1. Shadows & Cold
It isn’t every day that shadows try to kill me. Not even every week, or even month. If ever you see a shadow that you think is a person for half a moment, you’re often more right than you know: not all things from Outside have the power to enter our reality. Most Others can’t survive transit into our reality, or are too weak to be a danger, and simply press in on our world and wear it like clothing for brief moments, spasms of terror pushing at the walls of the worlds, little more than goosebumps on the skin of the universe.
Mostly, a magician can just banish them with a wave of a hand. It’s harder to do that if you’re in a restaurant bathroom and making use of toilet paper. That happened to me once before; this time I just grab the shadows and shove them into the water, flushing them down the toilet. The lightbulbs in the bathroom shatter overhead a moment later; I catch the electric light, weave it it into shattered glass and form a ward against darkness that hisses and twists in the air around me. Outside the ward I can hear tables crashing and Charlie’s voice as a muffled shout for me to hurry the hell up.
I walk forward. Need. Desire. Will. The door buckles open to that, but outside it is still darkness. People wrapped in shadow-shapes are stumbling and staggering around. Too many to control and the shadows don’t know how to let go of any of them. The afternoon sun outside the fish and chip shop has been replaced by shadowed windows, the darkness eating every piece of light and trying to force itself at Charlie. Jay is hiding between the table and wall, Charlie having called up the god inside her, all monster-under-the-bed fur and fire-stoked eyes as she grins. She has claws when she wants, and they are red and burn with a sickly light at the moment to force the shadows back.
I hurl the rest of my shield into the walls, avoiding people, directing the electricity to find other currents and rip the shadows from the world. It will take moments, but it is long enough for a shadow-person to lunge at me with a steel pan in one hand.
Jay has sprung over the table and into the man before I ever have time to convince the pan to not hit me: he’s not human either, and faster than even a magician’s will when properly motivated. Protecting me counts as that in his books. The flip side is that his body is ten, and strong or not for ten the shadow-cook hurls him into the wall with barely a pause.
I take the pause and reach out, wrapping the shadow in my will, tearing it free from the rest of the assault. “Explain this,” I say, as the shadow is ripped free of the dazed cook to writhe in the air before me under the force of my binding.
Magician, the shadow says, speaking shadow to shadow, unable to speak any other way. The lights in the ceiling flare to life and I wrap a ward around the shadow, pulling it into my shadow to bind it. I’ve never tried an anti-banishing before, but the principle seems sound enough: I hold it in the world rather than forcing it out as people stagger and look confused, memories trying to parse together a couple of missing minutes in their lives.
“Power failure?” I offer to the cook, and he lowers the pan he is holding, grabbing the explanation and shouting it to people, hurrying to help set up tables as Charlie walks over. She’s pulled most of the god back inside her but people are giving her a wide berth anyway as she glares at Jay.
“I told you to stay put and not get hurt.”
He just scowls and gets up, having left a sizable dent in the wall he hit and swaying a little. “I’m fine,” he lies, not caring if she doesn’t believe him.
“Door,” I say, giving him a light push. “We need to leave.”
“How bad is it?” Charlie says as she pushes through the confused crowd of patrons.
“I shoved some of the shadow entities into the toilet in the men’s bathroom. I doubt my explanation for all this as ‘power failure’ is going to explain away that damage.”
“Let me get this straight,” she says as we leave the restaurant. “You banished entities from Outside the universe by flushing them down a toilet?”
“Does that count as redneck magic?”
I ignore her and walk around the corner, wrapping air and sound around us to confuse people, hoping it causes no seizures. It takes less than two minutes to find a boarded up shop; the back door opens up to my asking, the interior empty shelves not quite hollowed out.
“Use your lighter behind me,” I say, not looking at Charlie. “Jay, make sure no one enters after us.”
My shadow stretches in front of me a moment later. I undo the magic in it, and the other shadow flows up into the air, straining at the world.
Magician, it hisses through my shadow.
“Why this? Why now?” I say, and thread power into the words. I can speak truth that cannot be ignored; I can force the same.
Washington, it grinds out. You could not hide from us forever. The shadow shifts, white fire dancing about it to form eyes and horns and then wings for a heartbeat, gone as quickly as they form.
I don’t point out it is five years too late in seeking revenge; time doesn’t work the same Outside as it does here, assuming it works at all. I let out a breath, glad it’s not something involving Jay, and banish it with a snap of my fingers. It has nothing left to resist with, not even strength enough to speak further.
“Done,” I say, and Charlie’s lighter snaps off after she lights a cigarette. I turn and look at Jay. “It’s gone, yes?”
He studies me, then nods and offers up a thumbs up. “Yeah.”
“And that was?” Charlie says.
“A very poor assassination attempt. And if they’re hunting me, they might try for the Leo as well.” I run a hand through my hair. “Up for a road trip to Oregon?”
“No entity from Outside has been able to exist or manifest itself in Washington, D.C. for five years now. They’re a bit pissed off over it, and the Working linked itself to the state as well. Last I knew, Leo was staying just outside the state to see when it would begin to decay.”
Charlie takes a deep drag on her cigarette. “Is there a reason you did all that?”
“The cold war.”
“Now you’re just being an ass.”
I grin. “A little bit. I’ll tell you both en route, okay?” Jay lets out a small sigh of relief. “You thought I’d leave you behind?”
“I wa – wathn’t much good in the rethtaurant,” he offers up softly, not trying to avoid any esses under the weight of Charlie’s gaze.
“We can work on that,” I say, as we leave the store. It still feels odd to say we but I think I’m getting the hang of it. “Do we have enough money left over for gas and motels?” I ask. Definitely getting better at it.
“Maybe,” Charlie says. “Depends on how much you gave away. Also on how much the rugrat here eats.”
"I’m not a rat,” Jay snaps.
He ignores her entirely and marches toward the car. I share a grin with Charlie and relax a little, feeling things easing between us all, and wondering if the road trip will stress it all to the breaking point or not.