The furniture store is all high-end antiques, with enough alarms and security to make banks reconsider their own security systems. It does not matter to me: I am a magician, the oldest one in all the world, and I walk through a world that feels almost wholly false to my reality. Other magicians are real, and few things realer than that. What magic I hold has long since fallen inside me, become a fulcrum and balance both. I can no longer tell where it ends and I begin: I have not known this for some time. All other magicians spread their magic into the world; I can no longer do this. And yet I persist, for reasons so old even I do not know most of them.
I was the first wandering magician, so very long ago. I am not sure I had a human form then, but that could be fancy more than truth. I pay attention to those who wander even now, trying to see if any others will become what I am. How they will avoid it. If they can do so. The wandering magician of this era has wandered for ten years. I am not sure he can stop, even if he wants to. But he has allies, friends. Companions, which is rare for any magician to acquire. Magic demands much and leaves room for little else in its wake.
He has stepped through a mirror in the store, moved beyond the world and into the places that dwell behind mirrors. Because creatures from Outside the universe that seek entrance to our worlds do not always use simple means, do not always hide in places where it is easy to find them. The mirror he used is unremarkable to look at, but so is the boy who sits cross-legged in front of it sucking on his right thumb.
He is pale and thin, and passes for younger than ten when sucking on his thumb. Even to my eyes, to my magic, to everything I am, he is human. I know he is not, and from far Outside the universe, but Jay hides his nature with a skill that worries even me. Not being noticed by security guards or alarms is a minor thing for him. He sits, studies the mirror, and waits for the magician to return. They are bound together by promises and magic, but I have never seen him sucking his thumb like a small child would. And so I wonder. And so I act.
“Boy.” Jay turns, blinks and stares up at me. If he is surprised at my being here it doesn’t show at all. “I see you are afraid.”
He follows my gesture and starts, pulling his thumb from his mouth and just glares up at me. “Not of you, Mary-Lee,” he snaps, sharp and defiant.
“You think you could stop me from breaking this mirror?”
The boy stands, faster than anything human can move. “He’d thtill return and find me,” he says firmly.
“Because you are bound together, yes. You think it is beyond my power to hide that?”
Jay grins, and the grin is huge and happy. “I can hide any bindingth,” he says proudly. “And he would thtill find me becauthe we are friendth!”
“Such faith, and in a magician at that. And yet your body betrays you.”
The boy just stares at me blankly.
“You were afraid.”
“I’m alwayth afraid,” Jay says, stating it as a simple fact. “And I’m thcared he might be hurt or take a long time to make it back because he hath before and I don’t know how to go help him if he ith hurt and that’th all. Tho you can go away now.”
I pause. The boy – creature – does not move. “You seem more comfortable with your lisp when when last we met.”
He flushes a little but doesn’t move. “And you haven’t changed at all.”
“How clever of you to notice that.”
He just grins proudly, my sarcasm missing him entirely.
“And if I break this mirror?”
Jay’s grin vanishes. “I’d try and thtop you,” he says, and there is nothing not serious in his voice. “And we’d fight and people would notithe me and I don’t want that and you don’t need to to thith. Pleathe?”
I pretend to consider options and his thumb slips back into his mouth. Jay sucks on it nervously, waiting. And there is nothing beyond it but that: a nervous habit, no doubt something the magician has caused.
I reach out and pull his thumb free, the boy flushing bright with shame despite trying not to. “I have no desire to fight a child who sucks their thumb.”
“Tho go away,” he snaps, yanking his hand free and shoving his thumb defiantly back into his mouth.
“The wandering magician did this to you. Damaged you.” Nothing, but the boy goes still a moment. “Do you not wonder what damage may happen next if he draws on your potential again?”
“Yeth, but I trutht him,” Jay says, and there is no faith to his words but hard certainty I am not sure even the magician could break if he wanted to.
“So you do.” And the game seems small next to his desperate bravery, to his willingness to fight me and be noticed no matter what it might cost him. I nod, and turn, and walk away, leaving him to sit back down and wait.
No one has waited for me in a long time. Not in the way the boy waits.