Chapter 1 

Over the course of a few weeks, my life changed completely. As I look back, I can pinpoint when it all started. It started on a Tuesday... the most untalked about day of the week unless you love tacos. 

I was walking home from work, well, walking to the metro. I could technically walk home from my job, and I did most days to save money, but that day it would’ve meant walking home in falling snow. 

I worked at the law firm of Sanders & Angell as a receptionist during the week and at a magical supply shop named WICCA on the weekends. 

Working at Sanders & Angell wasn't the most glamorous job, but it paid the bills. It also helped me make connections in the magical world and build relationships that could help me move up my standing. 

In the magical world, I was known as Unbound, and that meant I was at the lowest of the low. It wasn't always like this in the United States, but when the Romar family disappeared in the latter half of the 1800s, other magical families took over. The Romars were the first African American magical family on record in this country. At the emergence of Family Covens in the late 1500s, the Romars refused to participate. 

Each family that wanted to consolidate their power, started their own Coven. As the country grew, so did the Coven's need for power and territory. However, by the time the Romars retreated from society in the mid-1800s, only half of the original Covens existed. 

Since then, the magical community of witches and warlocks in the United States has been run by Covens, just like the rest of the magical world. There were about 20 families that ruled over all the Bound witches and warlocks. If you threw in the halflings and vampires, there were about 45 families who ran all of the magical beings. 

In the DMV area, where I lived, two families split the region. The Abbas and Easton families ran the area, and I didn't belong to either. 

To join a Coven, you needed to be sponsored by a member who was in good standing within that Coven. It was basically a popularity contest, and again, I was the lowest of the low – I didn't have anyone who would vouch for me. 

When I was a child, my parents died of a drug overdose, and I was found by non-magical neighbors once the smell of the decaying bodies got to them. Since I was so young and didn't know what my parents were or what I was for that matter, I was placed in the non-magical foster care system. Since then, I grew up away from all other magicals.

Since the magical community was basically the mob, well, that’s just the way I viewed it, not belonging to a family put Unbounds in a dangerous position. Growing up without my mother or father left me without certain protections that all witches and warlocks needed growing up, and I had the scars across my body to prove it. 

Though I should consider myself one of the lucky ones, I've met other Unbound's in more dire situations than myself. Unbound's didn’t have the same resources or protection as Coven members. The spells we did have came from bookshelves, and most were general knowledge. To make matters worse, many Unbounds were unable to get work in magical businesses, or businesses associated with magical businesses, or faced abuse at the hands of Coven members. But Unbounds were banned from organizing. I think the Covens were afraid of the collective strength of us Unbounds. It probably had something to do with what happened the last time Unbounds tried to unite.

I’d heard about a group of Unbounds who tried to organize around the mid-1900s. They were called the Children of the Chosen, and it was said they were more like a cult than a Coven. 

Granted, I didn't know everything about it; it was a dark time, and after all the deaths, people were too scared to talk about it. Besides, anyone with real first-hand knowledge was dead. What I do know is they planned to create a Coven through three families. They were going to pull their magic together, but when the time came, they were all killed by the leaders of the Abbas and Easton Covens. But again, this was all hearsay… 

I had done a lot for myself with the help of another well off Unbound. I had come a long way from the scared five-year-old little girl. I figured out I was a witch; I found my community and taught myself everything I needed to know. What I couldn't learn on my own, I had the support of people willing to teach me or at least point me in the right direction. 

A strong gust of wind whipped down the street, piercing my skin like hundreds of small ice needles were thrown my way. I ducked my head down, tugged my coat tighter around me, and whispering a warming spell. I felt the gem in my necklace heat up, and soon, that heat spread throughout my body. The spell wasn't strong enough to completely block out the cold, but it did help me make my way down the street. When I got home, I was going to have a tall glass of red wine to warm myself back up.

I crossed the last street, and the Archives Metro Station came into view as a large crowd headed up the stairs with raised voices screaming and yelling as they passed people dressed in the metro uniform. 

"What happened?" I asked the nearest woman – an older black woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties. I caught her attention just as she was re-buttoning her powder blue peacoat.  

"They shut it down." She huffed as she wrapped her scarf around her head. 

I blinked. "What do you mean they shut it down?" 

"That whole metro system is a piece of crap." She waved her gloved hand at the sign. "They shut it down for the rest of the night. They said something about the weather freezing the lines so bad they were cracking. So, they just shut it down. Leaving thousands of people without an affordable way to get home." She huffed once more and stomped off through the snow.

Well, that changed everything. How was I going to get home now? Walking was still out of the question with this weather. Even though it wasn't in the budget, I’d have to take a rideshare home. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, unlocked it, and opened the app. I started to set up my ride home but paused as I saw the line forming on the sidewalk of cabs and rideshares already coming to pick up their guests. Rush hour traffic just tripled and looking back down at the app; the surcharge tripled as well. I groaned and looked around. There was no way I was going to get picked up now, and if I did manage it, the surcharge would not be worth the ride. 

I looked around the crowded city block, trying to figure out what to do. I could go back to the office and sit in the lobby for the next hour and a half while I waited for traffic and the surcharge to lessen, but I quickly disregarded that idea - the security guards did not like me, and they were likely to throw me out just for the fun of it. I glanced back down the street and saw people ducking into nearby restaurants. 

I could do that; I could grab an early dinner, maybe a glass of wine, and relax in warmth until the roads were clearer. I glanced up and down the street again looking for a restaurant that wasn't about to be overcrowded. 

"Ciders," I whispered upon seeing the sign a few feet down. I remember overhearing my coworkers talk about it a few days ago. They all went out for lunch and Chelsea, my only, I guess you could call her a 'friend' at Sanders & Angell, said she wanted to invite me along, but the others weren't so fond of me. It was a relatively new restaurant, only being around for about six months, it had a relaxed vibe to it. The best part was that since it was only for magical beings, and only those with magical blood could see it, it was my best option. 

I walked in and looked around; I didn't remember them saying how small it was. There were only about fifteen tables and booths combined, and there was a small bar along the wall with moderately inexpensive alcohol and wine lining the shelves. I quickly grabbed an open seat at the end of the bar, looked over their menu, checked their pricing, and made sure they accepted non-magical money. I was running low on Ringgits, and I couldn't waste the little I had left on one dinner. Thankfully they accepted both, though, the non-magical price was a bit more expensive.

I glanced over the menu; there were enough choices for a nice meal — four choices for appetizers, six entrees, and five desserts. The top of the menu said they it was seasonal, which meant they changed their menu every six weeks.

I wasn't super hungry, but I didn't think I could spend fifteen dollars on a bowl of soup. I looked over the menu again and saw the Grilled Bistro Steak with roasted root vegetables and haricot verts for $25. Not a bad price, but with tax and tip, I couldn't do wine with dinner.  

"Hi," I looked up from my menu to see the bartender standing in front of me. He was young, in his mid-twenties, and he was wearing a bracelet showing he was a part of the Abbas Coven. "My name is Justin. What can I start you with?"

"I'll take water," I said. Justin nodded and reached for a glass to his left and started filling it. 

"Do you know what you would like to eat?" Justin asked, placing the glass in front of me. 

I nodded. "I'll take the Bistro Steak entree with the standard sides." 

"How would you like the steak cooked?" 

"Medium rare, please." I closed the menu and pushed it towards him. I saw him glance down at my wrist, no doubt looking for a Coven band. Thankfully I still had my jacket on, and it covered my bare wrist. I knew I wouldn't get kicked out for not having a Coven band, but there was the chance my food would never come out, or my order would come out wrong. He glanced back down at my wrist and then went to put my order in. 

I pulled my sleeve down, reached for my phone, pulled up my reading app, and started reading where I left off the night before. I tightened up as a body sat down next to me. The rest of the bar was open, and they decided to sit next to me. Why? 

"Mr. Abbas, how are you doing tonight?" Justin came back over and stood in front of the man next to me. 

"My usual." His voice was gruff as he didn’t bother to answer Justin's question. I froze in my seat. Arte Abbas, the heir to the Abbas Coven, was sitting next to me. Even though I worked at one of his businesses, I’d never met anyone in the Abbas family before.

"Right away, sir." Justin nodded and turned to start making whatever Arte Abbas’s usual drink was. Two minutes later, Justin placed a drink in front of him. 

"Has he arrived yet?" Arte asked before Justin could walk away. 

"No, sir," Justin answered. Arte nodded and brought his drink up to his lips and took a sip. Justin nodded back and walked away. I made sure to focus on my phone, trying to be as invisible as possible. Maybe I could get my food to-go and be gone before he noticed me. But before I could figure out how to do it, Justin came back over with my food. 

"Here you go miss." He said, placing the plate in front of me. "Is there anything else I can get for you?" He glanced at my wrist once more, but thankfully I still had it covered. 

"No, but umm." I bit my lip, trying to make sure I wasn't overheard by Arte. "Can I have a to-go box as well? I might have to leave soon." 

"No problem," Justin said as he walked away, and I chanced a look at Arte. I had never seen him in person before, only photos on the company website. He was taller in person, at least six feet, and he had caramel-colored skin and bright hazel eyes. His black hair was cut short to his head, and his beard was at least two inches long. He seemed to ignore me or not notice I was there altogether. Both were fine with me. He took another sip of his drink then looked around the restaurant; he did ask Justin if someone had arrived, and Justin said no. He was probably looking for whoever the guy was. 

I turned my head back to my plate just as Justin came back with the to-go box and a bag. He also placed the check next to me. I quickly pulled out my credit card and handed it over, not bothering to check the final bill. Justin took the card and walked away once more. I turned back to my plate and started to transfer the food. 

"In a rush?" Arte asked, startling me and causing me to drop my fork. 

"I'm sorry?" I asked, picking up the fork once more to slide the last of the food over before and closing the lid.

He nodded towards the to-go box. "You didn't touch your food, and you didn't ask for it to go in the beginning, so something changed. You must be in a rush."

"Oh, yea..." I forced a laugh. "Um, it just hit me how tired I was, so yea, I just decided to go. You know a long day at work." 

He nodded in understanding. "What do you do?" He asked before bringing his drink to his lips again. He finished it in one gulp as Justin came over and placed the receipt in front of me. I pocketed my card and quickly signed the bill, giving Justin an honest tip. He motioned to Justin for another drink. 

I quickly debated lying to him, but what would be the point? He would figure it out if he ever came by the office. "I technically work for you, at Sanders and Angell." 

He nodded while Justin placed a new drink in front of him. "Well, you obviously know my name, but I don't know yours." There was a ghost of a smirk on his lips that I knew would disappear in a few seconds.

"My name is Olivia London." 

He mulled over my name; I could see he was running through the list of all the members of his Coven. "Your surname doesn't ring a bell." He finally said. 

I pulled my sleeve back a few inches so he could see my bare wrist. "It wouldn't. I'm uhh…" I trailed off, not wanting to say it out loud. 

"Well then, enjoy your night." He gave me another nod and turned his back to me. 

I felt my face heat up with embarrassment. I quickly packed my bag and left as fast as I could. The air bit at my skin the moment I exited Ciders. Traffic looked as bad as ever, but I couldn't stay a second longer. I whispered another warming spell and pulled my jacket as tight as I could and headed towards my apartment. With the expensive dinner and the surcharge for rideshare, I couldn't defend a ride home. I would be freezing once I got home, but it would be worth it. I hoped. 

Thirty minutes later, I shivered and whispered another warming spell as my building came into view. I could barely feel my feet, and my legs felt as if they were being stabbed by millions of little ice needles. 

"Olivia!" I looked up at the sound of my name and saw my neighbor, Clive Torres, exiting the building. He was a bear halfling and one of the few people I could call my friend. I was actually closer to halflings and vampires than with some witches and warlocks. Halflings didn't care if you had family magic or not. Family names didn't have much bearing in the halfling world. They cared more for the character of a person over their family name. 

Clive was a great person. When I moved in two years ago, he practically moved all of my furniture for me and then bought me dinner. I initially thought he was hitting on me, which creeped me out as he was at least 15 years older than me, though he didn't look it. It turned out; he was just a charming guy who was looking out for a witch without protection. 

"Hi, Clive." I tried to smile, but my teeth just chattered against each other. Clive held the apartment door open for me and followed me back in. 

"Did you walk home?" Clive asked incredulously. "It’s already dark, what were you thinking? Why didn’t you call me? With all the attacks going on, you know it’s not safe. Not to mention it’s fifteen degrees out here! You should have called me." 

I felt bad for a moment. Clive was a detective with the SPF, Supernatural Police Force, and he was right. In the past year, at least 30 magical beings were either missing or found murdered, so I understood his worry. "I’m sorry, long day. The train was shut down, and I didn't want to bug you." I shivered. 

His shoulders visibly relaxed. "Next time, please call me. I don’t want you walking home late at night.” 

“I will,” I assured him. “Are you headed to work?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “I have the graveyard shift this week, but we can talk later. You need to thaw out before you catch a cold.”

“With my food and wine.” I lifted my dinner. 

"Good. Get inside and lock your doors. I will see you tomorrow." He enveloped me into a tight hug. I felt a small rush of warmth fill me - he was always a furnace. He let me go and headed out the front door. I watched him walk towards his car before I turned towards the elevator and pushed the up button. Thankfully no one called the elevator after Clive exited, and the doors opened at once. 

I took it up to the fifth floor and exited. I walked down the hall to my apartment and unlocked the door with a wave of my hand over the lock. Time to warm myself up, warm up my dinner, have a tall glass of wine, and enjoy my Friday night. 

Tomorrow I had to work my part-time job.