The Black Veins – Ashia Monet

THE MAGİC WAKES AT MİDNİGHT. It arrives in the form of a song. It isn’t a remarkable tune. It carries only a piano’s chirps, a violin’s easy hum, and the subtle plucking of harp strings. It breezes through Greenland, Rome, London, Quebec, and everywhere in-between. It tangles through city streets, tumbles over bridges, and plunges to the depths of subway lines. It is a song that knows no bounds and no country lines. It travels like the breeze: free. Most of its notes fall on deaf ears. City dwellers pause in the middle of their midnight journeys, raising their heads as they catch a few notes. But the moment passes as quickly as it begins. The melody flies on. Others recognize that they’ve heard a song. They are the ones who harbor secrets in their lives and in their veins. They also know better than to speak of the forbidden m-word that has brought the melody to their ears: magic.

These are the people who rise to search for the source of this tune. Curious souls wander both the streets and social media feeds, searching, quizzically, for an explanation. No one finds one. Not in any corner of the world. The source is untraceable, even for the magicians who happen to be employed behind high-powered energy scanners (and take advantage of their equipment to search for suspicious power spikes). The song has come from everywhere and nowhere. And while there lies a story in where the melody has come from, more interesting is the story of where it is going. Blythe Fulton is asleep when the song slips through the crack in her window. Her fairy lights are turned off, but the song finds her in the darkness, tucked in her blankets. The notes dance through one ear and tumble out of the other.

Anxiety and agitation tangle in her dreams. The song is gone. But it has left something in its wake. Consciousness returns to her. Blythe tries to open her eyes. Her lids don’t move. She tries to push the blankets off, to roll onto her back. Her body stays rigidly still. Something is very wrong. Blythe’s heart thunders in her chest.

Could this be sleep paralysis? Maybe she just needs to wiggle her toes, like that blog post said, and her limbs will respond. Above the quickening of her desperate breathing, there comes a voice. It isn’t one she hears with her ears. The words hum in her ribs and speak in time with her heartbeat. The voice is not hers but it comes from inside her. Get up, it says. And go to the roof. An electric pulse wakes her nerves, shooting from her feet to her scalp. Her eyes open before she can even think about moving her lids. Blythe opens her mouth and screams.

Except her mouth doesn’t open at all. Instead, her body slams upright. The blanket fly off of the bed as her legs swing to the floor. Her body stands, but Blythe does not want to be standing. She fights to bring her weight to her knees, to collapse onto the carpet. The only thing her legs do is walk toward the door. She shuffles like a zombie beneath the dim hallway lights. The whole house is silent. Her parents and sisters lie sleeping behind closed doors. None of them hear the window open or see her knees on the sill as she climbs into the cold night air.

Blythe has never gone to the roof, but her body moves as if this is familiar. The gutter groans as her arms grab hold of it. Her feet slip free of the sill—and there is nothing beneath her but air. She screams, but her mouth stays shut. The sound travels nowhere. Her body hoists her up, landing with a thunk. Blythe prays the sound is loud enough to wake her parents. The voice vibrates against her ribcage. Go to the edge. Blythe summons every force of her will to keep herself lying against the rough asphalt, to sink her skin into the roof.

Her body raises effortlessly. Blythe tries to move backward. Her body pays no mind. The street is dark and silent and still. Every window in her neighbors’ houses are black, curtains drawn against the night. Blythe Fulton is about to step off a roof and no one will know. Clouds roll in from the horizon. They are not the fluffy clouds of a summer afternoon but the thick grey masses of an impending storm. They bleed into one hulking entity that towers over the neighborhood, creeping across the stars and swallowing them whole. For a moment, Blythe is foolish enough to think the clouds will pass her.

Fear drips down her spine as realization sinks into her. Those clouds are not natural and they are not coming toward her. They are coming for her. Someone grips her arm from behind. She spins around so quickly that the world spins with her. It happens so fast, it feels as if the voice dissipates, as if everything has shifted back into its rightful place. “What the hell are you doing up here?!” Her savior asks. Blythe looks up—and nearly sobs when her body obeys and her head actually moves. Her father stares down at her. While Jamal Fulton is a strong man, he cannot hide the fear plaguing his face as he studies his daughter.

Blythe’s eyes burn with tears. “I…” What is she even supposed to say? How is she supposed to explain? “I don’t know,” she manages. “It wasn’t me. It just…it wasn’t me.” Jamal’s expression morphs from worried to horrified. “Oh God.” He pulls her into a tight embrace, wrapping his arms around her like he could shield her from the terror she’s already experienced. As if he isn’t too late to protect her. “You’re safe now, sweetheart. You’re safe,” he whispers.

“Let’s get you back inside, okay?” As Jamal guides her down the roof, the clouds retreat as well, shrinking into the horizon until they are gone. Curled on the living room sofa, Blythe stares into the steaming mug of tea in her hands. Magic is a secret. It has existed since the first breath of life was drawn on Earth’s surface. Despite its age, magic has never been a force with any particular agency. It is neither benevolent nor malevolent, because magic has no agenda at all. It bends itself completely and totally to the intent of its user. And while magic is capable of immense good, it is also capable of immense destruction. The Common world faces its own dangers but there are always limitations; bodies and weapons can only cause a finite amount of harm. But in the whispered world of magic, where families like the Fultons hide their abilities from Common eyes that should not see, limitations do not exist.

The possibilities for pain and loss are infinite. No matter how dangerous or twisted or vile, any action is possible—like controlling people into walking off rooftops. There is no doubt in Blythe’s mind that what happened to her was caused by magic. Probably a complex form that required massive amounts of energy, but magical all the same. But why her? The victims of attacks like these are usual important politicians and powerful men with armies behind them. Not sixteen-year-old girls asleep in their bedrooms. The subtle burn of tea spilling down her fingers makes Blythe realize that her hands are shaking. Again. Thoughts like these are only going to make her more anxious. She can’t reason her way out of this.

Not now. It’s too soon. She leans further into her mother’s arms. Blythe has inherited Amber Fulton’s long curls and golden-brown skin, but not her ability to remain calm in every situation. Amber strokes Blythe’s hair with the same smooth motion she’s made since Blythe was a child. “You’ll be alright,” she says. “Everything’s gonna be alright.” But the living room is ominous in its darkness, a living contradiction to her words. From the blank TV in front of them to the staircase off to the right, this home now feels stark and cold. Like a battlefield.

Blythe may live here, but these walls can’t protect her. The stairs creak. Jamal is coming downstairs. He’d gone to check on Blythe’s sisters. Unlike her, they are curled in their beds, exactly where they are supposed to be. Jamal lets out a long, slow breath as he looks at the two of them. “I think we should call.” “Of course,” Amber agrees, soft. “They’ve protected us all these years, I doubt anything will change now. They’ll handle it.

” Blythe’s brow furrows. But Jamal heaves another sigh and leaves the room like that sentence made sense. “Who’s he calling?” Blythe asks. “The Sages,” Amber answers. A weight settles onto Blythe. The Sages are the seven leaders of the magician government known as the Black Veins. If the Black Veins were a country, the Sages would function as its presidents. They are beacons of guidance, protection, and power. But if the Black Veins were a country, the Fultons would not be living in it. “They’re government leaders,” Blythe says.

“And you guys have their phone number?” A sly smile comes to Amber’s face. “Your parents are connected.” “Bullcrap. We’re not even a part of their government.” Amber laughs at her own joke—or at Blythe’s annoyed expression. “We used to be a part of their government. How do you think you became a Guardian? They wouldn’t hand that title over to magicians who weren’t affiliated with them.” Blythe has known she was a Guardian since she was a small child. But it has never mattered, not really. She knows that, as a baby, she was gifted immense magical abilities by the Sages themselves.

But magicians don’t gain control over their magic until puberty —and on that front, Blythe is a late bloomer. She can’t do anything magical-related yet, so how is being a Guardian supposed to benefit her? And maybe her parents have mentioned the whole “we used to be a part of the Black Veins” aspect of their lives, but that was so long ago, and the story was so boring. The Fultons aren’t affiliated with any magician government now. Blythe has never bothered to remember any of that. Suffice to say, tonight has given her a very persuasive reason to remember. “…are the Sages still going to help?” she asks. “I mean, we left the government. Won’t they like…not care?” “You’re still a Guardian, aren’t you?” “Last I checked.” “Then they’ll be on the phone with Dad in the next two minutes. They want to protect you.

Now, fix your face—” she taps the middle of Blythe’s furrowed brow. “—and drink your tea.” Blythe cannot remember a time when she didn’t know about magic, about the Black Veins, about the Sages or about her status as a Guardian. They are facts that are as clear to her as the sky being blue. But knowing the sky is blue is different from understanding why it is blue. “What are they even going to do?” Blythe asks. “The song’s already come and gone, they can’t fix anything.” “Baby,” Amber interrupts. “We can talk about this at a better time. For now, let’s just…let’s just relax.

Okay?” It’s ironic that a day before Amber and Jamal’s anniversary, while preoccupied with thoughts of dinner and celebration, their oldest daughter almost falls to her death. Blythe has never seen her mother afraid because Amber responds to every emergency with the same cool, collected grace. Blythe may have her dark curls, the soft curve of her lip and the shape of her eyes, but Blythe doesn’t know what Amber would look like if she were afraid. But maybe this unblinking stare in her dark eyes and this smiling nonchalance…maybe this is her fear. Blythe can’t argue. At least, not tonight. For her mother’s sake. “Okay,” she says, and takes a gulp of tea. Amber holds Blythe a little tighter. “I think this is a good excuse to keep you home for a few days,” she says.

“Me and Dad can handle the café.” “No,” Blythe blurts. She can’t spend tomorrow alone in this silent, empty house. Her mind will fill the quiet with that melody. “No, I’ll…I’ll work tomorrow. I can’t stay here. I know Dad’s gonna worry about me, but I don’t want to stay here.” Amber nods. “I’ll talk to Dad about it. He’ll let you come if you want to.

” Something creaks at the top of the staircase. Blythe’s heart leaps into her throat. Huddled on the top stair are two small forms, cloaked by darkness but growing more visible with every impatient twitch. “Lily, Lena,” Amber calls. “I see you up there.” Busted. Blythe’s little sisters shuffle into the light: identical nine-year-olds with identically brown skin, curly ponytails, and pouting faces. “We wanted to make sure Blythe was okay,” Lily whispers. “And what’s her excuse?” Blythe eyes Lena, the more boisterous one who has never once cared about Blythe’s wellbeing. Lena rocks on the balls of her feet.

“I just wanna know how to get on the roof.” Typical. “No one is getting on the roof,” Amber says. “But I know two little ladies who are going back to bed.” The twins whine as Amber gets up and herds them back into their bedroom. Their voices fade into silence as they disappear upstairs. A hush falls over the empty living room. Blythe clutches her mug a bit tighter. Snippets of Jamal’s conversation drift from down the hall. “A song?” he asks.

“Blythe mentioned it. But none of us were awake to hear it. She—” He pauses. Blythe can’t imagine her dad speaking with the leaders of the Black Veins. Maybe he just got their assistant. “That sounds fine,” Jamal answers. “Well, we’ll be…waiting for their decision. Thank you.” Jamal returns, ambling slow and rubbing the back of his neck. “Hey, Bubbles.

” It’s her childhood nickname, coined after her favorite Powerpuff Girl. Jamal only calls her that when things are really rough. “This is something, isn’t it?” “Is that what the Sages said?” Blythe asks. “Nah. I didn’t even get them. I talked to one of their advisors, Sessa. She said that they’re going to handle the situation and ‘call back with more information’.” “Sounds like bullcrap.” “Exactly what I was thinking,” Jamal huffs. “But it doesn’t matter if they do or not.

You’ll be fine either way, y’hear? Nothing’s gonna happen to you. Not while I’m here.” Blythe smiles—and it’s the first time she’s smiled all night. “Thanks, Dad.” He simply nods. He’s never been prone to extended conversation. “I’m gonna let you sleep,” he says. “You staying down here?” Blythe can’t go back to her room. Not now. “Yeah.

I don’t want to move.” “I’ll stay with you,” Jamal says. Before he leaves to fetch an army of pillows and blankets, he turns on the TV and tosses Blythe the remote. Jamal must’ve been watching it last—he’s the only one who watches the magician stations. There are certain channels that are only visible by enchanting your TV with a particular spell, and it took Jamal a whole weekend (and a whole power crystal) to properly spell their TV. The Alastair French Show is on. Alastair himself is a charming man with iconic brassy hair and an iconically wide smile, but Blythe is iconically tired of seeing him. As if his nighttime talk show weren’t enough, he has his own radio station too, flaunting his monopoly on the “magician news” market. Tonight, Alastair’s guest is a sharp-faced man in a slick grey suit. Blythe doesn’t recognize him.

But what he says makes her skin go cold. “We think of the Trident Republic as a weak government but that is a genuinely dangerous underestimation,” the man says. “If they wanted a fight, they could get one. All it would take…” He holds up a skinny, pale finger. “Is one act. One random, hostile action could completely tip the scales. Word would travel to the Black Veins, the Sages would get a call and boom. The whole situation explodes. Next thing we know, there’s a war on our hands. All because of one act and one phone call.

.

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