6. Unlight & the dead
There are limits to the amount of things even a magician can juggle. Magic supplies – or maybe punishes – enough of its own, and beyond that there is Charlie, what is inside her and then whatever Jay is or will become. Throw entities from Outside taking revenge for deeds done five years ago on top of that wanting me very definitely worse than dead didn’t help at all.
Even by the standards of magicians I am very, very good at binding and banishing creatures from outside the universe. But I had Charlie and Jay to consider again and the harm that could come to them because of me. Few magicians wander the world and fewer have companions on their travels for all sorts of good reasons. I had to consider how they could be used against me.
And how I could use them.
Walking didn’t help with that, not the second time I circled the town or the third. I’ve never been under any illusions that I was a good person, but there’s a chasm between that and being a total bastard, though it seemed a smaller one than it ever had before. The magic had drawn them to me, or me to them, but I had no idea why or to what end. You can be a magician and be a bastard, but you have to be the kind who does what must be done no matter the cost.
Another reason there are few magicians in the world, that. You can’t touch magic, grasp need and desire and bend them to your will and shut the world from your life as well. You get hurt and hurt others and do what has to be done for all the right reasons that leave you soured and weary. Some of us drink, others do far worse things. I didn’t know what I was doing to cope anymore. The point of magicians and magic is to bind and banish things from outside the universe: Jay was that, Charlie might become it and I am not bastard enough to be friends with people I might have to kill.
And killing would be the kindest thing I could do to them if I was pushed to it.
That kind of thought does not a happy magician make, so I gave up on happiness and let the magic carry me to where I needed to, following odd flashes of light, ghost sounds and the hum of the earth under my feet until I reached a clearing a good mile from the town. It wasn’t much to speak of, just a place where three pedestrian paths met, devoid of any lightning-struck oak tree.
It did, however, boast a stain in the air where something awful had happened to weaken the world. It was a place people would avoid without knowing quite why and touched the places between the world and the vastness of Outside.
“Ah.” I let out a breath and sit. I work no magic save for relaxing myself, centring on the stain and letting my awareness touch it.
Time passes, though in that state there is no time and no thing and nothing.
“It has been some time, magician.”
A mist flows from the stain to turn into a blob-ball of shifting unlight that twists into alien shapes in the air, words coming into existence in my head, the thought-concepts of the creature crystalizing as language devoid of emotion of mental images. It could project such things but would give too much away.
“It has,” I say in the same tone. “I have questions for you.”
The entity twists and burns the air. “And the payment?”
“That will depend on your answers.”
“I have come into the possession of an Other, an Entity,”, and I pass Jay’s true name between us, small as it is. “This is your doing.”
“That is not a question.”
“My question is why.”
I have not phrased it as a question; it does not call me on that. “We thought you less likely to destroy it. That is all we will say on this.”
“How is it that Jay is ignorant of the Cone and the Grave?”
“This is not uncommon, magician. Knowledge is made of secrets and passed cautiously outside the universe. That it exists at all is not known to most.”
That startles me enough that I don’t hide it; I shove the implications aside to mull over later. “I have changed him.”
“Not enough to matter,” the unlight says, and is flows into nothing a moment later, taking much of the stain with it as it vanishes back into the places between the universe and what lies Outside. I don’t know what this entity/creature is that lives in the space between the universe and what lies beyond, only that it has aided me in the past but never done favours or asked for nothing in return.
I stand and walk back to the motel, hands shoved deep into pockets and senses thrown wide. Nothing. Whatever is out there isn’t taking my bait yet, not coming after me or attacking Charlie and Jay. It’s not really a surprise, but it is annoying to find out your enemy – and anyone who wants to kill you is that – isn’t as stupid as you’d hoped they’d be.
I put up basic wards around our rooms, eat a sub and sleep, half-waking to weight pressing into my left side and the binding between Jay and I humming a little before settling down.
Coffee wakes me next. Charlie is standing in the doorway to my room, coffee in either hand and one eyebrow raised. Jay is clothed, curled up next to me on top of the covers and dead asleep, not stirring when I get out of bed and walk over, closing the door firmly behind me.
“One, I’m glad you sleep clothed,” she says as she hands me a cup. “Two: if someone else had walked in on that?”
“He’ll be better today: he’s almost healed from my changing him.”
“And being that close to you helps?”
“He thinks it does, which probably makes it so.”
She snorts. “I haven’t had enough coffee for that to make sense yet,” and waves her hand across the road. “There’s a small breakfast place. We can eat, and talk about last night.”
“Not much to talk of,” I say, falling into step beside her. “No one attempted anything on us, and the one lead I had informed me that Jay was sent to me, but refused to say why or to what end.”
“You never asked questions about me,” Charlie says, half-joking.
“I know. I probably should have.”
“People walk in chance; magicians walk in coincidence.”
“I repeat myself: pardon?” she snaps.
“Things happen to a magician for a reason: a shifting of debts, magic itself responding to the world, the magician to the magic like a singer to a song. You could liken it to being one song from an entire album, most of which the magician probably never hears. If someone lived in this town and was abusing magic, I would have to intervene. Anyone else could walk away.”
“So I’m less free by hanging around with you.”
I let out a small laugh at that. “Probably. We were put together for some reason, though I have no idea what it is. It may have already passed when you helped me survive banishing a god outside the universe.”
She grunts and says nothing as we enter the restaurant and order food, getting more coffee, eggs, bacon and sausages. The waitress is an efficient older women, the small restaurant filled with locals reading papers and eating their meals in companionable silence that would no doubt fall apart the moment coffee stops being refilled.
“So. Sports?” Charlie says as she dumps sugar into their coffee.
“We could talk about normal things. Like Football – or soccer, if you want? There’s more countries in FIFA than in the UN.”
“I tend not to follow sports; it is safer to not care about such things in case I give in to the urge to manipulate them.”
“Huh. Does that happen often?”
“I’ve no idea; I’d bet good money on it happening to cult TV shows.” I sip my coffee, about to ask if she follows sports, considering a comment about only watching nude volleyball when the conversations around us fall away, people turning to stare at the entrance to the cafe in silenced shock.
No one screams. No one runs away. Charlie turns and stiffens; I see only air.
“A ghost?” I murmur.
A local ghost, then, and old. One we can’t afford to be trapped up in. I reach out with the binding to find Jay is awake and making inroads into two of the leftover subs. He starts, wraps things up and begins to come over as I push my will into the room, slowing reactions.
“Don’t eat the ghost,” I say, softer. Charlie stiffens, and I hold up a hand to her. “I don’t know what it looks like; I try not to see ghosts, remember?”
“It is a woman and moving toward our table,” she begins tightly, then pauses as Jay comes in the door and hurries toward us with barely a pause.
“Ghost?” I say, sipping coffee.
“Gone,” Charlie says, in a tone promising questions. “You sleep well?” she says to Jay.
He smiles almost shyly and holds up two fingers. “I only ate that many.”
People begin whipping out phones and taking pictures, slow and uncertain why they hadn’t done it before. I wave him back outside and stand, putting money on the table, thank the waitress for the local surprise and hurry out before anyone can ask questions.
Except Charlie, who snaps: “That was breakfast,” as we cross the road.
“Jay probably won’t show up on their phones. Also, he disrupted the ghost by being from Outside the universe. I don’t want it – or whoever sent it after us – deciding to get creative with a lot of bystanders getting caught in the crossfire.”