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Witches, Wizards, and Whiskey

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In the end, the reason The Circle distillery needed to leave Chance Harbor and fast came down to magic. It wasn’t that they didn’t have it; they had plenty of it, and it had led the police around their stills dozens of times without them finding a single barrel. No, the problem was that their largest competitor, John Blackwood, also had magic. 

And a deputy sheriff’s badge, so they were screwed three ways.  

And when it turned out that Blackwood was actually Cassie’s long-lost and presumed very dead father, The Circle decided it was time to pack their best equipment in trunks and leave during the night to take a train back east, where they knew there might be two other groups of magic practitioners and a lot fewer John Blackwoods. Ordinary revenuers they could handle with a small air and sea, nothing to see. 

Their grandparents had all come west, bringing their magic in the search for gold and finding no riches, but making a community nonetheless. They had brought their books of family histories, and in time passed them on to their children, who passed them on to the six remaining descendants, Diana and Faye, Adam and Jake, Melissa and Cassie. Back in Massachusetts there were more distant family that might still exist, and with that family they could all trace their roots, and their magic, back to the first settlers in North America. 

On the endless miles of track crossing the middle of America, it felt like they had no roots at all. 

Adam wanted to stop and settle in St. Louis, but Faye peevishly said that if they were going to come so far packed into train cars like cattle, they might as well go to a real city, like Philadelphia or Boston or New York. Jake suggested Chicago, which no one wanted, and Diana had muttered something that sounded like “No more damned corn,” which was as much a reason as any not to take the route there. So instead they stayed on the train taking them steadily northeast, towards the possibility of old family and new life. 

They didn’t get either, because they stopped in New York and set up a distillery there, and that’s when the fresh batch of trouble started.

+++++ 

“If you want the girl back in one piece, you’ll put down the charm and step away from the still,” Jake demanded, roughly yanking a young black-haired woman back against his chest and holding a ritual knife to her throat. It was obsidian, and as such nearly useless as a weapon, but it looked impressive as hell and it did have a sharp edge, if it didn’t break. But Jake didn’t need the knife, not really; if he really wanted to hurt someone, he had the hands for it, just like his brother had. His brother Nick had run into trouble back west and found himself at the bottom of a ravine, though, and although Jake was the less volatile of the brothers, it didn’t make him any less capable of violence.

“Jake, you can NOT get blood in my anise liqueur!” Melissa cried. “I’m sorry, miss, I don’t know you, I just have been aging this batch and I can’t let it be diluted now." 

“I’m sure we can work this out, it’s just a misunderstanding, just put Alex down,” said the young man to whom Jake was talking. He had black hair, the face of a chronic worrier, and, suddenly, a wand. “I’m sure you must not have known this warehouse was ours, but—"

“Stop talking and light him up, Justin!” Alex said, rolling her eyes as if she didn’t have much to worry about. “For fuck’s sake, you never—“ She squealed as she was cut off by Jake putting a hand over her mouth and pulling her head back, exposing more of her throat to the knife. 

Lightning, fire, air, strike this bastard’s hair,” Justin shouted, and threw a celebratory fist in the air when Jake’s hair started smoking, and then caught fully on fire. Jake had to drop at least one hand to start batting at his head, which Alex used as an opportunity to wriggle her arm free and elbow him squarely in the nose. 

“Air— fuck! Water—“ Jake tried to start a spell, but seemed unable to focus with his hair on fire. Faye, with supreme unconcern, grabbed a nearby bucket of water and dumped it over his head. 

“Fun as it would be to watch that continue,” Faye said, “I think we need to deal with the fact that they have magic. And you needed to cut your hair anyway.” She turned her back on him and walked back to the rest of the Circle. Jake, with charred hair, blood gushing from his nose, and drenched from head to toe, glared at Faye. 

As they stood in the warehouse, it was six against two, everybody appeared to have magic, and nobody knew who had the upper hand.

+++++

The Circle had ended up in New York City when they ran out of money for tickets further, and attempts to charm their way into staying on the train had not worked. Their natural charm, which Faye tried to exhibit through pulling the neckline of her dress lower, had also failed to book them passage. So there they were, in New York, with nothing but trunks of distilling equipment and small casks of liquor, and bags with the small amount they owned besides the clothes they wore. 

Without money, it was time to case the area for police and get to work making and selling the devil’s drink. It was a hard start, and they spent a few weeks living in one room above a speakeasy that got raided four times while they were there and still somehow kept going, but after establishing a few connections and selling some decidedly below-quality bathtub gin, they had enough to rent a house near one of the storage warehouses in an only slightly disreputable part of Manhattan. 

The warehouse served marvelously as a place for their still. It was too risky to keep in the house, but the warehouse was forgotten enough that nobody would disturb them, or steal their supply, or raid the place, and a protective spell reinforced its already-present features. It was actually turning out rather well, by the time they’d been in New York a month.

And then Justin and Alex had stumbled upon their operation, and that’s how Jake had wound up reaching for the first way out, and a knife.

+++++

“Good job with spell improvisation,” Alex said to Justin as they all faced each other. 

“Not a great time, Alex, but thanks,” Justin said, his wand still out. Alex bent down, lifted up the hem of her skirt, and pulled another wand from her boot.  

“How do you have magic?” demanded Adam.  

“Well, when a mother wizard and a father wizard fall in love…” Alex started. 

“No, we know how magic is passed down,” Diana interrupted. “But only a few people have it. We thought it was just us, and some other witches up north, from when the first settlers came to Massachusetts colony.” 

Justin shrugged. “We’re half Italian. Our dad settled here forty years ago. And magic runs in a lot of families, I teach classes after Mass on Sundays."

“Fascinating as all this genealogy is,” Faye drawled, “aren’t we ignoring the more important thing? The alcohol?” She crossed her arms.

“I feel like the magic is important,” said Cassie.

“They both are,” said Diana, in a tone that brooked no argument. “What do you mean, this warehouse is yours? I didn’t think anyone but the meatpacking company used it for spare equipment. That’s why we chose it.” 

Alex and Justin suddenly looked, if possible, even more guarded. “It’s part of our family’s business,” said Justin. “My dad runs a deli and butcher shop. So we sort of own the warehouse. And we don’t like people trespassing.” 

“On old meathooks?” Adam said doubtfully. 

Ohhhh,” said Faye. “I get it. Air and wind, all be unhid. Air and wind, all be unhid.." 

The rest of the Circle glanced at each other, and then started repeating it. “Air and wind, all be unhid…"

And there, right in front of them, were barrels of beer, and shelves and shelves of glass bottles. Alex sighed, and held out her wand, while Justin shuffled his feet. “Maybe you’re not agents, but I think you know we can’t let you leave now. It’s too bad you saw that.” 

“You what, run a speakeasy? You’re suppliers? You have way too much there to have made by yourselves,” Diana said rapidly as the Circle drew closer together, getting ready to fight back. “We don’t want to put you out of business, we’re actually looking to get more buyers."

“With just the one still?” Alex asked doubtfully, not lowering her wand. 

“No, we’ve got more, we just haven’t made enough profits yet to get them going. And we’ve already got a store of special herbal liqueurs, tastes just like stuff you can only get from France, but none of our customers are classy enough to need it. I bet you have a better assortment, though, with that range of booze?” Diana’s smile was so wide and bright that Melissa and Faye winced together, sure this wouldn’t have a chance of working. She was laying it on too thick. 

Alex looked to Justin, and they conferred silently. “We do have a… proprietor of house parties who’s been looking for a good créme de violette lately…” Justin said. 

“I could get you half a dozen bottles by tonight,” Melissa said immediately. “They’re not here, of course, but I’ve got a créme de violette that a Frenchman told me he could swear tasted just like Denoix. And like I said, I’m making an anise liqueur.” 

“What about your gin?” asked Alex. 

“It’s not your standard bathtub gin,” answered Cassie. “Most people take a shortcut, just throw some pine needles and a lemon into cheap vodka, but we actually make real gin." 

Justin questioned, “With magic? Or conventionally? We’ve had some issues with magic and gin mixing." 

“Yeah, it’s why we need a new gin supplier,” added Alex. 

“What happened to the last one?” said Cassie. 

“Exploded,” said Alex, and didn’t explain if she meant the still, the gin, or the supplier himself. The answer was enough to make no one ask for clarification. 

 “If you let us use your warehouse for our stills, we can double up the concealment spells, and give you a special rate on alcohol,” offered Diana. “What do you say?"

“Fifty percent discount,” said Alex.

“Like hell,” said Faye. “Ten percent."

“Thirty,” persisted Alex. 

“We’ll do twenty percent off our normal price, and we won’t fight our way out of here and wreck your entire supply in the process,” said Jake casually. “I think you know I would.” 

“Twenty percent, then,” Justin confirmed. “But don’t think you can just boss us around, just because you’re a crazy person who put a knife to my sister’s throat."

“He’s sorry about that, we’re just all on edge,” said Cassie quickly, despite Jake muttering that no, he wasn’t. 

“It’s a deal, then,” concluded Alex. 

“We’re in business,” said Diana, and she and Alex shook hands. 

 +++++

They were in business for two months before they hit a snag. 

Everything was working smoothly, in the partnership between the Russos and the Circle. The Russos didn’t own a speakeasy themselves, but they distributed to a good number of the ones, both high class and low, between the Bowery and the Upper East Side, and on some nights, they could be found hosting parties themselves in various locations. The Circle helped lay protective spells for each place, and they saved so much money when their supply wasn’t seized in raids and they didn’t have to pay police to look the other way.  

The problem with enjoying raid-free speakeasies is that word gets around about being able to open a bar or drink a cocktail without getting arrested, and that inspired the sort of questions they didn’t want asked. 

One warm night in June a speakeasy was in full swing at the corner of Gay Street and Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, and almost everyone was there. Alex and Justin were in charge of delivery and stuck around to help tend bar, while Melissa and Adam circled the block saying spells before burning rosemary at each entrance to the house before anyone arrived. The magic had proven effective in keeping what they spelled secret from anyone with ill or contrary intent. Not only did police find themselves confused if they ever looked for the place at all, neighbors angry at any loud noise would spontaneously stop noticing the commotion next door as soon as they grew annoyed.  

Throughout the evening, Adam hung around to haul new blocks of ice and cases of liquor up from the basement. Jake was supposed to be roaming the streets outside as a lookout. No one was quite sure what Faye was doing, but with the way men (and more than a few women) were practically throwing money into the kitchen to buy her drinks, they weren’t going to question it. Melissa left early, claiming she wasn’t in much of a party mood, and that she needed to work with Cassie on setting up their newest still. Diana confided to Adam that Melissa had been in a fine party mood, up until a group of wealthy white women had arrived and shot nasty looks Melissa’s way, which Adam told to Justin, who mentioned it to Alex, and between all of them, they made sure that those women got little more than a glass of diluted ethanol with a twist of lemon all evening long.  

It was probably best for those women’s health and eyesight that the police raid happened an hour before midnight, but being blinded might have improved their judgmental gazes on anyone who looked like Melissa. 

At eleven, one of the party guests opened the door that Diana had been watching and let in the agents. Their leader was an older man, with a bony face and greying hair, and he immediately announced, “Everyone in this establishment is under arrest, this is a raid!” and sent the guests scattering for the doors. In moments, amid a clutter of half-empty glasses, only Adam, Faye, Diana, and Alex remained, and they too would have fled had it not been for the guns held on them. 

Diana looked to Alex, raising her eyebrows. Alex tilted her head towards the kitchen, indicating what Diana hoped meant Justin had vanished with the crowd, going for backup. They needed the rest of the Circle, and they needed more magic. The Prohibition agents should never have been able to find them, not with the spells they had used. Jake should have been able to warn them they were about to be raided.  

“Good work, Luke,” said the older agent to the young guest who had let him in. “I assume these are the ones hosting this party of sin?" 

“They’re the ones, Isaac,” said Luke. “I’ve had my eye on them all night."

“Yeah, while you’ve been enjoying sinning quite a lot,” retorted Alex. “But what’s a cocktail or six in the line of duty, right?"

“You’ve been watering them down,” Luke replied evenly.  

“Bullshit!"

“Shut up, Alex,” hissed Faye. 

“Now, I’d like to know who’s in charge of this operation,” Isaac asked conversationally, ignoring Alex’s commentary. 

“This is actually a communist society meeting, no one’s in charge, we don’t believe in personal property,” Faye said.

You shut up, Faye!” Alex hissed at her. In the midst of their bickering, Diana looked to Adam, to try and come with a plan. Adam clenched his jaw, and didn’t seem to have a plan, but Diana followed his line of sight to the cord and charm wrapped around the hand or wrist of all the agents. It was while she was focusing on trying to see what might be on the charm that Isaac grabbed her shoulder and pulled her up against him, and in her surprise she let out a squeak. 

“I guess you’re the man in charge,” Isaac said to Adam, letting the barrel of his pistol rest against Diana’s jaw. Adam looked startled at this claim, but narrowed his eyes at Isaac.  

“What’s this all about? Why are you making threats instead of just packing us into the wagon?"

“Jesus, Adam, why don’t you just give him ideas?” Faye said. 

“I know you kids aren’t running this whole operation. I want to know who is,” Isaac said. “Nobody needs to see the inside of a jail cell, and I don’t need to have any… accidents… on the way there, if you just tell me.” He let the gun drift across Diana’s cheek, showing exactly what kind of accidents he meant. She shuddered.

“There’s nothing to tell!” Adam responded. “It’s just us!"

“Now I know that isn’t true,” Isaac said with certainty. He suddenly shifted his grip on Diana to pull her up by the hair, pointing the gun under her chin. She gasped and closed her eyes. It must have been that that caused Faye to curse and jump forward, only for Luke to level a gun at her. Faye put her hands up and stepped back, murder in her eyes. 

“So what are you, her sister?” Isaac asked Faye. “Or… something else?” Faye just glared in response, and he pulled his face into something that might have been intended as a smile. “But you’ll talk, for her, won’t you?”  

“He’s right, there’s nothing to say,” Faye said. “We bring some booze to parties, get people drinking, nothing more than that. Just… let her go, alright?" 

Isaac tightened his grip on Diana’s hair, and Faye’s lips grew more pinched. “You’re going to pretend to me,” Isaac said, “that you don’t report to—"

All the windows of the front room exploded inwards at just that moment.  

The sound of chanting came from through the empty windows, and became louder, closer. Soon, a torrent of wind was pouring into the living room, deafeningly loud and knocking furniture over with a crash. With the agents distracted, Alex reached down for her wand, and shouted, “Lamps and stools, hit these fools!” From the middle of the blowing gales, several pieces of furniture and lighting fixtures flew across the room, striking the agents in the heads. As soon as they dropped, the wind ceased, and Justin, Jake, Cassie, and Melissa rushed through the front door.  

Cassie pulled Diana up from the floor where she had fallen when Isaac collapsed. “We need to pack up the hooch and go,” directed Alex; Justin nodded, and the two of them disappeared into the kitchen. 

“They all had some kind of charm,” Diana said, and poked Luke with her foot. “Here, look. I wonder if this is how they got past our defenses?" 

“I didn’t even see them,” said Jake.  

“Yeah, and you nearly got us all killed by getting distracted,” snapped Adam.

Cassie sighed. “We don’t know that they didn’t have some way of disguising themselves. If they could breach our thresholds, they had something."

“We’ll take the charm with us, see if we can find out anything in our family books,” said Melissa. 

They made it out without Isaac and his agents returning to consciousness, and with four crates of liquor. Alex was looking back to check for followers when she saw Melissa and Faye pull back into a shadowed corner. 

“I was worried when Justin ran in and said you’d been raided,” Melissa murmured, reaching out to take Faye’s hand.  

“I’m fine,” Faye said lightly, and dropped a kiss on Melissa’s lips. “I’m fine.”  

Alex turned away, satisfied they weren’t followed, but resolved to talk to Melissa later. 

+++++

Later turned out to be the next morning, when she and Melissa were measuring out ingredients for the whiskey in the new still. 

“What’s going on with you and Faye? And Faye and Diana? And Diana and Adam and Cassie and Jake? Because I’m having a hard time keeping up, and believe me, I’ve gone out dancing with my share of confusing dates,” Alex said bluntly.  

“We’re all… very close,” Melissa started, hesitating.  

“Yes, I could see that,” Alex said plainly. “And I don’t care what —or who— you do, any of you, but if we’re in this business together, I’m not going to be stupid enough to not know whose weak spot I need to cover for." 

Melissa sighed. “It’s not really my place—" 

“Spill it.” Alex crossed her arms, and somehow looked equal to any man in the business in what a threat she could be.  

“Diana and Faye and I grew up together, but Diana and Faye have always been… the sun and the moon. Faye and I became closer when Diana started seeing Adam, and then they were engaged, but she broke it off. Faye does as she pleases, though, so it’s not like…” Melissa paused, searching for words. “Faye is Faye. She looks like the hardest of us all, but if you’re accounting for soft spots, she’s hiding a lot of them.”  

“And you?"

Melissa let out a short mirthless laugh. “I’m not hiding them, at least not very well.” She looked down at her hands, then gathered herself again. “Cassie came later, but she was the reason Diana broke off the engagement; she didn’t believe she had any more claim to Adam than Cassie did, or that Adam had any more claim to her than Faye or I did, and that perhaps our Circle shouldn’t have smaller circles inside of it. Faye and Jake have… a history, but I don’t think she’d be sorry to see him get a few head injuries, or at least she hasn’t before. Cassie and Jake saw each other for awhile, but that didn’t even turn into an engagement." 

“So that’s it? You’re just a crowd of would-be Mormon witches brewing hooch?" 

“That doesn’t make any sense, you know that, right?” Melissa squinted at her. “I don’t think all those stories about Mormons kidnapping multiple wives is true, and anyway, that would make Diana our group’s husband, and then there’s the alcohol… you’re really terrible at metaphors, did you know that?"

“Metaphor sounds like something I ignored at school,” Alex declared. “So is that all there is?"

“Well, sometimes Adam and Diana and also Jake and Cassie pose or live as married couples, if we need that respectability,” she offered.

“Oh, that,” said Alex. “Yeah, Justin and I do that too. We may as well be, and some people just won’t take a lady seriously unless she has a husband behind her." 

Melissa raised her eyebrows at Alex so carelessly tossing out that her brother served as husband, but then, what place could she speculate from? The six of them did as they would, and had abandoned those ties to conventional morality when morality had failed to put food on the table, or protect them at all. Whatever they did, whatever Justin and Alex did, it didn’t matter anymore. 

There was a bang of the outside warehouse door being slammed shut, and Alex and Melissa started. Alex reached for her wand, but relaxed when they saw it was just Diana, Cassie, and Faye. 

“Are the boys here?” asked Diana. 

“No, I think they’re all negotiating a shipment for a new bar uptown,” said Melissa. “I think they won’t be back for a few hours, though." 

“Good,” said Diana. “Did you have a chance to look up that charm yet?"

Melissa reached for her book, which she’d been paging through before Alex met her at the warehouse. “I found part of the design. The crescent on it, that’s supposed to be a witch hunter symbol, possibly. Or a general ward against evil. It could go either way. It’ll make more sense if I can find out what all the parts mean together."

“We found another one of them in Jake’s things,” Diana said impatiently. “Another one of those charms." 

“I found it in his things,” Cassie said in a small voice. “It wasn’t out on top of everything, like he had grabbed one last night. He’d hidden it."

“Wait, do we think that Jake is one of the agents? That he’s working for them?” Melissa asked. “I mean, after what he did a few years ago, there’s a lot I wouldn’t put past him, but actually working with them? Especially if they’re witch hunters?"

“Think about it,” Faye said flatly. “He wanted us to go to Chicago, and there have been more raids than ever there over the past two months. He was supposed to be watching the door last night, but somehow a whole bunch of Prohibition agents just walk right in, even though we’ve set multiple guards against them."

“Well, what are we supposed to do, if we have a mole?” Alex said. “You brought him here, you need to deal with him. And soon, or this warehouse is the first place to go."

“Oh, we’ll deal with him,” Faye promised, and Diana nodded solemnly. 

 +++++

The first key part of dealing with Isaac was coming up with a plan that he would definitely be involved in and report to the Prohibition agent witch hunters. Sending him out with Adam and Cassie on multiple deliveries and following behind to respond to an attack on the truck had no luck, even when they got their hands on some cocaine and sent that with them. It grew more and more difficult to not let on to Jake that they knew he was a mole, while concealing their nervousness about the warehouse and the stills it housed. Something had to be done, and soon. 

A week after Cassie had discovered his connection, they decided to host a party of their own behind a restaurant in Little Italy. Alex and Faye seemed to know people high and low all over town, and Diana instantly became a friend to everyone she met, so they made sure they would have a sufficient number of guests to make it a real party. There were several exists out the back, but Cassie and Adam spelled two of the exits to be invisible to Jake as well as the agents before anyone else arrived at the speakeasy. They loaded a strong selection of their stock, even champagne. It was a party that couldn’t fail to lure law enforcement. 

They also put out the rumor that there would be palm and tarot readings and magic charms for guests, just to make sure they got the right law enforcement. 

Saturday night arrived, with Jake, Diana, and Justin showing up early to set up and unpack. Faye, Cassie, and Alex took more time to dress up, rouging their cheeks and lips, brushing mascara powder onto their lashes, and wearing their best flapper dresses. They were going to be the party, and a beacon to the Prohibition agents looking for trouble. 

On the subway platform they stood next to some girls who Cassie felt were so much younger than them, and yet when looking at them, probably weren’t even as much as four or five years; the changes of life just made her feel so much older than she had been at fourteen or fifteen, when her mother had died and she’d found out she was a witch. These girls were going out to experience as much life as they could. Cassie nudged Faye, and nodded towards the girls, one tall and brunette with a too-happy smile on her face, the other short with heavy blonde hair and a suspicious look, and Cassie gave Faye a half smile. Faye tilted her head, seeing the resemblance but also the differences that Cassie had noticed.  

“Hey, kid,” she said to the girl with the brown hair.  

“Hi!” the girl  said. “Oh! I mean, yes?” She arched her eyebrows at them. The blonde girl sighed. 

“Riley, you already lost the chance to look sophisticated, you can’t try a second time.” 

“You can get a second chance on everything, Maya,” said Riley.  

“Well, try it with this,” said Faye, and pulled out her garter flask. “Your outfit isn’t complete without one." 

“Oh, my mother said I’m not old enough—“ started Riley. 

“Thanks, lady,” Maya interrupted her, darting for the flask and snapping her garter into place over it. “That’s real nice of you." 

“We have plenty,” said Cassie. “Just watch out for each other, okay? Girls looking out for each other— it matters.” 

 Riley took Maya’s hand. “It’s the most magical thing in the world,” she said.

 And then their train came, and they got on separate cars, and went their separate ways. But Faye looked at Cassie as they rode, and tilted her head, scrutinizing her. Cassie looked back, without flinching like so many people did under Faye’s gaze. “It matters?” Faye asked. “More than boys?"

“It’s different,” Cassie said.

“It is different,” said Alex. “I only ever had my brother, for anything like this. You, Diana, Melissa— it’s not the same as watching out for him, but it’s something else."

 “Magic,” Faye echoed Riley’s statement, and shrugged.

Guests were beginning to trickle in when Faye and Alex and Cassie came in through the back of the speakeasy. Cassie managed the door, keeping an eye out for Luke or any of the other agents, but she had no doubt that if they were to be raided tonight, someone new would be there. Or Jake would have told them all the details and plans in advance. They were expecting trouble, but that didn’t mean everything would go their way. 

There was a knock on the door. “What’s the word?” Cassie called through the crack.  

“Balcoin?” a woman said with hesitation, and Cassie let her in. 

Back in what they were using for a kitchen, Melissa was mixing cocktails one after another, as fast as they were ordered. But she wasn’t just mixing up alcohol; some of her cocktails were herbs and stones, a match dropped in a bowl here or some words spoken over a preparation there. Some of the drinks themselves she spelled, for clearheadedness, for quick thinking, for noticing details like the exits. When the action started, they wanted as few non-magical people around as possible. 

Justin and Alex were providing music for the evening, with Alex crooning huskily about lost love while Justin switched between a guitar and a double bass taller than he was. They hadn’t had time to schedule music, and besides, it was easier for them to be in the middle of everything with wands at the ready, rather than worrying about more people who didn’t deserve to be in the middle of a magic conflict.

It wasn’t til about ten that Cassie slipped into the back room. “Jake just told me you told him to manage the door,” she said quietly to Diana. “And I’m pretty sure you didn’t." 

“No,” Diana confirmed. Alex and Justin, taking a break from music for refreshment, joined them. “Justin, can you get Faye and Adam? I think it’s about time."

Justin only nodded, and then went to signal the other two to join them. If Jake was making a move, the raid was on. As they waited for everyone to be assembled, Diana and Melissa reached for each other’s hands, closing their eyes  and whispering together, “I have no magic; I want to leave. I have no magic, I want to leave.” They didn’t know how much they could make people spontaneously decide to depart out the back, but what they could accomplish, they’d attempt. 

When Faye and Adam joined them, Melissa quickly handed out the charms she had spelled for protection. There were crystals in each, suited to each of their temperaments. It wasn’t a guarantee of safety, because nothing was. It was just another pebble in the stone wall they were trying to build against the threat against them. 

“Did you kids think you could get away without us finding and raiding you again?” asked Isaac from the doorway, holding a tommy gun on the room. 

“We had hoped you wouldn’t be enough of an idiot to try again,” said Faye evenly, turning to face him. “Since you’re really a witch hunter, aren’t you?"

He aimed the gun at her. “That’s a hell of a thing to say."

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Faye said. “I was talking to Jake.” Jake emerged from behind Isaac. “See, I didn’t really think you’d changed from the jerk who robbed Adam’s family blind or the cruel boy I knew, before Nick died,” Faye continued. "I just thought never thought you’d get stupid. Or this inattentive."

“This shit is dangerous, and none of you know what you’re doing,” Jake told her. 

“And you’ll be the one to protect us, huh?” asked Adam, his lip curling with distaste. “Because you always did that so well before."

“I don’t care about protecting you. I just want it all to stop,” Jake said. 

“And once we kill all of you, it will,” added Isaac. The agents behind him fully blocked their exits, and they were all carrying pistols. “Normally we’d arrest you, but your magic changes that.” 

Justin raised his wand at Isaac. “Strength and weakness once concealed, release your power, be revealed,” he said, reciting a spell. 

Isaac just smiled at him. “You think you can just bewitch me? Like we’d come without the protection to handle a half-dozen witches?" 

“Wizard, actually,” corrected Justin, to whom such things mattered. “And no. But it wasn’t for you." 

It was actually for the thirty or so of Justin’s students who were old enough to go to a speakeasy, or at least old enough for people to look the other way if they were seen around one, but these hadn’t been seen, because they’d shown up early enough to be spelled unnoticeable. They were wizards of varying power and discipline, with their magic bolstered or restrained by family aptitude and tradition, but the point was that they had numbers on their side, numbers that Isaac and his men weren’t expecting. The agents backed into the center of the speakeasy, as the Circle and the Russos advanced on them, and wizard students circled them. “You have no weapon left to pick, your gun is now a harmless stick,” they chanted together, almost drowning out the sound of the guns’ inner workings clicking into uselessness and locking up before the guns themselves melted like wax, and wobbled like rubber. It would still hurt to get slapped by one, but the pain of getting hit with a fire hose, not a bullet. Once they were satisfied the guns were disarmed, Alex nodded to Justin, and he waved the students away. They scattered out the concealed back entrances, until just those involved in the conflict between witch and witch hunter were left.  

“We had a deal!” shouted Jake, breaking the silence. “You were supposed to strip them of their magic, I didn’t bring you here for a mass murder." 

“You brought us here to deal with witches, and I don’t really care why. I’m going to get rid of every remnant of John Blackwell’s organization, including you, Mr. Armstrong,” Isaac said. “What, you thought you were immune to betrayal? You’re just one of them. You’v’e been helpful, I won’t deny it, but you’re still one more witch in the world, and one more person connected to Blackwell." 

“We came here to get away from Blackwell!” Cassie burst out. “He made it so we couldn’t stay in Chance Harbor. You think we have a connection to him? I never want to see that man again as long as I live." 

“Well, you won’t,” promised Isaac.  

“I told him you were working for Blackwell out here,” Jake said to Cassie. 

“Well, that was fucking stupid,” said Faye. “And what do you mean, JUST going to strip us of our magic?" 

“Magic is what killed our parents,” Jake said. “Magic and liquor. They got drunk and did a big spell together and that’s why we all grew up orphans." 

“Touching as all this family backstory is,” Isaac interrupted, pulling a glass jar from his pocket, “I don’t need guns to kill you all. Not when I have a witch cruet.”  

“Those need our blood and our things,” said Melissa.  

“Oh, fuck me,” said Jake.  

“Never again,” promised Faye. “Not even if we live." 

“So if you don’t have a connection to Blackwell,” said Isaac, drawing a box of matches from his vest pocket, “I don’t have any reason to keep all of you alive any longer.” Luke separated himself from the agents and quickly put a knife to Diana’s throat. “And don’t even think of casting a spell, or I’ll kill her slowly in front of you, and make each of you watch, before I kill the rest of you. Thank you for showing last time exactly what she means to some of you.” Luke smiled a nasty smile at Faye in particular, when Isaac threatened that.  

Isaac struck the match against the side of the matchbox, and brought it to the open mouth of the cruet. Everyone seemed to hold their breath, not sure if the cruet would work, not wanting to get Diana killed before they could find a way to save themselves. Diana breathed harshly against Luke’s hand, and that was the only sound.  

Cassie looked at Diana, her first friend in Chance Harbor and the first girl she had ever realized she found beautiful in a way that caught under her ribs, and then at Isaac.  

Cassie focused, as Isaac advanced on her. He clearly didn’t care about the alcohol, not anymore. He wanted to kill witches. He wanted to kill them, when he didn’t even know them and they’d never done anything wrong except breaking all those laws that no one cared about anyway. But he was no more the law than they were, in this case. Something clawed in her chest, like a desperate animal swimming for the surface of a dark lake, absolutely determined to survive and to get to breathe. She’d felt the thing before, but something had always felt like she should hold it back, that letting it be released would be like going naked in public, and wholly indecent. 

She let it out now, with a shriek.  

Isaac burst into full-body flames.  

His agents were somewhat distracted by this, but Diana didn’t hesitate, breaking free of Luke’s grip and pulling the charms out of their hands as they balked at their leader’s immolation. Faye and Melissa were ready with a wooden bowl containing crumbled sage and black charcoal. “By our power, break their protection. By our power, break their protection. By our power…

“I think Cassie might have broken some of their protection,” Justin muttered to Alex, before darting off to find a bucket and water before the charring remains of Isaac could burn the building down. 

The charms burst into flames in the bowl, their sigils vanishing off first as they were purified by the ingredients in the bowl.  

“We’ll give you one chance to leave,” said Jake, as the witch hunters’ protection vaporized. “Or you can take Isaac’s way out." 

“You were supposed to be on our side,” spat Luke. 

“You were supposed to not be fucking murderers,” replied Jake with equanimity. Without warning, he sliced a gash in his hand, and pushed Luke to the floor, pressing his bleeding hand against Luke’s forehead. Luke writhed under his palm. “You don’t burn today, you will if you ever come back to New York City. Because we’ll know, if you come back, and what happened to Isaac will look like a Girl Scout camping trip." 

Following his lead, Adam and Cassie repeated the action with the other agents, who didn’t look keen to meet the same fate as Isaac, but weren’t sure about leaving without having won, either.  

+++++ 

Cassie checked around her for passers-by before pulling open the warehouse door. Her arms were full of two bags of wax blocks for sealing finished bottles and she had her mind on what needed to be bottled next, the whiskey or the rum. She was also looking around, checking the corners where they had tucked crystals and charms, re-concealing the storehouse and stopping  up all the weaknesses that Jake had exposed. He was still a part of their Circle, that was unavoidable, but trust would have to be earned again. And when they raided the witch hunters’ base, they found even more information, that it was Blackwell who was to blame for their parents’ deaths, not just alcoholic practicers of magic.  

Cassie had a lot on her mind. That was probably why she missed the shoes on the floor that she might have tripped over, and didn’t hear the sounds that might have given her a warning before she stopped short at the entrance to the liquor storeroom and dropped the bags, startled.  

Alex lay on a pile of clothes on the ground, barely covering herself with a discarded skirt. Faye was sitting up, wearing nothing but a lacy slip, leaning back on her hand and smoking a cigarette.  

“Um,” said Cassie. 

Alex waved lazily. “We were just making some magic,” she said, and sat up, the skirt slipping off of what little it covered. 

“Yes, I can see that,” Cassie responded.  

Faye smiled at Cassie, and her eyes glinted. “What, did you want to join us?" 

Cassie looked at them, considering.  

It wasn't like this was the sort of thing where business never mixed with pleasure, after all.