I am a magician and it means many things, but less with each funeral I attend. I'm not sure if it's worse if I'm not present. I'm watching the service from a puddle two blocks away from the funeral home because even if you are a magician you don't show up at the funeral of your father after you killed him. Not that anyone would know, but my mother and sister must suspect. They knew why dad left us long before I did.
I never set out to kill him when I left home. I certainly didn't set out to find him, but both our paths pushed us together until running away was no longer an option. Shoved up to the wall and you make a choice: particle or wave, live or die? I must have wanted to live a little more than he, or I was simply stronger. A purity of fire consumed him past bone, left nothing save the memory of ash behind.
All his magic, all the terrible things he'd done with it, and in the end it all just fell apart. Even if magicians don't get old, our magic does. I watch the entire service, half-suspecting someone will wake my father up and ask him what happened. No one does, not even Jill and the stories claim she once brought a turkey back to life in the middle of a Thanksgiving dinner. There is some magic in most families if one looks hard enough. Not often enough to be a magician, but that's often blessing more than anything else.
I stand, knees cracking, watch the image in the puddle dissolve to nothing. I could keep it open or even step through it, if I had need. I could pull strength from the world with that need, and from other people as well. Magic isn't power, but you can get away with murder with it and power seldom allows that. The chains of power make it harder to hide, at least from history, but those of magic make it so easy to just fade away.
"How many people have you killed?" The voice is high and cracked, as much whistle as speech through ruined teeth. I turn without a smile to meet a gummy smile that doesn't pretend to touch the cold eyes above it. Making brown eyes seems cold takes work but Mary-Lee mastered it a long time ago.
They say many things about her: that she is the oldest magician in all the world, that she was the first pharaoh, that she walked with gods and caused Atlantis to fall. Most of it is nonsense, and not a single story mentions how bad she smells. Layers of grime and age and wear cake clothing and face. Armour? Magic? I don't know and don't want to.
Her gaze has a weight I don't dare lie to. "Fourteen directly."
"You count the monsters." Her laugh is a rattle of death-dice in the back of her throat as she peers up at me through cataracts. "You're a good boy."
"No. No, I'm not." My voice is cold, even to my ears.
Mary-Lee does not even blink. "If you want to be punished, you will need to find someone else to do it: I do not waste my time on such things."
I rock back, cheek stung from a slap I never see: all her magic has fallen inside her, become her body. I imagine that if I peeled skin away there would be nothing under it save colours I had never seen.
"No one deserves to be punished," she hisses, "just as none deserve reward." She weaves hard-won experience into the words rather than power.
It suffices. I say nothing, don't reaching up to my cheek. Her mark burns and fades slowly.
"Magic is not something a magician does, boy. It it something they are, and you were more it than your father has ever been. That is why you won for all that he was tied to the city, regardless of his methods for avoiding consequences –."
"He murdered people and used their lives to pay the costs the world required." It sounds less than it was when I reduce it to words. I wonder how much Mary-Lee knows, what she knew, why she never acted.
"As I said, a method. There are worse ones." I don't doubt her; have no desire to find out what they are. Today seems to be a day for willed ignorance. "He acted, you acted. Destroying yourself serves no one."
I want to ask what she is doing, then, or becoming, the oldest magician in all the world. That she is speaking to herself as much as me seems true, but a magician learns quickly not to trust mere seeming. "Thank you for the fortune cookie."
She laughs, the sound distressingly young in so old a face. She does not tell me I will understand when I am older, just laughs and turns to walk away.
"Wait." She slows, not stopping. I can't keep the words inside after that: "Why didn't you stop him?"
"All actions are an exercise of power."
"Mary-Lee." I don't make it a threat, not entirely. Even today I'm not that stupid.
She doesn't take it as one at all, raises no protections I can sense. "It mattered that you acted, not that I did. He was your destiny, you his. That much I knew, and now it is done and the chain is broken. I would not have you wrap its remains about yourself."
"If you have to ask, you know the answer." She does not smile. "What makes you think I do not tell all magicians this lesson, boy? Or that I do not exist save as a warning?"
"Because if you did, if that was true, you'd never tell anyone."
She laughs again, softer, more real. "Perhaps I wouldn't at that. But if everyone knows I wouldn't, what then? Eh?" She turns back and walks into shadows that gather about her like wisps of a dress and is gone between moments, leaving behind no sign she was here at all.
I want to say something before she goes, but I don't know what. I spare the puddle one last look, but it remains a puddle only as I walk away from it. I need a drink. I need several drinks.
My feet take me to a coffee shop instead.