In every large city in the world there lives a magician who has claimed and been claimed by it: the city is their place of power, and where each ends and the other begins is not an easy distinction to make. They are the magicians of stories and legend, who would raise up towers in a night or prison demons with a single wave of their hands. In the modern world, their methods tend to be subtler, quiet but no less terrible for it. Every city is a river of power and potentials, and the magician is the one who dams and shapes such flows.
I do not travel to such cities lightly, but spending a month healing the ravages to a small town require a break from small towns, so I take Jay to the city of New Hexton, and a passing businessman with hunted eyes hands me a pile of fresh bills in exchange for the promise of a few nights of true sleep. Most people do not believe in magic, which is always safer. But desperation can make a believer of anyone, allow them to see a glimpse of other things.
I give Jay the money and leave him to wander a mall the size of some entire villages. His hug is huge, and his grin even huger. “Thankth,” he says, and bounds off into the mall alone. He looks to be ten, but is not ten, and from far Outside the universe besides. We have become bound to each other by bindings of friendship and loyalty. I don’t worry for him. Much. I walk away from the mall, wandering off the bright streets onto the ones tourists never see.
“I have imprisoned many demons below this city.” Her voice is soft behind me, when she finds me, all steel wrapped in kindness, or perhaps the other way around. “You are the Wandering Magician, the only one of us not bound to one place.”
“The only one I know of, yes.” I offer up my name, then, and turn to face her.
She is perhaps thirty, a few years older than I, though she carries her years with more grace than I ever have and her eyes are a shocking green as magic dances in them. I have put a lot of effort into being unnoticed; it seems she went the other way entirely. “My surname is Wu, and my personal name is Ming and I am not certain you are worthy know either.”
“Perhaps not.” I don’t move, hands casually in my pockets.
“You stripped another magician of their power recently, Wandering One. Without duel or consent. We would know how this was done.”
“And if I ask who this ‘we’ are?”
“I would not tell you. But the demons I have imprisoned can be called forth, cast loose to force answers from you, to batter down walls and barriers if you will not speak.”
“And the world has so many true magicians it can afford to lose one?” I smile, and she hesitates at whatever she sees behind it.
“You think you would defeat me. In my city.”
“I think your jealousy will unmake you and that the demons you dare to cast free will consume you before anything else. That is what I think. And I think you have not been a magician long, or you would know I count banishment among my truest talents, and binding very close to that,” I say softly.”
She raises a hand, and what comes forth from the air under the city is sickly sweet, smelling of ripened flesh and the cold that lurks behind the stars. It does not belong in this universe, imprisoned or not.
I smile, and then wave to it. It sees me and is simply gone a moment later, unmaking all ties holding it to the universe. Even I didn’t expect the Entity to run away quite that fast, but I try not to let it show. She calls up another, and it is made of the light of newborn stars and the songs of migrating galaxies. And it sees me. And is gone, unable to touch me.
Jay keeps saying that Something is coming, even if he calls it thomething. Whatever is in his dreams is enough to scare other creatures from Outside away from me, from whatever might be coming. Wu Ming has no way of knowing this and is staring at me wide-eyed, not even trying to hide her shock.
“I wander,” I say as gently as my nature allows, “and that means all places are my place of power, when and where I choose.” I reach out, and touch the city, soothing the wounds calling up such things caused, and the other magician draws back in deeper shock, shaken to her core. It is no lie, though I doubt I could match her strength for strength here no matter what I did. But it is a very poor magician that enters into such battles if they can avoid it.
I bow, turn, and walk away. She does not follow. I bury my disquiet deeply, enough that Jay doesn’t sense it when I return to the mall. Or if he does, he hides it well. He bought food, and a table, and a new phone and hands me a small handful of change after, looking worried.
“You didn’t spend this much on that, did you?”
Jay shakes his head, licking his lips. “I thaw people who needed the money to fix bindingth broken in their liveth,” he mumbles. “Tho I gave them it? If that’th okay?”
“I guess it is,” I say, keeping my voice as stern as I can, “but in that case I should probably give your tablet away to someone who needs it?”
He just grins at that and sticks his tongue out at me.I give him a light smack upside the head and head to the bus station, saying we’re going to head east for a little and grab supper later. He just nods and follows, not asking any questions at all. I could ask about his dreams, if they are getting worse. I don’t, and even I am not sure how much of my silence is cowardice.