in La Bella,” she said. “He and your date are still having a lovely evening commiserating on how they were apparently stood up by us and discussing how lucky they were to find each other.”
“Well, I’m glad that worked out, at least,” Devon said. “So, listen, I know I’m not a warlock and I don’t actually know anything about…well, any of this. But I had a really good time tonight.”
“So did I,” Cassandra said. Normal practice under these circumstances would have been to cast a memory charm on the non-Shadowfolk who had seen too much, but maybe, just maybe…
“And I know you’ll be busy Saturday morning, what with the teaching young witches and warlocks not to summon demons and all,” Devon said. “But I was wondering if maybe you were free Saturday night?”
“It’s a date.”