[Being a direct sequel to Queens, set an hour later; a third story from the same night will be posted sometime this weekend.]
On a prom night it is easy for the police to be turned aside. I walk down side streets with Charlie at my side and the police don't look at either of us; she called up the god inside her earlier and it casts echoes in the air around her still. They would notice, not knowing what they see: I turn their gazes away and follow twinges in my knees, throbs in a finger and odd lights that vanish the moment I see them until I reach the source of the disturbances twisting the world.
In the last hour I've found a key chair, two hockey cards and a car all from Outside, each pulled into the world. None were tightly bound to their hosts; each came apart at an application of cold will. I'm not sure how much of the anger rolling through me is from Charlie and how much is me now: I can see shadows twisting painfully as things lean on them from the other side. The street lights all flicker indigo when they think no one notices. The air tastes of burnt plastic and human hair and the one neon sign we passes five minutes ago has guttered out and died.
Things are pushing in on the world. I push back, drawing energy out of the prom and weaving it into the fraying of the world. Anyone with a fragment of sensitivity at the prom is going to have horrible nightmares but it's better than seeing them become real. I round one corner, another, and find the focus because the air is dead-grey above a dumpster. Basic green apartment model save for the homeless man balanced on the edge of it who leaps up and dives into it without looking back at us.
"When you said you wanted to find the person giving people artifacts from other spaces, you didn't mention they'd be dumpster diving," Charlie says, her calm thin and fragile. "That was an Olympic-quality dive. Into a dumpster. In the middle of nowheresville."
"I know." I look back. "Sit. Breathe."
"I'm breathing just fine," she snarls, and the snarl pulls her back a little. "Sorry," she says after that, her voice pale.
"It's okay. Just breathe. Focus on deep breaths."
She does so three times before meeting my gaze.
"I saw my first spirit at thirteen. Spirits aren't the same as ghosts: they're entities that occupy the world with us only somewhere to the side of normal. Elementals, would-be tricksters, little gods. It was all deadly shadows and white noise teeth and spent a week leaping out of mirrors at me to scare me witless before I realized I could bind it."
"This is a spirit?"
"No. A god, but not the kind a god-eater can eat." She says nothing, eyes narrowing. "As humans can become magicians, so can gods become something more. Or less, or at least other. Gods are, after all, so very hungry."
I turn back to the dumpster; the god has left it without making a ripple in the world, cunning as a shadow, something that looks like a brown wallet in his left hand. His appearance has not changed, all sallow-cheeks, rough beard, beer belly and receding hair. No one would even look twice at him, wonder why he didn't smell at all and by them his eyes would have charmed them into seeing someone else entire.
I shove the wallet back where it came from with almost no effort.
The god stops. Turns slow. "Magician. I am still of this world."
His gaze flicks over to Charlie, eyes widening as he sees what she is. I take the moment and stretch it, my shadow standing up behind the god.
I reach out, my shadow's fingers finding mine, and snap the circle tight about the god. Every street light for two blocks turns indigo and explodes. The sounds of the prom rush over us like a wave, music and laughter shuddering through the air. The god lets out a roar of fury and tears his chest open. There are many things in it.
Just seeing them hurts me. I can hear Charlie throwing up behind me in painful spasms.
"A god should not hurt a god-eater." My thought is too deep, a thing felt more than known as it wraps about the god. I don't bother with words, discard language entirely. The binding is hundred songs woven together, the banishing a thousand swords of light tearing into the god. I strip away all parts of it that are still of the world and banish the others.
A fingernail falls off. My left eye won't open. A magician is magic. Magic is the magician. I reach inside, pull hard and hold my shadow together, letting it hold me together, and there is only air a moment later. Air, a dumpster, Charlie staggering to her feet, air. Nothing else at all.
The sounds of the prom have retreated, like a wounded thing.
Charlie says my name, her eyes wide.
"I'm okay." My voice is slow, cracked. I'm hollow. Too hollow to be so full of organs. Organs. I hold mine inside with will, binding my shadow into myself. Hold myself together. The air tastes of sunlight, of magic, of songs not sung and whispers of dreams I could become. I close my eyes, force them away. "I think I need to sleep."
And thinking, I do. Charlie's shout is distant but the pavement is cool and kind as stone of the earth can be kind, and I sink into its embrace with a sigh.