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Incandescence

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There’s a new girl at the Sunnydale Wiccan meeting, a tiny, pretty girl who pulses with magic and weird nervous energy. Tara wants to smile and welcome New Girl to the group, but there are just too many people here. What if she says something dumb, or stutters, or does both simultaneously? She ducks her head so her hair obscures her face a little, and sneaks a look at New Girl from time to time.

Nicole asks, “What do you guys think about lemon Bundt cake for the bake sale? It went over well the last time?”

“What if we connected the power of the earth to the bake sale?” Jody chimed in. “I’ve got a recipe for buttermilk lavender cake. It’s tasty and has the healing power of lavender!”

Mindy shakes her head. “I read on the internet that lavender is a masculine herb. Do we want people to think that the Daughters of Gaia are adulterating our baked goods with male energy?”

New Girl doesn’t wait for Jody to respond. She just blurts out, “That’s great, but, there’s a spell I need help with, and I heard you’re the most powerful Wiccan group in Sunnydale.” It’s a transparent attempt at flattery. They’re the only Wiccan group in Sunnydale.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Nicole says.

“I’m Anya, um. Emerson.” Anya smiles, but it’s awkward and forced. There’s something a little off about her, something hard to define. “I just need a teeny bit of help with a teleportation spell.”

The other girls start to laugh. Tara winces in vicarious embarrassment for Anya, and can’t help but make eye contact briefly before looking at the ground again.

“Anya, I think you’ve been reading too much Harry Potter. We mostly do blessings, gentle healing, that kind of thing,” Nicole says, her voice oozing condescension.

Anya stands up and says, “Fine. If you won’t help me, I’ll find someone else who will.” She stomps out of the room, and the debate over the gender of lavender resumes as if the interruption never happened.

***
After the meeting, Anya approaches Tara in the courtyard. “You looked like you knew what I was talking about. You can help me.”

Now that they’re free of the distractions of the other girls, and the only energies are the gentle ones from the trees and the grass beneath their feet, Tara’s finally able to see it. There’s something slightly askew with Anya’s aura. Her body and mind don’t completely line up. “N--not unless you tell me why.”

Anya sighs, and the artificial cheeriness disappears. “I used to be a demon.” Tara must look as terrified as she feels about that revelation, because Anya immediately clarifies, “Completely human now. But I hear that demons around here are being hunted and locked up. And I think that maybe I may be just demon enough to get caught, too.”

Blood rushes through Tara’s ears, and the thoughtful, sensible part of her wonders if it might be better that way. If someone locked her up before she changed, she wouldn’t hurt anyone.

But as Anya’s words sink in, the rebellious part of her, the part that made her leave her family kicks in. First, there’s a stab of envy: Anya was a demon but has a human lifetime stretching out before her; Tara’s got barely a year left. Then she catches onto a flicker of hope: Anya found a way to stop being a demon. Maybe Tara can find one, too.

“Okay. But I wanna come, too,” she tells Anya. And since Anya has a right to know, she adds, “I’m not a d-demon now, but I might be in a year.”

Anya tilts her head and looks Tara up and down, as if checking for signs of impending demonhood. “What kind of demon?”

“I don’t know,” Tara answers, flustered. “Does it matter?”

Anya shrugs, “If you care whether you’re a very evil demon, or a just an ordinary demon citizen, yeah.”

And yet another hope curls up in Tara’s chest. Even if she does change, maybe she can still be a good person. Her family seemed to think all demons were terrible, but her family has been wrong about a lot of things.

***
After a quick trip to Mr. Bogarty’s magic shop, they return to Tara’s dorm room.

Tara shifts from foot to foot as she watches Anya sort the ingredients. Ever since the beginning of the year, when her roommate mysteriously ran away, Tara’s had the room to herself. It’s been a secret fortress against the world. Letting someone in feels uncomfortable and strange.

Tara double checks the spell book. “We’ll invoke Adeona, so make sure we have plenty of fennel pollen. And um, afterwards we should throw some jellied salamanders into a fountain.”

Anya looks at Tara with utter incomprehension.

Tara mumbles, “It was a joke.”

“Oh, a joke! It’s been awhile since I heard one of those. Aren’t they supposed to be funny?” Anya asks. From anyone else, that would be sarcasm, but Anya seems genuinely curious.

“Well, it might be, if you were really into the 15th century neoclassicist revival of the Adeona cult,” Tara explains.

“Oh, no, I was pretty wrapped up with work back then.” Anya tosses some marigold root into the urn.

Wow, Anya was alive back then. Also, it’s probably best not to dwell on what kind of work a demon would be doing. “Ready?” Tara asks.

“Yes.” Anya sprinkles her hair with some of the urn’s contents, stands up and takes Tara’s hands. “Where do you want to go?”

“Surprise me.” If she’s going to do something reckless, why not go all-out?

They chant the words of invocation, and Tara feels the magic weave between them. Tara feels the thrill of teetering just on the edge of danger. But as the waves crest, Tara can feel a familiar tingling in her fingertips, a sign that they don’t have quite enough energy to complete the spell. Anya pulls Tara closer, keeps their hands clasped, and kisses Tara hard.

Tara’s skin burns all over and she’s not sure if it’s the kiss, or the magic, or the danger, or all three combined. Lightning claps and her nostrils fill with the scent of burning rubber, and she hits the ground hard, knocking the breath out of her lungs.

They’re on the street. People are just driving and walking around them as if girls materialize in front of them every day. Oh, right. The teleportation spell had a built-in an obfuscation element that kicked in upon their entry. Tara pushes herself up, running her tongue against her teeth to make sure none have been knocked loose. Then she looks up and gapes.

Neon signs, more than Tara has ever seen, except on television, illuminate the streets. Red, yellow, purple and green lights fight for Tara’s attention. Some of the signs are in English, but many others are in Chinese.

Anya touches Tara’s arm. “The lights are pleasing, aren’t they? They didn’t have quite so many the last time I visited Hong Kong. C’mon, let’s find a place to stay. That spell was exhausting.”

She puts her hand on the small of Tara’s back, a possessive gesture. Tara takes a moment to mourn the death of a fantasy--the one about meeting a girl who would be sensitive and thoughtful and get all of Tara’s weird jokes.

But she only gives it a moment, because a new adventure with Anya is beckoning. She walks with Anya, keeping her eyes fixed on the lights. She doesn’t want to miss a single second of whatever happens next.