Dark Theme


This story was written in 2017 to be part of an anthology of short stories with a common theme--a fan convention called Magnacon where mythological creatures attend alongside humans. I don't have all the specifics of the lore anymore. However, the editors never got back to me about this submission--it seems as though the project was canceled abruptly without any explanation. So now I'm publishing it for the first time here.

“Hey, my legs aren’t as long as yours!” called Eric as Brigitte picked up speed.

“Should have thought of that before you let me sleep in!” Brigitte’s size and strength made it easy to push through the parade crowd.

“It’s my job to get you out of bed-” her friend huffed a few breaths, “—because you stayed up too late?”

“Yes.” Brigitte barreled through the crowd, frantic to get to the Hilton before her panel started. Parade-goers dodged left and right to avoid being run over. A group of twenty-odd young men and women carrying enormous signs marched across her path. Not the usual religious protesters—some of them were in costume. Loudspeakers on their hips raised their voices to shouts:

“Make Magnacon a safe space for humans!”

“Kick out the terrorists!”

“True equality is not fearing your neighbor!”

“Keep magical races at their own symposium!”

“Hell,” Brigitte muttered. She wished yet again she were small enough to get lost in a crowd. She set her jaw and did not slow.

“Stop intimidating us normal folks with your size!” A man stepped into her intended path, clearly not at all intimidated. She resisted the urge to toss him aside with one hand, instead darting around the edge of the picket line. Eric stayed close on her heels.

“Go hang out with your terrorist friends in California! We don’t need you tearing our buildings down,” the protester called. “And take your giant-loving boyfriend with you!”

They escaped the crowd down a side street and arrived at the Hilton side entrance less than a minute later. Brigitte dashed around a black SUV parked on the sidewalk, but a suited man held up a hand to stop her.

“You two will have to go in the front entra—”

“Brigitte? Are you wearing that same old Giganta costume you drag out every year?” The familiar voice came from a frustratingly gorgeous girl stepping out of the SUV.

Tansy Yakhina. Two-time Magnacon costume contest winner. And the President’s daughter. Today, her silky, smooth black hair and impossibly perfect proportions made her take on Faith from Mirror’s Edge more stunning than the real thing. It wasn’t enough she was physically flawless; she also spent at least as much time and energy on her costumes as Brigitte did. Brigitte knew Tansy had deserved last year’s trophy—which only made her less likeable.

Brigitte forced a wide smile. “Back by popular demand!”

Tansy turned to the agent. “It’s okay, Jim. She can come in. She’s on this panel, too. Just keep her here until I’m inside. I’d hate to give the wrong impression by coming in with a giantess. But you can accompany me if you’d like.” She hooked an inch-long black thumbnail in Eric’s direction with a smile, eyeing him up and down.

“Um, or I could just go stand in line with everyone else?”

“Ha!” Tansy barked, and followed another agent into the building.

There’s no way Eric would be interested in a witch like her anyway.

When the Secret Service finally let her into the packed ballroom, Brigitte was happy to see Janus, her elf mage friend, for the first time this year. He was the only other non-human on the panel. Tansy sat three seats down between two of her sycophants, who, Brigitte admitted, were capable costumers themselves. Secret Service agents stood, conspicuously inconspicuous, beside the stage. The front row and aisles were filled with camera-bearing reporters who’d probably only ever heard of cosplay because the President’s daughter did it.

Brigitte assumed her role in this Q&A session would be to advise the cosplayers from magical races, but, strangely, the audience was entirely human. Not one single succubus, giant, vampire, or dwarf anywhere in the room. Not even her fans who told her they’d come. Are they all at some special presentation at the Symposium of Magical Races?

The reason became clear when the floor was opened for audience questions. Most questions were addressed directly to Tansy and mentioned magical races in some way. Brigitte guessed Tansy had packed the room with her own fans and probably even told them what to ask.

A passable Elsa from Frozen stepped up to the mic. “Not that I have anything against people of magic, but isn’t it unfair for them to compete against humans in costume contests?”

This question was clearly directed against Brigitte, but she answered as politely as she could. “Unfair? Not at all. Sure, I have an advantage portraying giant characters, but I have a disadvantage portraying human characters, just as you can pull off Elsa but wouldn’t make a convincing Moana.”

“What I mean is, most humans can’t use magic to improve their costumes.”

“Actually,” Janus cut in, “in contests, no one can. The Magnacon costume contest, like most others, prohibits using magic to modify one’s appearance or influence the judges.”

“But if someone were changing their shape, how could we tell? They would hide it, you know?”

“Actually, I’ve developed a potion to reveal a contestant’s use of magic. I offered it to the contest committee but they can’t come to an agree—”

Tansy interrupted, addressing the questioner. “I understand what you mean. Even if they say they can detect magic, how could we trust them? I appreciate why you would be uncomfortable with magic users interfering in what should be a fun and festive competition.”

‘Elsa’ nodded her head vigorously.

“All these terrorist attacks perpetrated by magical beings have created an aura of fear that seeps into even this convention. My mother, the President, has vowed to take action against the magical terrorism threatening the safety of us normal American citizens, but we must do our part to create a safe space here. Innocent magical beings are being harassed and bullied, and I want them to feel safe as well. I think we would feel safer if Magnacon were human-only. And, to be fair, the Symposium of Magical Races should be exclusive to magical races.”

The audience erupted into applause.

Brigitte clenched her teeth. While Tansy spoke, Brigitte’s horror had rapidly turned to an anger she couldn’t keep out of her voice. “No, Tansy. That would destroy everything that makes Magnacon special. Maybe no one in this room agrees with me, but I know many people—magical and human—who believe our coming together is what makes Magnacon the best convention of the year. There are plenty of human-only cons for those who prefer them. Why would you want to turn Magnacon into just another one of those?”

The audience was silent.

“And why would you be so against something clearly in your best interests?” said Tansy. “I just want every Magnacon attendee to feel safe and have fun. In fact, since this year’s contest awards presentation is being nationally televised, when I win the contest, I’m going to tell the whole country what we can do on a local level to keep normal human Americans safe starting with our own Magnacon.”

What you really want is to eliminate your biggest competition in the costume contest. Brigitte stood and stepped from the stage. She stormed past ‘Elsa’ standing agog at the microphone. She nearly shoved the exit door into the face of the Secret Service agent standing guard beside it. She imagined Tansy grinning wickedly at her exit. She didn’t know if she wanted to cry or scream.

Suddenly, Janus was there holding her arm.

“Wait, Brigitte! Slow down! It doesn’t matter what that brat wants. A powerful mom and a noisy fan club aren’t enough to tear this convention apart.”

“But what if her mother does ‘take action’ against the ‘magical being problem’? This convention will be our last worry!” She was almost yelling.

“She was lying.”

“How do you know?”

“Her mouth was moving.”

Eric appeared, smiling. “Hey Brigitte, I have a surprise for you!” He reached up and waved a pair of tickets.

“What’s that? Where did you come from? Weren’t you in the panel?”

“It was full. They wouldn’t let me in. So I got tickets to the costume ball tonight at the Sheraton.”

“What costume ball? The Sheraton isn’t even part of Magnacon…”

“Neither is the ball. It’s a charity fundraiser by the Symposium of Magical Races. And I knew you wouldn’t turn down a costume ball.”

Brigitte smiled. “Of course I’ll go. But only if you help me find another costume.”

Dragging Eric through the Magnacon vendor floor for an hour before dinner put Brigitte in possession of a costume Eric called “too clever by half”. It was the only one in giant size. The blue puffed-sleeve dress and hairbow, white pinafore and spats, and the tiny wooden chest strapped to her hand with the faux cakes labeled “Eat Me!” inside made the intended likeness undeniable.

As she stepped onto the street, another giant caught her eye. He was dressed as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane from Game of Thrones, the infamous helmet tucked under his arm. He was handsome despite his gory makeup. And he had noticed her too.

“Oh, nice Alice! Very clever!”

Brigitte curtsied clumsily in keeping with the character.

‘The Mountain’ smiled and bowed in turn. “I’m Torsten. This is Shelly.” He indicated a human girl standing beside him.

Brigitte had not even noticed her despite her singularly accurate Daenerys costume. Eric was enraptured by Shelly from the moment he was introduced, and soon they were walking side-by-side chatting excitedly.

“Your date to the ball?” Brigitte asked.

Torsten nodded. “We just met today in the lobby. I hadn’t intended to go until she plopped down beside me with the tickets.”

“Ha. And yet she’s clearly more interested in Eric than you!”

“And I’m more interested in you than her.”

“Well, thanks. Have you been to Magnacon before?”

Brigitte learned Torsten was studying the history of magical races at Georgia State. His undergraduate thesis chronicled races that were believed extinct. “Remember a decade back when that hidden village of clurichauns was revealed? No one thought they existed anymore!”

Brigitte didn’t remember. She was interested in only one very specific aspect of history.

“So you can help me with period-accurate costumes?”

“Sure! I’m a pretty big fan of costumes myself. It gives all those idiots who stare something worthwhile to stare at. Is that why you got into it also?”

“Not really. I went to a very diverse school. Every sort of magical race was represented. Never had to worry about staring. I actually got into costuming by taking part in a school play—the giantess in Into The Woods, cliché I know—and found I loved the dressing up part as well as anything.”

“Interesting! There’s a school like that near where I live in Decatur, but my mom sent me to the public school down the street from her headquarters.”

When they finally got inside the ballroom, a thumping techno beat drowned out any conversation. The dance floor was half-empty and the line for the bar was twice-full.

“Care to get the party started with a dance?” he asked.

“Sure, why not?”

They danced four songs, smiling and joking, and a crowd packed in around them. Then, the music suddenly cut off.

“Is everyone having a good time?”

A chorus of drunken cheers. A small orc in a coat and tails stood beside the DJ with a microphone.

“Then I won’t be long. I’m Milu Xagok, Organizing Chair of the Symposium for Magical Races. Welcome to the first annual Costume Charity Ball! You guys have already raised over ten thousand dollars for the Magical Children’s Fund! Would all the Magnacon attendees with us tonight please raise their hands? Welcome! Human folk, you can put your hands down. Those of magical races, I offer my condolences for the way we’ve been treated here this year. It’s been a hard time for us lately with all the scary news and protests. The Committee is worried this divisive situation will become violent, and we won’t tolerate it. We’re considering closing the Symposium to humans. We haven’t committed to anything yet pending your feedback. We want to do what’s best for everyone, even if it means our first costume ball is also the last humans can attend, so please give us your thoughts. Thanks again for the great job you’ve done for charity, and enjoy the party. DJ, turn it up!”

The little orc vacated the stage, and a Daft Punk remix kicked in.

Torsten whispered in Brigitte’s ear. “You know, if history has anything to say, Mr. Xagok might be right. Humans haven’t ever gotten along well with magical races.”

Brigitte stepped back, nearly bowling over a couple dancing behind her. “How can you say that?” she shouted over the music. “After our parents fought so long for acceptance in human society, you want to throw it all away and step back into the shadows?”

Torsten held up his hands. “Hey, I appreciate civil rights as much as anyone, but maybe we should be making strongholds of our own safe spaces. Am I wrong to feel more comfortable at a magical-beings-only convention?”

Brigitte dragged a hand through her hair. “Yes. You are. You want the Dark Ages back just because progress makes you uncomfortable? I have nothing else to say to you.” She had come to escape this…political mess, not waste her time arguing with someone so obviously unreasonable. Time to leave.

She searched the crowd for Eric and soon spotted Shelly leading him by the hand through the exit. Brigitte hurried after them to let him know she was leaving. She caught up to them at the elevators. Their lips were locked, hands wrapped around each other even as they stepped onto the elevator. Eric never even looked her way.

Well, good for him. At least one of them was having a good night. She dashed off a text asking him when he’d be getting back, then walked back to their room alone.

Brigitte was sitting in the back of a panel with Widas Oddhor, the famous giant who portrayed Wun Wun on Game of Thrones, wondering if she had been too hard on Torsten the night before when she got a reply from Eric:

Idk where I am. Somwr on top floor. We she did I feel weird. My neck…

What did that mean? The top floor of the Sheraton? Had that girl gotten him fall-down pass-out drunk and then abandoned him, leaving Brigitte to take care of him? Every blasted year, like clockwork.

She abandoned the session and hurried to the Sheraton. She couldn’t take the elevator without a guest key card but found a propped-open stairwell entrance. She stopped halfway up to catch her breath, grateful it wasn’t the Hyatt. The Hyatt had twice as many floors.

On the 10th floor, she was stopped by another Secret Service agent.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” he said, not looking at all sorry. “The top two floors are off-limits while the President’s daughter is in residence.”

Ugh, why did Eric have to fall for one of Tansy’s crowd?

“I’m actually looking for one of Tansy’s friends, Shelly. She brought my friend Eric here last night.”

He shook his head. “None go up except in Ms. Yakhin’s company or with her verbal permission.”

“Then you must know everyone who comes up here, right? Did a nineteen-year-old human boy named Eric Sanders come up here with another girl last night?”

“I don’t recognize the name, and no girls besides Ms. Yakhin came up here last night.”

Brigitte assumed she had the wrong hotel and was about to leave when another agent came down the staircase.

“You signaled for backup?”

The first man nodded toward Brigitte. “She says her friend is up there. Eric?”

“Yeah, I let in a guest by that name last night.”


So he was here. Brigitte called him. Voice mail. She called again. He answered on the fifth ring.


“Eric! I’m in the west stairwell on the 10th floor. The Secret Service won’t let me up. Can you come out here?”

“Uh, I’ll try.”

Brigitte waited for five tense minutes in a silence punctuated only by the agents’ occasional murmurings into their radios. She felt their eyes analyzing her every fidget from behind their sunglasses. Eventually, she heard an erratic thumping and stumbling from the stairwell above. Suddenly, Eric tumbled hard down the last flight of stairs. He collapsed moaning at the landing behind the agents’ feet. When she moved toward him, the agents stepped back, giving them some space while still blocking the way upstairs. Neither tried to help him. She hauled Eric to his feet and steadied him with a hand under his arm.

“Thanks,” he murmured.

His head lay cocked to one side like his neck had no strength. His skin was unusually pale. On his neck were a pair of tiny puncture wounds, the surrounding flesh swollen and blue, a tiny trickle of blood emerging from one. She wiped it away with her free hand.

“Ow!” Eric jerked violently and fell unconscious, his weight on her arm doubling as his legs buckled.

Vampire bite? No, they’re nowhere near his carotid. Vampires never miss. Never mind—just get him out of here.

She slung him over her shoulders and ran down the stairs to find a First Aid station.

The first aid station bandaged his neck and contacted the Grady Hospital emergency room. Brigitte hauled him to her van and drove him there in under five minutes. The ER doctors took him immediately, and, after a tense hour-long wait, told her his symptoms better resembled anemia or hypocalcemia than snakebite. There couldn’t detect any magic-based ailment either. The blood tranfusions seemed to be helping, but Brigitte’s sitting around and fretting wasn’t. They encouraged her to return to the con, try to enjoy herself, and wait for a call.

She went to lunch with Janus and his friends, telling them she was far too worried to go through with the contest. Janus reminded her that would leave no one to contradict whatever Tansy intended to tell the national press, so Brigitte resolved to go through with it unless the hospital called back.

Two hours later, she arrived at the ballroom for the contest. She had been the first to register and therefore was the first to walk the runway. She was wearing the most expensive costume she had ever created—an elaborate depiction of the original dragonborn character she played in Eric’s D&D sessions. It included a hand-sewn chest piece and skirt, leather arm bracers, hand-modified boots that transformed her feet into sandaled talons, and a latex mask she had designed with the help of a dragonborn friend to ensure the details paid homage to the history of a proud and ancient people.

The audience went wild when the announcer called her name, and when she reached the end of the walk and held aloft her custom short sword, many took to their feet—except one section of the room that remained still and silent. Brigitte recognized some of the street protesters among them. Janus and his friends stood on the front row, arms raised, cheering and wolf-whistling. When Brigitte returned to the top of the walk and removed the mask, the cheering crescendoed into a cacophony that drowned out the announcer.

Underneath the tight, tattered skirt, Brigitte’s phone was vibrating. She drew it out as she descended the stairs. Call from: Eric. She hurried from the noise of the room.

“You’re awake!”

“Yeah. I think they’re about to let me go. Are you at the costume show?”

“I just finished my walk. And I’m glad you’re okay. It means you can give me some answers. Were you in the President’s daughter’s hotel room last night?”

“Uh. I don’t know.”

“What happened?”

“Well, Shelly took me to her room, and I remember nothing but her—everything else is a blur. Then, I think, she hypnotized me. And I didn’t even think that stuff was real! She made me get on the bed and close my eyes, then, out of nowhere, she bit me. Hard. It hurt at first, but then I got woozy and just—stopped caring. This might sound gross, but I’ve never been so horny in my life. After that, I blacked out until this morning. I was stoned on who-knows-what with no idea where I was. I found my phone in the minifridge, so I turned it on and answered your text. Then I passed out again until you called. Shelly was gone.”

“Did you see Tansy? Or the Secret Service?”

“No…but…I think I heard Tansy’s voice at one point? There were only ever the two of us in the room, though. Why do I remember Tansy’s voice?”

“What did she say?”

“I don’t know. But it was—kind of hissy?”

“Like, she was whispering?”

“No, like…her voice, but from a different mouth…”

It was tenuous, but Brigitte had some strong suspicions about Tansy. She wished Eric well, then went back inside the ballroom. She’d spotted someone sitting on the back row who deserved an apology.

Brigitte was certain Tansy had requested the last walk, so she could be fresh on the minds of a panel of judges that were eager to be done. That suited Brigitte fine. She’d had plenty of time to set her plan in motion and straighten her costume for the final lineup. Plus, it had given the press time to show up.

And judging by the Secret Service agents moving onto the stage and the TV cameras closing in, Tansy was about to make her standard spectacular entrance.

The crowd gasped as she stepped—no—danced onto the stage in a long, flowing green gown, arm streamers floating beside her, head held perfectly level to support an enormous crown, mouth held in a thin straight line, eyes locked on Brigitte’s in a subtle threat. Dozens of cameras flashed.

“Tansy Yakhin as Xiao Mei from House of Flying Daggers!” said the announcer.

Brigitte knew the character and the costume. It was flawless. It might have been Ziyi Zhang herself on the stage. Brigitte found herself strangely attracted to Tansy, having to resist the compulsion to cheer noisily with everyone else. She tore her eyes from the spectacle and eased toward the stage.

Brigitte was standing as near as the Secret Service agent would allow when Tansy descended the stairs. Brigitte called over his head.

“Well done, Tansy! May the best one win!” She extended her hand past the agent in a peace offering. The agent didn’t react. He had presumably already determined she was not a threat.

Tansy grinned wickedly and approached with her hand extended. “And the best one will always be the proper human lady.” SMACK! Tansy backhanded Brigitte’s hand aside and whipped one of her arm streamers into Brigitte’s face, then glided toward the side door. “But I’m sure you’re a shoe-in for second place! Enjoy it, loser!”

Brigitte smirked at Tansy’s retreating back, enjoying the lingering sting of contact where Tansy's hand struck hers.

Oh, I will.

“The runner-up, with an average score of 9.6 points, is three-time champion Brigitte Eklund as original dragonborn character Kaxiris Terthal!”

Brigitte accepted the trophy then removed her mask. She waved to the crowd and took her place next to the second runner-up, a newcomer dressed as Galactus. She was certain Tansy’s name would be called next—eagerly anticipated it, in fact.

“And this year’s Magnacon Costume Contest champion, earning a perfect 10, is…Tansy Yakhin as Xiao Mei!”

Tansy mounted the stage smiling brightly, but the smile was a little bit droopy on one side. The crowd emitted another unanimous gasp—this time at the swollen purple hand she waved.

“Sunkyull!” she called, her words slurring together.

“Tansy, um—you don’t look well,” said the announcer.

Confusion stole across Tansy’s face as the skin sagged from her brow. Her hair was retreating into her head. “Wha-whazgoin—?”

“Is there a doctor in the house?” the announcer called.

“You!” Tansy turned a disturbingly droopy finger toward Brigitte. “You diddis t’me!”

Secret Service agents closed in from both sides as Brigitte stepped toward the announcer. One grabbed Tansy under the arms and lowered her to the stage. Another stalked toward Brigitte, so she snatched the announcer’s microphone and fled the stage. The agent didn’t follow.

“No worries, folks. She’s fine! Totally unharmed.” She shoved past the TV cameras. They tracked her towards the back row.

The other Secret Service agent stepped aside to reveal a pile of green fabric on the floor. The crowd gasped again—even louder this time—as a long, thick snake slithered out of one the sleeves.

“Meet Tansy,” Brigitte continued. “The real Tansy. Her true form. Torsten, stand up.” She was standing right behind him. “What is she, Torsten?” She held the mic to his mouth.

“The Tatar of Russia tell legends of the Yuxa, a snake-like creature who takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to seduce men—usually resulting in their deaths. The legends say she is immortal, the only one like her in the world. And here she is in the flesh, the President’s own daughter—or more likely, the President’s mother, since she must be over a thousand years old—using magical charms to enhance her appearance.”

“In other words,” Brigitte added, “she was cheating!”

“Liessssss!” the snake hissed in Tansy’s voice. “She isssss the one cheating! She’ssss usssssed magic to turn me into a sssssnake! You will go to prissssson for this, you overssssized witch!”

Before Brigitte could respond, another giantess entered from the back of the room, took two strides and plucked the microphone from her hand. Brigitte did not resist.

“I’ll take it from here. Hand over that snake!” The giantess mounted the stage, holding up her badge with one hand.

“Please keep away from the First Daughter, ma’am.” The agent did not budge from her path.

“I’m Sigrunn Sorensen, detective with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Magical Crimes Unit. Tansy Yakhin, if that is even your real name, you are under arrest for assault and illegal use of magic. You have the right to remain silent…”

APD officers stormed the stage as Detective Sorensen read Tansy her rights. One of them carried a large aquarium. They took Tansy from her agents and forced her, screaming and flinging accusations, into the cage and locked a lid onto it. This done, Detective Sorensen returned to Brigitte.

“We’ve brought your friend Eric. We picked him up right after you called. He’s in the conference room next door. Which witnesses should we bring over there with us?”

Brigitte grabbed Janus while Detective Sorensen gained the cooperation of the renowned wizard who served as the head judge and contest committee chair. Brigitte followed one officer out of the room. The two detectives, their witnesses, and the agents followed with Tansy. The other officers remained to deal with the audience.

Eric was sitting on the other side of the conference room. He seemed almost himself other than the bandage on his neck. Before she could give him a hug, he looked past her, stood suddenly, fell backwards over his chair, and slammed hard into the floor.

“It’s her! No! Get her away! Ah! I remember…. You—you bit me!” He put up a hand between himself and the aquarium carrying Tansy through the door. Brigitte pulled him back up and offered him reassuring words while she righted his chair.

“Well, I’d call that a positive identification,” said Detective Sorensen. “Frank, can you control her long enough to get a measurement on her fangs? According to Eric’s medical report, the punctures are eight millimeters apart. Brigitte, catch me up on what happened since you called.”

“Janus here gave me a bit of his charm-dispelling potion, and I managed to get a small amount on the back of Tansy’s hand-enough to reduce her to her natural form, as you can see.”

The detective made a few notes, then spoke with Janus and the head judge, who confirmed the potion did indeed prevent the casting of even the simplest glamor. Frank then told her, over Tansy’s noisily hissed complaints, that Tansy’s fangs were exactly 7.5 millimeters apart. The detective set her notes aside and returned to Brigitte.

“Well done. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with the press fallout, but I honestly can’t wait until they expose the hypocrisy of all the awful things our half-Yuxa president has been saying about us magical folk. Too bad it probably won’t change much of anything. You’re free to go—I’ll get your number from Torsten if I need anything else for the report. In fact, I’ll go check in with him right now. Excuse me.”

“Well, I guess you won the contest fair and square.” A sparkling crystal first place trophy appeared in front of Brigitte’s eyes. Finding the head judge standing beside her, Brigitte took it and shook his hand. “Congratulations. By the way, it turns out the committee member who voted against using your friend’s potion was a close personal friend of the Yakhin family. I bet he changes his mind now, and we use it for next year’s contest, which, knowing you, you’ll have a strong chance at winning.” He nodded a goodbye and turned away.

“You look a lot better than this morning,” Brigitte told Eric, who had calmed considerably. “I hope this is the last time I have to clean up one of your messes.”

“Not funny.”

“I know. Hug?” She pulled him to his feet and gave him a firm hug—but not too firm.