Weave the Dark, Weave the Light – Anna Zabo
Fire witch Ari Zydik has always had a tenuous connection with their magic, and opening themself up to the whims of the universe on Samhain, desperate for a connection to anything hasn’t helped. A chance run-in with a stranger while ice skating leads to a tenuous relationship with Jonathan Aster, an immortal and powerful being—one Ari feels compelled to conquer and dominate. But as Midwinter looms, can Ari tame the fire of an ancient star?
This 12,000-word short story was previously published in an anthology.
Representation: nonbinary gender, aromantic, pansexuality
Content warning: Contains consensual BDSM (including pain play) and on-page sex.
The waxing moon hung high above Pittsburgh, bright and silver, illuminating nearby clouds crossing the night sky. Ari added their own ephemeral puff to PPG Plaza’s chilly air. They’d already paid the fee and had a wristband to get onto the ice rink. All that was left was to lace their skates.
Had Theo and Bess joined Ari, no doubt they’d tease them for being a fire witch on ice. That was bullshit. Opposite elements attracted each other, and Ari enjoyed the chaos invoked between the two. They loved ice skating and swimming. The darkness of night. All the things they shouldn’t. Rebellion was as close to Ari as the amber they wore against their skin and the citrine in the pocket of their red wool coat.
Colored lights from the spires of the glass castle surrounding the plaza cast a rainbow on the skaters. A lit tree in the center of the rink glittered, and upbeat Christmas tunes thrummed in the air, despite it being mid-November.
Ari glanced up, but between the lights and the bright moon, no stars hung in the sky—at least none they could see. The stars watched, though. They always did, regardless of the moon or the lights or the season.
That knowledge was as frosty as the breath in Ari’s lungs as they hit the ice, shaking away the thought. The night felt perilous, like the edge of a cliff.
Unfortunately, the surface of the rink was utter crap, full of snow, nicks, and gouges. They’d expected nothing less. Even with resurfacing, the small rink became scraped up minutes after the Zamboni chugged back into its lair.
Didn’t matter. As long as they kept moving and tried nothing fancy, their skates would take them where they wanted—around and around until all that existed was the tinny music, the scrape of blades, and the fire Ari’d come to collect. Oh, their element was with them, long ribbons of fiery red, orange, and blue, but the heart in their magic was missing. The passion.
Ari hadn’t felt whole since Samhain. They’d opened themself that day, and chaos had entered. Loneliness. Lack of desire. Which was apropos, in a way. They’d always had a tenuous connection to their magic and their element, and no one could explain why Ari’s magic stuttered and fizzled even when they filled themself with as much fire as they could manage.
Bess had chided them—gently. “If you choose a path…”
They had. But no one else in their circle believed chaos was a proper path.
Tonight, to get away, Ari’d donned brilliant gold tights under their long black skirt, wrapped themself in a retro Joy Division sweatshirt, taken their skates, and slipped away from the apartment they shared with Theo.
There was magic in the laughter here, in the delighted shrieks of kids and the embarrassed, happy yelps of teens clinging to the walls of the rink. Power lurked in the grins of those who could spin, skate backward, and weave through the crowd.
Life. Delight. Happiness. Ari wrapped that warmth into their soul, a little spell to carry their hope through winter. Something to warm their heart when everything else was emptiness tinged with frustration.
Fire and water could be many things; the ice beneath their blades was proof enough of that. But fiery rage and anger weren’t what Ari needed to chase away the void that had formed in their soul. Little spells worked—mostly. Larger spells fell flat. Life grated and itched. Ari found themself alone in a circle full of friends and an office full of coworkers.
Bess had told them to be specific with their spell, and they’d tried. They wanted a connection. Something less ephemeral than the occasional hookup. They had their friends and their job, but neither of those warmed their soul.
So much for opening themself up to the universe. The void between the stars had poured right in.
In front of Ari, another skater wobbled and fell. They leapt over tangled legs. Landing, however, sent Ari careering out of control until a gloved hand settled on their arm and a hard body steadied theirs.
“Careful.” Amusement filled that voice. Power and danger.
Every piece of Ari’s magic turned toward the stranger who’d caught them. Elemental energy clashed and wove around them—Ari’s fire and something deadlier, tempting, and powerful.
The stranger was tall. A black knit hat covered light hair, and black leather gloves rested against Ari’s coat. Inhumanly blue eyes caught theirs. A midnight peacoat was paired with a bright white scarf that glittered like diamonds. Those features could have been masculine, or not. There was something otherworldly, something terrifying and wonderful about that face. Light and cold. Darkness. Eternity.
Ari blinked, but the effect didn’t vanish. “Thanks.”
“Nice jump.” Whoever they were let go. Still, Ari felt the pull of the other’s magic, like gravity.
Passion bloomed in Ari’s bones, the first they’d felt in months. The need to touch, taste, and share was almost painful in intensity.
The skater glided away and was lost in the crowd before Ari could voice a second thanks.
Ari skated after them.
Despite the tiny size of the rink, Ari couldn’t spot the person who’d caught them. There were black knit caps and leather gloves galore on tall strangers, but none wore a scarf full of light or had eyes as old as the universe.
Ari shivered. Not from cold—that never touched them—nor from fear, but from nearly extinct fervor sparking to life. This was intrigue and danger. Theo would’ve said to be careful. Bess would’ve cautioned against having anything to do with that particular stranger.
But Ari had a heart of knives and a soul of fire. Of course they’d follow.
A few more loops gave Ari time to settle, to whisper a charm, to trace symbols in their mind, and to collect wisps of fire. Then they stepped off the frozen water, thanked it for its presence and time, took their skates off, hoisted the carrying bag on their shoulder, and headed toward the Point.
In theory, Point State Park closed at sunset, but it was also a pathway, part of the city, and this time of year, it was lit with LED trees and giant snowflakes on poles. Part of an old star fort was marked by a zigzagging path across a lawn. Ari walked under the bridge that sped an interstate over land, then water. Nature lurked beyond. Trees and shrubs. Native plants. A piece of wild at the edge of a city, bound by water.
Dried leaves scratched across concrete walkways, blown into tree beds. Some animal rustled in the underbrush. Ari strode past a tree made of lights strung like a maypole, made their way around the silent and drained water fountain, and came to a stop. They stared at the confluence of the rivers, their skates at their feet.
So much water. But fire too, in the passing trains across the river, in car engines on the interstate, and in boats slipping through the rivers.
Ari found their memory, the fine cord of emotion, that odd element, and used it to will the stranger back to them.
“Youth,” that same voice said from behind, “is bold and reckless.”
Ari’s heart stuttered. “But you came.” They turned enough to catch the brightness of the scarf. “And I’m not that young.”
“I came.” Agreement, and amusement, as well. The stranger stepped next to Ari, and cold fire curled around Ari’s legs. “And you are that young if you’re summoning me, little fire witch.”
This time, Ari turned to regard the stranger’s profile in the dim light. The hair that peeked out from their winter hat was as gray as the moon, and their scarf glittered like nothing had a right to do. Something magical dwelt inside this being. A flame that wouldn’t burn—it would cause you not to exist.
Too much power swam inside and around them, an element Ari didn’t understand but tasted. They should have been terrified. Instead, they craved the knowledge in those eyes and that skin under their fingers.
Ari swallowed. “You’re not human.”
“You knew I wasn’t human the moment I touched you.”
Ari had, but this wasn’t any elemental being they’d heard about, that was for certain. Not fae, nor phoenix—the fire was the wrong type for that. Chilling white-blue, rather than blazing red, violet, and yellow. “What do I call you?” they murmured.
Those eyes locked on theirs. “My name’s Jonathan Aster.”