Tuesday, August 20, 2013


[Sequal to Divers]

My name is Charlie. A normal one as names go, and my life used to be normal too. Oh, it would be broken if you saw my parents from the outside but broken is a kind of normal too. Or was until dad brought a magician home with stories of the monster in my closet. The magician walked into the closet and came out with the monster. He said it was a god and said it would die without me.

I ate it. More became it, I think, but eating gods is what I do. In the past two weeks I've learned a lot of crazy things and gone a little crazy myself. He says if I call up the god-monster-me too often I won't be human anymore. Some days I'm not sure human is something I want to be. Nothing new: every teenager thinks that, but I don't think most can act on it.

Here's what I know: he is a magician, and a magician is magic. It's a being more than a doing: he's pulled to things, and pulls in turn and most of it just happens with little more than a few words that have angles and depths words don't normally have, or a smile. I've never thought of smiles as being a poker-face until him. Magic is something he is; eating gods is something I do.

Yesterday was a god gone sour, reaching somewhere Other for power. I distracted it by being me. He bound it with his shadow and collapsed after. He barely woke this morning, and we don't have money to pay for another night at the motel after this one. Money would just fall into his lap if we needed it. Not me. So I leave him sleeping and go walking.

Magic answers need, but so do other things as well. Things not human, or playing at human. Creatures gods are walls against. He won't tell me what I am, not wanting to limit me (or just not to tell me; magicians are hard to read) so I just walk through the town. It's close to midnight, the prom of last night having given way to a dull silence. Power lines hum overhead but most of the street lights remain broken from what happened last night.

I walk and think about magicians, and magic, and needing help. I don't think about names: one doesn't need a magician to tell you names are power but I prowl the entire town twice in an hour until the shadows finally offer up –

I call up the god in me without thinking. I have claws, then, and armour, but I can't bear to use them and they slip away moments later like dreams I've never had. The man that slips out of the shadows as if taking off a dressing gown is tall and thin. That much makes sense. The rest: the smile, the eyes of honey, the cheekbones – the cheekbones – the curve of muscle and bone and steps, it's all something more. Past beauty and into awe. I can't hurt him. I can't even hate him. I can barely breathe. The god in me puts enough distance for that, anger adds another distance.

"What are you?" My voice is a betrayal, weak and cracked.

He smiles. It hurts wonderfully, and I know he can be a she with that smile, and other things beside. His voice is as warm as his eyes when he speaks. "A wanderer. Seeker. Traveller. Ower of debt."

Ower is odd, and I cling to the oddness. You spend your whole life thinking beauty is skin-deep, knowing that's always a lie, and then something like this proves that to be a lie. That's what this creature is like. I think his pancreas would be a work of art, if he had one. He's not a god. I think gods would worship him, and I don't know why.

"The magician." I don't make it a question, my voice hard even to my ears.

His smile flatters at some memory. "He is hurt?"

I say nothing.

He laughs then, and the sound seems entirely human, distressingly normal. "You have no idea how strong you are. Put away your claws, child, and I shall put away mine."

I let go of the god, letting the ragged edges of power slip down into my skin. It feels like a toothache in the bones for a moment. "We don't trust you."

He smiles and the smile is human, whatever else he is dialled back for a moment. His beauty is bearable but still not hateable. "It is not in my nature to be trusted. But I do owe your magician friend for not banishing me. I can speed his healing if he will allow it. But I cannot be trusted and cannot be a friend."

"Swear you will not hurt him. Swear it on something that matters."

The other raises one perfect smile. "Such as?"

Something bubbles up, words of a song I've never heard, echoes from the closet the monster lived in. My voice is not mine when I speak: it is rough, hard and soft at once: "Swear by the Cone and the Grave."

He pales and then offers up a tight bow to me. "Very well. I so swear," without a trace of a smile to him at all.

He says nothing at all on the walk back to the hotel save to shoot wary looks my way from time to time as if expecting to be struck. It doesn't make me feel at all strong, more like I've beaten up the cutest puppy in the world. I want to ask what the Cone and Grave are but keep my silence and open the door to the room.

The magician is awake, eyes narrow and hard, his smile tight with exhaustion in the bed.

"The Cone and the Grave," the creature says in a voice like ground glass, somehow sounding hurt.

The magician turns his head to me, his expression unreadable. "You should go."

I back out and close the door to see shadows and flesh melt together, neither voice sounding entirely human. I recite songs, my times tables, poetry drilled into me by English teachers. My voice is hoarse to my ears by the time the door opens.

The creature that emerges is slug-pale with claws of bone decorated in blood and a smile of sharp teeth and sharper hunger. Its breath comes in small pants, smile accompanied by a too-sharp tongue that darts out over lips. "Little god-eater."

I step back and to the side.

It smiles wider and is somehow beautiful in uncertain light, tail the colour of its tongue wrapped about its left leg.

I want things I have no words for and shudder back from them. "Leave."

It chuckles softly and walks past, turning human between moments of awareness before stepping sideways into the air.

The magician is in the bed when I walk back in, body covered in scratches and scars. "Dawn will heal me," he says, voice rough, not meeting my gaze. "Did he hurt you?"

"No," I say, willing it to be true.

"It's beautiful," he says, half to himself, "you could drown in such a creature and it would be everything death can never be, so perfect you'd die again just for it. You risked a lot for me." He closes his eyes and sags back into the bed. "Thank you."

I just nod and sit in the one arm chair; the dawn burns away all scars and blood as if they never were at all. And I find myself crying as the magician sleeps with no idea why.

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