In which Leo is finally met and the stage is set to stop an invasion...
10. Tea & Trickery
They won’t leave and I don’t know how I feel about that. Charlie resisted the urge to smack me upside the head mostly because Jay would have attacked her. He’s on edge and there is nothing I could offer to diminish that except lies and we’ve gone too far for those. Well, most of them anyway. I draw up strength and will, sifting the energy of the world for what I need, preparing traps. I have killed other magicians in the past, but two in two days – if it comes to that – is no record I ever want to hold.
I am good. At some things, I am very good. But even the oldest magician in the world would have hesitated at facing another magician in their own place of power, and Mary-Lee is nothing if not powerful in herself. So I walk, consider options, prepare the ones I have to. It isn’t far: four fields, and the sounds of sirens fading behind us as emergency services converge on our ruined car to find no bodies or explanations. I imagine they’ll figure it to be some weird insurance job but don’t have the time or energy to care.
Leo’s home draws a snort from Charlie: it’s a two-room shack that is at least one hundred years old and looks it, boasting a tangle of vines and brushes for a lawn that seem to have invaded the wooden walls. Which they have, the house spreading out into earth and water. There will be holes in the roof to tie it to the air, and the views of non-magicians matter nothing in this.
“Follow behind,” I say, and my voice sounds terse even to me as I make a way through the tangle to the half-open front door. I am not sure if that is a welcome or warning or simply the state of the door.
The woman who opens it is taller than I than, with sharp blue eyes and blond hair, her jeans and t-shirt close-fit and expensive. I stop, let my senses drift out. “Leo.”
“It is Leona now,” she says, her voice a calm that almost thaws her eyes. It is a very good trick.
She is not a trick. “What have you done?” I say and she pulls back at something in my voice.
“People do change,” she says. Only that.
“Magician?” Charlie asks behind me.
I don’t take my eyes from Leo – Leona – and step back in turn. “You think I don’t know that? You used magic to change your body like this! Do you have any idea what that does to the Working we made? What it does to you?”
Leona blinks, then offers up a short laugh. “You haven’t changed, have you? So very practical, until the moment you aren’t.”
“Shadows tried to kill me. And my friends.” I pause a beat as her eyes narrow. “This is Charlie and Jay. I wanted to find out about Washington. Also to ask you about Jay.”
“That is not what it looks like.”
“You did say I am practical.”
“So I did.” She steps forward and gestures Jay to stand in front of her.
He shoots my a questioning look and then goes and stands, keeping still and quiet.
Leona raises his chin with her right hand. “He’s ten. Damaged by magic, I think, but beyond that....” she trails off.
I make the bindings between Jay and us visible to her for half a moment. Leona blinks and lets go of his chin with a yelp that isn’t fitting to a magician at all.
“How? What?” She shakes her head and stares at Jay for a long minute. “Explain,” she says, turning a hard gaze on me.
“I was hoping you could. Mind checking out the car for police?” I say to Jay.
He blinks, then is gone into the field in a blur and back in under ten seconds, panting a little for air as he stops and offers up a smug grin. “Ten of them.”
“Impossible,” Leona says. “You didn’t do this.”
“No,” I say.
Leona holds out her right hand and speaks six sharp Words in the language of the birds, then shakes her head a moment later. “You are weak,” she says to Jay, who just scowls. “And beyond that, human.”
“But you saw him move,” Charlie says.
“Yes. I know he can’t be human but to every sense – even to my magics –.” She shakes her head. “Imagine if there are more Others who can hide their nature this well.”
“I’ve been trying not to,” I say.
“Practical again?” she says with a slight smile.
“Also afraid.” I return the smile. “Can we come in, Leona?”
She bows and steps aside; the interior of her home is both expensive and sparse. A kitchen that is small, all stainless steel appliances, a living room with four chairs and two massive TVs – one with two game consoles hooked up to it – and a closed bedroom door, the entire affair serial-killer clean.
Jay slips closer to me, scowl trying to edge a permanent line of worry in his face. “I don’t like it,” he mumbles.
Charlie doesn’t look worried, easily concealing whatever effect Leona’s wards are having on her and catches my gaze, raising an eyebrow as Leona heads into her kitchen to make drinks. “I didn’t take you for the kind to flip out became a friend had a sex change.”
“I’ve known people to do worse. But for a magician to use pure magic to do it is attempting creative suicide.”
“Cuz?” Charlie says as she sits on the one couch.
I sit on the one across from her; Jay stands beside it, no doubt trying to not seem weak. “Magic is –?”
Charlie doesn’t roll her eyes, with effort. “Need and desire and poetic justice, near as I can tell. Plus a whole lot of limits that are probably just in your head.”
“Sometimes they are. But it is transient: one can make wards and protections, but for a single magic to shape a body permanently takes more energy than magic can offer. One has to make bargains with creatures from Outside for that.”
“And you worry that my bargain limited the Working we made,” Leona says as she comes back in with a tray of iced teas. I take one, as does Charlie. Jay just crosses his arms and says nothing as Leona takes a seat.
“No. You’re better than I am at such things; but I do wonder if it led to Jay finding me and our bindings.”
Leona pauses at the plural, studying me carefully for a long moment, then sips her drink. “It is not impossible that I was used to get at you. But why, and to what end –.” She offers up a light shrug. “I think we can say that some other party is working toward other goals.”
“And you know who that is.” Charlie doesn’t make it a questions.
“I have suspicions. It will depend on what attacks us. We are both here, friend,” she says to me. “I don’t think there is any warding in the world that will stop us from being found now.”
I sip my iced tea calmly. “And you think we can survive this? I know binding and banishing; you know more about what we’re up against.”