Saturday, March 29, 2014

Monday Morning (a series of 4 stories)

A Series of Mornings

Monday Morning

Being a magician sometimes means waking to screams of terror. In this case I don’t even open my eyes as I hear the hotel room door slam shut. “How late is it?”
        “About eleven,” Jay’s voice says.
        “You were sleeping beside me in the bed again.”
        “And housekeeping came in and saw you.”
        “I thought it wath okay,” he mumbles. “I’m not human and I let her thee that.”
        “Please put clothing on and pack the bags.” I don’t add the now as I head to the shower. Being bound to a creature from Outside the universe is one thing; having it look like a ten year old kid and be as sexless as a ken doll is something else. So, too, is him trying to be your friend. And having no idea what that was.
        “It’th thafe with you,” he says as I come out of the shower. Jay is small and pale but has the bags packed neatly and is glaring defiantly up at me. Most people wouldn’t find being near a magician safe but he wasn’t a people and in his case he wasn’t far wrong.
        I sigh. “I know that. But humans don’t understand. We’ve been over this.”
        He looks down at his shoes. “Thorry.”
        He’s been better at not avoiding esses. I have to give him that much and it’s not as if the two months he’s been with me have been devoid of danger. “Jay. Try harder, please.”
        He bites his lip at my saying please and nods, looking miserable. A town tried to kill us a few weeks ago: I had to call up his potential future to help fix the town and he’s still recovering from that. I sit down on the bed and he sits down beside me and rests his head on my arm with a huge sigh of relief.
        I ruffle his hair. “I didn’t mean to hurt. But we do have to go.”
        He stands up and grins, then hurls back into the bed and over the other side as the first bullets slam into his body, the middle of the motel room door dissolving into dust under the roar of a shotgun.
        I sigh and walk over to the door; Jay’s body is tough enough that a shotgun should only bruise him but it’s definitely not going to help him not be afraid.
        The shotgun roars again. I touch the world with magic and the roar becomes a whimper as the bullets force themselves back into the weapon in tune with my desire. There is a moment of resistance, the police officer on the other side a throbbing of fear strong enough to resist a magician’s will: she’s ran into nasty shit before. It explains but does not excuse.
        The rest of the door falls apart under her kick, a silver-tipped nightstick in her right hand as Sheriff Melissa Yates comes through the doorway with death in her eyes.
        “You know, the housekeeper could have got her story wrong,” I say calmly. “In which case, you might have murdered someone doing horrible or killed a child waking up their parent and even in a small town you would have had trouble sweeping wholesale murder under the rug.”
        She swings the nightstick at my head as I talk. I move where it isn’t once, then twice, and pluck it from her hands before she can do a third swing even as I pull the energy out of her taser and fill the doorway with it to stop her deputy from entering; it’s rather blatant but I’m in a mood.
        “Monster, I –.”
        “Magician. So a human monster at least.” I hand back the nightstick. “If you’d like to try swimming towards sanity I’d appreciate it.”
        “Thhooting me ith not thane,” Jay says fiercely, having scrambled to his feet, his face set in glare.
        “Not helping.”
        The sheriff stares past me. “What is that?”
        “He is Jay.”
        “I shot him.”
        “Funny thing: he doesn’t like getting shot.”
        “You ruined my coat,” Jay snaps.
        He grumbles and marches over to his bag to dig out another coat. His shirt and coat are ruined, the bruising on his chest deep and purple. He mutters about humans and stupid not-friends and unfollowing.
        The sheriff lowers her nightstick slowly. “You had an alien creature sleeping in your bed, magician.”
        “He tends to sneak in when he’s scared. Getting shot at through a door isn’t going to help that.”
She has another mental pause. Jay isn’t scary. He’s tough, fast when he has to be, but is too miffed about his coat to consider running circles about her and tickling her into submission, which is a small mercy.
        “He is not a vampire?”
        “No,” Jay snaps, not looking up as he digs out a shirt, the word edged. He glares up. “A monthter can have a lithp and not be a vampire! Okay?”
        “Okay,” she says numbly.
        I wrap the numbness about her memories, catch her gaze in mine. “You survived. That means other people can survive monsters as well. You’ve met human monsters, Melissa, and humans who were not monsters. Not all monsters are monsters. Hold that in the future.”
        She looks a bit dazed but nods. I don’t dare press for more without damaging her – or learning what damaged her that badly in the first place. A magician knows many things if they know anything at all, and one of those is that there are bounds even to knowledge. Wisdom is knowing when to avoid knowledge of that nature. I’ve had a long, long week and I’m too tired to go hunting through memories.
        I dissolve the barrier on the door, weave words around her deputy and get them all leaving. It won’t last long but it lasts enough for us to slip out and to the truck and for me to drive away from the town. Some day I might come back and help her, but some day is not today. I am not burnt out, but I can feel that from where I am. I have wandered for a long time. I have wondered for a longer time.
        And I am feeling tired.

Tuesday Morning

There are many reasons to love larger towns. Anonymity. Fast food. Starbucks. I get up, half-asleep, stumble out of the hotel, cross to a Starbucks, skim the local paper and return with three breakfast sandwiches, hot chocolate and coffee. In a city, someone might have tried to mug me. In a smaller town, people would have insisted on talking and becoming my friend. At least until they learn how dangerous it is to be friends with a magician.
        Jay is still sleeping in his bed when I enter: I half-expected him end up on my bed during the night or wake when I did and follow me: the binding between is is powerful but in his head being closer makes it stronger, and being friends makes it stronger still. He’s small and pale, passing entirely for human even to my senses now. Most creatures from outside the universe can’t do that: until him, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to bind yourself to anyone and hide that binding from them. He might be strong in the future, if he survives, but right now he is weak and damaged.
        And sucking his right thumb as he sleeps.
        Using his future nature to scare off creatures trying to take over a town had worked, but not without cost. That he didn’t blame me for it had been enough to get Charlie to leave us and wander onto her own paths. I pull his thumb free, wipe it off with a sheet and then shake him lightly. He wakens in moments, the binding between us thrumming with fear for a second before he registers me and tries to hide the fear behind a huge yawn and grin. “Food?”
        “You think I’d dare wake you without food?”
        “I don’t eat that much now,” he protests, but wolfs back the two sandwiches in seconds and begins drinking his hot chocolate in deep slurps.
        I eat mine slower and sip my coffee after as he watches me. “Better?”
        “Good. There’s something nasty holed up in the local mall I’d like to look into. Claws, teeth, fangs ….”
        “Like the god in Charlie?”
        “Charlie could have –.” He bites his lower lip. “Charlie left uth!”
        “She did.” He waits. “Because you didn’t hate me for damaging you.”
        “But you’re my mathter.”
        “You could still hate me.” He shakes his head. “You could. You won’t and she was afraid she would in your stead.”
        “But –.”
        “It’s not your fault. Or hers, or mine. Sometimes things just turn out the way they do, Jay.”
        “I know that!”
        “Like Charlie knew our binding makes me your master?”
        He blinks, then scowls and offers nothing.
        “We have at least one monster of some kind in the mall. You distract it and I will bind it. Deal?”

The local mall isn’t much to speak of. The story in the local paper about missing teens has increased the police presence at least. I convince doors to open for us and head into the basement levels: parking, storage and the security office nestle among it like cast-offs from a wedding. I wish up light in my right hand and walk, humming softly to myself. Tension hums in the air in turn, a sense of something in darkness waiting to leap forth. Using magic is generally enough to warn such creatures to get gone but not always.
        My feet pull me down the hallway to the security office, a path of narrow cement and burnt-out lights. It screams horror movie, enough that I doubt anyone has been this way in some time. Jay pads silently behind me as I push open the door. The office is all battered cubicles with one security officer behind a single desk at the far end of the room looking like a hobo Santa Claus in a uniform straining under his girth.
        I have time to say nothing else before it heaves itself up, chest splitting open to disgorge tendrils that glitter with obsidian teeth. I hurl the ball of light into them.
        Nothing. I turn my head and find he has dived back into the hallway in fear. It costs me a moment, and in that moment tendrils tear through the light and across my right arm. I hiss, hurling the pain into a wall between the creature and me and scramble back as tendrils tear themselves out of the floor and ceiling. Bigger than I thought. Bad sign.
        Something slices into my back as I spin, wrapping the stale basement winds about myself and diving into the narrowing hallway. The wall has turned into teeth. I hau Jay up into my arms, which costs in time – and pain, as tendrils lash into me – then run. I can’t protect him and bind and banish it at once, not like this.
        Blades slash out and around. I’m good. Sometimes I’m very good. But my warning light advising it to run just gave it time to prepare. I hit the parking garage and pull electricity into a net around us, forcing it away and binding it into the security office. I can do that much.
        It hurts. My back is sticky as I kill security cameras and find a car to steal. Jay is whispering “thorry” over and over. I say nothing and drive until we’re out of the mall, two blocks from it. An empty house offers shelter and I accept the offer, stumbling inside after warding the car so no one steals it. The owners will get it back. I do that much before I fall out of pain and into sleep.

Wednesday Morning

Arrogant. Careless.
        The thoughts whisper to each other in my head as I wake up. I’ve destroyed gods. I’ve faced down armies and banished them, freed entire towns from invasions from Outside. I’ve done other things, alone or with others, and you get careless. Cocky. It was just a minor creature under a mall.
        Just. I’m lying on a bed, naked save for bandages wrapped about me like I was a mummy extra in a movie. I hurt all over, but there is a bottle of painkillers beside the bed and water. I down a few, let the pain dial down a few levels, sit up. My back aches along with my left arm but nothing feels broken or severed inside. I try stretches, which makes the world spin a little, but hold myself together and begin repairing scars and harm.
        It is almost half an hour before Jay slinks into the room. He’s wearing the same clothing from yesterday and has a coffee that he brings over. His face is pale and drawn and he trembles in fear despite not spilling a drop of coffee. He’s from Outside the universe, so he can do things like that. He’s also why I’m hurt since he froze in terror yesterday in the basement of a mall against something that had been hiding inside a security guard.
        He bites into his lower lip as hard as he can but doesn’t look away as he hands me the coffee.
        “It wath thcary,” he whispers, “and we didn’t have Charlie with uth and I – I don’t –.” His face twists up but he just takes deep and slow breaths.
        I want to tell him I don’t mind if he avoids esses but I don’t think that will help. His gaze flits over bandages.
        “You did this?”
        “Yeah.” He gulps. “I uthed the internet and cleaned each wound.”
        “I think you did good.” I take the coffee and begin drinking it. “I’ll heal up fine.”
        “You’re not going to banithh me?”
        “Why would I banish you?”
        “Becauthe I –. And. I–.”
        “Breathe.” He does so, and sits on the bed the second time I ask, trembling as he stares at me. He wants to use the binding between us to understand what I’m feeling and to deal with his own fear. He doesn’t.
        “I’ll need food and –.”
        He shakes his head. “Nope. You need to heal.”
        “I need to stop that creature first.”
        He flinches back. “I went back,” he says, and his voice is so soft I almost miss it. “To the mall. Becauthe I didn’t know if your ward would hold it and it wath my fault –.”
        “Jay, everyone –.”
        “It wath!” He looks so shocked at shouting at me that I almost want to laugh despite the fact that it would hurt my back. “I went back and let it eat me and I didn’t tathte good at all. It exploded,” he says without a trace of pride.
        “You let it eat you.”
        “I’m tough. But that’th all I am, all I could think to do. You were hurt and I wath rethponth –.” He makes a face, tries the word responsible again, and then says: “And it wath my fault. I wanted to fix it even if I can’t make it right.”
        “You’re right that you can’t, but we’re in the same boat.” He just looks blank. “I should have known you were this shaky, Jay. We’re bound together and I threw you over the deep end yet again without a single life preserver. I was wrong to do that.”
        He looks even blanker at that.
        “A magician is allowed to be wrong, even me.”
        “Really?” he says, managing to sound suspicious until his face breaks into a huge grin.
        I brace myself for the hug that follows and manage not to hiss as he pulls away after. “Better?”
        “A little bit.”
        “Okay.” I hold out my right hand. “I’m going to need to borrow energy.”
        He nods and relaxes, letting out a huge yawn after I pull strength from him and curls up onto the bed to sleep. I stretch slowly and get up, pulling the pain out my wounds and threading it into Jay. He’s taken shotguns to the chest with minimal harm; he barely twitches at the pain, the binding between us pulsing with his relief that I’m no longer hurt.
        I write a note telling him where I am even though he should know anyway and head outside. It takes me over half an hour to walk to the mall and I’m feeling a bit tired by the time I reach it. I pull bitterness out of people and strength out of stones to form wards during the walk. People are hurrying past decorated stores and winding their way around the mall Christmas tree as if it wasn’t there at all. I head down again, slipping through the crowds to the basement.
        The hallway remains dark but the undertones echo normal sounds. The office is a disaster: shattered walls, floor, and ceiling where tendrils of the creature grabbed Jay and ate him and holes pitted everywhere after it had exploded. It is definitely dead and gone at least, so I pull on the unease the place still has and make that into a barrier. They’ll have a new security office elsewhere and this one slowly become forgotten until it heals. I add an invite to friendly Others in need of a place to stay into the warding and head back up.
        The post-Christmas season is wild and crazy, offering no safe energy for me to draw on. I let it wash through me and walk back to the house, wondering what to do about Jay and finally calling in an old favour over the wind.

Thursday Morning

Jay forced himself not to sleep beside me last night despite being exhausted from my draining energy out of him to heal my wounds. The creature from Outside the universe is curled up in a spare bedroom of the house that let us sleep in it, small body wrapped in a nest of blankets and sucking his right thumb in his sleep. The thumb-sucking is painfully new. Entering the universe damaged him, which manifests as a lisp. I had to call up his potential future a week ago in order to save a town and it has damaged him deeper.
        He senses me enter; pale eyes snap open and his body freezing a moment later as he removes his thumb from his mouth and stares at it. The binding between us thrums with his shame but he still refuses to blame me for it. He looks human and now passes for younger than ten under the right light.
        “You’re better,” he says, and grins, getting out of the bed in a blur and throwing himself at me in a huge hug of relief. I return it until he pulls away. “I healed you.”
        “You helped, yes.” I ruffle his hair gently. “Shower and get into fresh clothing: we’ll have breakfast after.”
        It never even occurs to him to wonder why I don’t shower or why we’re up at dawn. I use the time to draw up my need and desire, bending magic to my will as we slip out of the house. He follows me into the small park near the centre of the town, asking no questions and trusting my lead, his fear a soft flow in the binding between us.
        The day is still spitting back the dark, dawn fighting free of night as I slip into the park, trying not to shoot Jay worried looks. He pretends not to notice. It is hard to keep secrets from a creature who bound itself to you, but sometimes the best secrets are not secrets at all. He feels the worry and senses nothing else.
        “Honcho.” He stops dead, reaching to grab my hand as he catches something else, but the creature slips out from between trees before he can utter another word.
It is honey-eyed and dark haired, gliding toward me with a smile the Mona Lisa would have thought perfection. It is from far Outside the world, a predator with many forms. All beautiful. This time it comes as a woman, holding my gaze with a smile both gentle and catching. I wrap a binding about it, but it is familiar with me – so familiar – and slips out of it as easily as a breath of wind, running a finger along my cheek.
        “No one else since me, magician?” it whispers almost gently.
        Jay moves between us, shoves the creature hard. It smiles down at him and he just glares up in turn. “Leave him alone!”
        The creature smiles, eyes bleeding white, fingers flowing into claws between moments.
        Jay tenses, eyes narrowing. His gaze snaps from the creature to me, then back and forth again before he glares up at me. “Thith ith a trick!”
        “A test.”
        “Becauthe I wath afraid in the mall,” he says.
        “You froze, Jay. We were both hurt because of it,” I say mildly. Behind him, the creature slips into shadows, close enough to the world to hear us.
        Jay draws himself up at that and favours me with a furious glare, fists clenched tight to his side. “I can be brave when I’m not afraid!”
        There are moments when I am not a magician. Few of them, but his righteous fury and words make one and I start laughing, almost doubling over as he continues to glare as hard as he can not seeing anything funny in this at all.
        “That’s a good point,” I say once I can manage speech.
        “You laughed at me.” Jay’s voice is very soft, with an edge I’ve seldom heard. I pause. He isn’t glaring anymore, his face empty of expression.
        “Jay,” I say gently, “you told me you wouldn’t be scared if nothing scary was about.”
        He pauses, mouthing the words he’d said back to himself, then: “Oh,” in a small voice, a flush creeping across his cheeks.
        I reach over and give him a gentle smack upside the head. “Thank you; I needed that.”
        He nods, not understanding why but not wanting to press.
        I leave the creature I called back into the world to the shadows and begin walking back toward the road, Jay falling into step beside me. “Courage is a well, Jay. As is will. We can draw from it, often and deeply, but no well is inexhaustible.”
        “Inex...?” he trails off.
        “Without end. Everything runs out, even will and courage. We can’t draw on those wells forever, not even in the name of duty or love, without rest to replenish them. Sometimes they never do and we’re broken ever after. You weren’t.”
        “Oh! Tho I did good?”
        “You did, and better than expected since you caught what I was doing.”
        He beams at that and half-skips the rest of the way from the park without a worry in the world.

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