It was almost a week before I offered Charlie the money we'd made from playing a trick on Edward Hillary – he was the kind of man who worked at a Wall Street casino and can be spared most pity or sorrow – but she just laughed it off when I suggested a college fund. I want to tell her that we cannot travel forever, that there are places I will go that she cannot follow. I know she knows this, but also that she does not know this. We settle on silence and a couple days of living in high-end hotels. Because Charlie insists that we use the money Edward's daughter gave us to sleep in nice places. Nice seems to mean places where you pay a lot of money in order to avoid seeing poor people.
Hotels need little magic that they do not themselves provide, so the rest was nice until tonight. I wake at the tail end of the witching hour to pain in my tail bone that only walking cures. I dress, leaving Charlie to sleep in the other bed, depart the hotel room. The concierge in the lobby asks if I need anything, as if guests wandering outside at 3:33 am in jeans and a t-shirt is entirely normal.
I just smile and walk outside. It is raining lightly but I decide not to let the rain touch me, following the throbs of pain and aches in my toes as the magic leads me a good dozen city blocks. No one bothers me at all during the walk, human or otherwise; I decide not to think on what that means.
I follow flickering neon, odd scraps of paper and a magician's intuition for half an hour; the attack comes in a third side-alley, a blur of movement from the shadows to my left that slows to a crawl as it hits the ward I've wrapped about myself, magic as solid as a policeman's baton. I spin and rap the creature sharp on the forehead: a magician's touch isn't like that of other people. It doesn't notice and lunges again, all pale, red-eyed and dishevelled, teeth bright and sharp, canines more prominent and sharper. It is male, appearing to be roughly ten years old and in a state of raw anger and furious hungers.
You mind? I whisper to the wind; it wraps about the Other a moment later and slaps him into the wall twice with perhaps more force than is needed.
Some of the hunger fades as the creature strains against the wind once, twice, and then gives up, panting for air. "Magic," he hisses.
"Magician, yes." I reach out a hand, raising his chin, the last hour of his life spilling into my mind in a rush of images. "You tried to bite someone and got maced."
He raises his chin further and glares at me. "I am new here," he says, each word precise and measured, under it the truth that the biting had failed, that the creature could not drain others. Vampire's aren't strong as far as Others go – in fact, few things are weaker beyond Greys by some estimations – but I've never ran into one that couldn't drain energy at all. Not that it is a vampire, or greys are aliens, but the terms have fallen into common use and work as broad shorthand.
"You should take on a different form, or at least an older one? The vampire is – limited," I offer, trying to be diplomatic.
A hint of colour creeps up into the boy's face. "I can't."
I blink, press my hand in lightly through flesh and pull back a moment later as he whimpers in pain. He is young as the Outside would measure it. Small and weak there, and the same here as well. I pull the mace out of his system and he gulps relieved breaths, not even strong enough to manage that alone. "How did you get here?"
I put no power into the question and he is too relieved to notice my tone. "A – a thudent exthange?" he says, and then freezes, cheeks burning.
I pause, then decide asking about that would just mean sleepless nights. "And I am?"
"A magithan," he mumbles around his fangs.
I ask the wind to let him go; he lands lightly, staring up warily. "I could send you home."
He freezes and shakes his head minutely.
"Why not?" I could find out, but I'm not sure he would survive the experience.
"I'm – not as weak here," he says, meeting my gaze, resisting the urge to rub his chest where my fingers brushed his Self.
"Perhaps. You could be something old hiding in a weak shell."
"You think I'd uthe thith one?" he says indignantly.
He blinks a few times and his teeth slowly become merely human with an effort that turns his face the colour of bone and leaves him whimpering in pain. "Jath," he begins then: "My name is Jathal," and the falls silent, mouth snapping shut.
I hold out my right hand. "Think it?"
He presses his hand into mine and does so, his name weaving between us. It is smaller than I thought and he offers up all of it desperately, under it a binding open and wide.
"What are you doing?"
He lets go with a gulp."You could kill me anyway?"
"You wish to be bound." I draw myself up; he doesn't cower. "Do you swear service by the Cone and the Grave?" Old names for older powers.
He just stares at me blankly. "I don't know what that is."
I must look as blank as I stare down at him. I've never ran into anything from Outside that didn't know about the powers that govern the Ways. "How old are you?"
He stiffens at the gentleness in my voice and then looks away. "I don't know. I wath running from a threat, from thome ...." his face twists up "from a force bigger than me," he continues, slower. "It wanted to eat me. I ran and found a – a hole? A door? I fell to this world."
An Other trapped in a form the world chose, unable to break it. It wasn't unheard of: I've been told that the myth of bigfoot comes from such things. I let out a breath. "I'm not going to bind you as my servant," I say after wrapping other bindings into him; he doesn't even notice me doing it.
The boy freezes, scant control gone as fangs protrude to puncture his lower lip. His yelp of pain distracting him for a moment as he struggles to hold a human seeming.
It takes everything I have not to laugh. "I'm going to trust you. We're staying in a motel: you know what that is?"
He nods; transit imparts language even if his ability to speak it seems to have been twisted up, an echo of forcing himself into the world without the means or power to manage it.
"Does that work as a use-name?"
He says it slowly a few times, then offers up a most serious nod and falls into step beside me. I try not to think about what Charlie is going to make of this.