Author's note: Right now, no one knows Rika is gay. That'll change soon. Also, she hasn't had any same-sex experiences yet. She hasn't even kissed a girl. She made out with plenty of guys before she realized she was gay, but never really felt anything when she did. I should note I actually have no personal experience with gay people. Mostly because I'm a hermit and have little experience with people in general. So, my apologies to any gay people I may inadvertently offend. Also, everyone should keep in mind for the future that opinions expressed by characters - including the main character - don't necessarily reflect my own opinions. But please review and let me know what you think. Please, please, please review. We writers are an insecure lot, and need constant feedback to know that people enjoy what we do, and how to make our work even more enjoyable. So tell me what you like, what you don't, and how you think I can improve. Please. hotwing: Thanks. I'll do my best. earthserpent: This soon enough? I've got other stuff going on, so a chapter a week is all I can handle for this story.

January 16, 2013

"Will you hurry up?" Rika groaned.

"Just another minute!" came the response.

Rika sighed and walked over to a mirror. She was a pretty girl, with fair skin and dark hair. Her nose was a little on the large side, but not unusually so. She stretched her arms, then straightened her blouse. She took her phone out of her jeans, then put it back when she saw no new messages. She walked back and sat impatiently in a chair. "I'm about to go without you!" she shouted.

"No you won't!" Tasia shouted back. "I had to twist your arm into agreeing to go in the first place!"

"What's taking you so long?"

"All right, all right, I'm finished, I'm finished." Tasia came out with a large purse. She was a scrawny dark-haired girl with glasses. "Sorry I took so long. I just needed to pack up a few things. This is going to be so much fun!"

"I guess."

"You don't sound excited," Tasia said.

"Perceptive," Rika said sarcastically. "I just don't really care about magic shows. I've seen way more exciting stuff than anything we're going to see here."

"Aren't you at least excited about it being a female magician? I mean, how many of those are there? Not many."

"You looked it up, right?" Rika said with a smile.

"A little bit," Tasia blushed.

"You are such a nerd," Rika gently pushed her. "It's positively adorable."

"Thanks for agreeing to come with me, by the way."

"Forget it. So you're going to write an article about this lady for the school newspaper?"

"Yeah! I'm hoping she'll agree to talk to me after her show. Do you think she will?"

"Sure. I can help you if you need it."

"We'd better hurry," Tasia said as she glanced at her watch. "We don't want to be late."

"Well, if you hadn't taken so long. . . ." Rika said as she grabbed her own bag.

They caught a bus to the small theatre the magician, who went by Hecate, would be performing at. Despite the rain, there was a large line-up outside. Tasia had bought her tickets in advance, so she and Rika were allowed to enter right away. "You want to try for your interview now?" Rika asked her.

"I don't know," Tasia said nervously. "I don't want to disturb her."

"Come on," Rika nudged her. "Let's at least try. Maybe you can get a few words out of her before the show, and something more in-depth after."

"Are you sure that would be OK?"

"If not, we just get told to go away. Not the end of the world."

"I guess so."

"That's the spirit! Come on, let's go."

Rika dragged Tasia to the backstage area. No one noticed the pair until they approached the dressing rooms. "Hey!" a burly man covered in tattoos stopped them. "What are you two kids doing back here?"

"We were hoping to get a few words with Hecate," Rika said. "See, we're with a school newspaper, and we thought-"

"You thought wrong," the man cut her off. "Hecate's not giving interviews. Especially not to a couple brats like you. Now beat it."

Rika got a bad feeling from the man. She couldn't place her finger on it, but something was off about him. She bristled at his insults, but held her anger in check. Breaking his face might have been satisfying, but it wouldn't be useful. Instead, she put on her most pleading face, whipped out her puppy dog eyes, and tried again.

"We'd only be a minute," she said. "We're really inspired by her, a woman making her own way in an industry dominated by men. It would really mean a lot if we could talk to her. Please?"

"Giorgios," Hecate said as she opened the door. She was an attractive woman in her mid-20s, with green eyes, black hair, and a nice tan. "Have you checked . . . who are they?" she stopped when she noticed the girls.

"We're sorry to disturb you," Rika replied. "We're with a school newspaper, and we were hoping we could talk to you for a couple minutes for an article. Please?"

Hecate eyed them suspiciously. Rika felt something brush against her mind, and instantly threw up the walls she'd learned from her time with Lindsay. Hecate's eyes widened in momentary surprise, then narrowed again. "Giorgios," she said. "Get rid of them."

"Sure thing, boss-lady," Giorgios nodded as the door closed. "All right, kids, you heard her. Get out. Now. Before I have to get rough."

"But I wanted to see the show!" Tasia said in a disappointed tone.

"Come on, Tasia," Rika grabbed her arm. "Don't worry, it'll be OK."

"You got me kicked out!" Tasia complained as she followed Rika. "I can't believe you!"

"I'm not sure you would've enjoyed yourself, anyway. But maybe I can still get you in. Come on, I have an idea."

They left the backstage area, and went back into the lobby, losing themselves in the crowd. Rika wasn't quite sure what to do. Hecate had clearly been trying to read her mind, and the fact that she kicked her out indicated Hecate was up to no good. Rika had no proof, but her gut told her something was very wrong. And she had to stop it. But how? Should she sneak away and watch from somewhere as Aegis? Or should she sit in the audience? If she sat in the audience, she might not have a chance to slip into costume if something happened. But if she tried to leave, Tasia would be mad.

There was only one thing to do. She would sit with Tasia for a while, and then try to slip away in the middle of the act. Hopefully, nothing bad would happen before she got a chance. If it did, she'd just have to hope she'd be be able to slip into costume.

"It's a shame I won't get to interview Hecate," Tasia said. "But I don't think she'll be any more receptive after the show."

"Yeah, that's too bad," Rika replied. "I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I guess I won't be getting any pictures, either."

"Well, that probably wouldn't have happened, anyway."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Well, whatever. Let's go find our seats."

"Did you get a weird feeling when Hecate looked at us?" Rika asked.

"Weird? What do you mean?" Tasia said.

"I don't know. Just . . . weird."

Tasia considered. "Maybe a little. Like she was looking into my soul or something."

"Yeah. She made me really uncomfortable. I don't like her."

"What? Hey, relax. It was probably just nerves. We felt guilty because we shouldn't have been back there."

"I didn't. I felt fine about it. But maybe you're right."

"Of course I'm right. This will be a lot of fun."

"If not, I can always slip out for a smoke," Rika said with a shrug.

"Ugh. Don't do that. You're terrible. Just sit down and behave."

"All right, all right. I'll try. But no promises."

After a few minutes, the lights dimmed. Rika felt her skin tingling as she instinctively readied her force field, and had to force herself to let the energy dissipate. A man and a woman came on stage, both attractive but forgettable. They set up an open box, spun it around to show that it was empty, closed it, and seconds later, it fell open as Hecate stood up. She was wearing a short black skirt, a small black top that exposed her midriff and plenty of cleavage, fishnet stockings and black gloves, and she held a tophat.

That's an image I'll be saving for later, Rika thought. Evil or not, she sure is sexy.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," Hecate said. "I am Hecate, Mistress of the Dark Arts. Join me as I show you wonders you've only dreamt of."

Rika rolled her eyes. That intro sure was criminal. I may have to slip away soon just to avoid throwing up.