There are things every magician knows, if they know anything at all: what lies Outside the universe, what might desire to be inside and how few and fragile our protections are against such things. And that we are a wall between such things in the world, and that this is what magic is for. Everything else we do in the world, be it need or desire or justice, is only passing time until we’re needed to bind and to banish, to close Ways others have opened.
There are days when it doesn’t feel like that at all.
There are lies everyone tells themselves, even magicians. Bigfoot are harmless was one, to me, until one of them embarked on a week-long killing spree in state parks. Bigfoot are loners unless it is mating season, each claiming a wood as their own and supplying companies and people with drugs they make. This one had experimented on himself and went crazy-mad, cunning-mad, killing campers and at least one other Bigfoot in the week it took us to find it. I executed it.
It is why I am lying in a bed of a small cottage near Yellowstone, wide awake at five in the morning. The cottage allowed Jay and I to stay in it as guests; he crashed in the other guest bedroom without even taking his clothing off; the bindings between us allowed me to draw on his strength for the week.
He never protested once – it wouldn’t have even occurred to him to do so – but he was so tired after the execution that I carried him all the way to the cottage. He should be sleeping; instead I hear him in the bathroom blowing his nose.
I move the covers off the bed and head down the hallway to the sound of Jay blowing his nose again. He looks to be about ten years old, even to magicians, but is something from Outside the universe who bound himself into my service. It hasn’t been easy, nor always safe, but he insists it is far better than returning home and being eaten by creatures far more powerful than he is.
“Jay?” I say his name softly and he turns, looking up. There are dark circles under puffy eyes and he looks miserable.
“I’m thick,” he says, and grabs another kleenex, blowing his nose again. “I’m leaking lotth.”
His lisp is thicker than it usually is, exhaustion radiating through the binding between us. Every part of his body is an ache he doesn’t know what to do with. I grab the tissue paper and his left hand, pulling him into the living room and onto the couch. It doesn’t take long to find a blanket; I wrap it about him and sit beside him, turning the TV on to morning cartoons.
Jay lets out a huge sigh and rests his head on my arm, sniffling and whimpering a little.
He’s tough enough to take bullets to the chest and get back up with only bruising to show for it; that he’s drained enough to catch the flu is more than worrying.
“You should have told me to stop using you,” I say softly. “You know I forget things when I’m focused.”
“You’re my mathter,” he says, as if that made it all okay.
“A master doesn’t treat a servant like a slave,” I say, and Jay squirms a little at the words. “If you’re going to call me master, I might insist you call yourself servant.”
He lets out a weak giggle at that. “That would be thilly. Honcho.”
“That’s better.” I wrap my right arm around his shoulders and he lets out another sigh and presses
against my body. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah.” He lets out a huge yawn that turns into an explosive sneeze and yelps in shock after.
“That’s a sneeze,” I say, failing to fight back a grin. “People have those, you know.”
“I’m not people,” he says indignantly. “That thcared me!”
“I know.” I squeeze my arm a bit tighter. “We’re safe here. It’s okay.”
Jay opens his mouth to protest, lets out another huge yawn and then falls dead asleep between moments, head resting on my shoulder. I wait until I know he’s asleep, and bind all my own exhaustion to him in order to make sure. He sinks into something closer to a dreamless coma as I stand slowly. I test each binding between the both of us gently, and then whisper words of command that make my throat ache. Jay’s body shudders, but other things become visible for a moment: deeper bindings, of his body to itself, the past to the present and the future into all of that. I don’t have names for most of what I see, and even most of that slips out of my understanding as I let the magic slip away, taking in deep breaths after to clear my head.
I retain enough to know he shouldn’t have got sick and let the rest slip away: knowing the future of anyone is a burden even a magician does not willingly bear, and he has so few ahead of him, each reaching hungry tendrils into the present. The cottage sleeps around us and I pull out all the exhaustion from the both of us and place it deep into the building, a ward and protection against the harm of time.
Jay yawns sleepily when I shake him. “Honcho?”
“Okay. I need your talent.”
He blinks at that, eyes wide. For a moment I think he might say no, then he just offers up a small nod.
“You won’t keep it, will you?”
“No,” I say after I find my voice. “I just need to borrow it.”
Just that, and I can see the bindings that make up the world as easily as anything else. A magician
sees magic everywhere: Jay sees bindings, and now to unbind them as well though he hasn’t power enough to do much of that yet. I ignore the power and fall deep into the bindings that make up the world. The universe isn’t a binding, but there are so many holding the parts of it together, warps and wefts, magics and wills and other things I can barely sense at all.
I’m only borrow what Jay is, but it’s enough to feel an ache, a bruise, a sense of something other manifesting. Not yet, but soon, a boil on the skin of the world. Something is coming from far outside the universe, the mere potential causing wounds. I don’t attempt to fix the wound: I’m not near powerful enough a healer. I mark it for others to notice, let go of Jay and stare out at a world that seems smaller and safer than it ever did before.
“Honcho?” he says in a small voice.
“Y-yeah. There’th...” Jay trails off. “What ith it?”
“I don’t know,” I lie, and he trusts me because he always has. Jay sneezes a little, accepts another tissue, and curls up beside me to fall asleep again.
There are things outside the universe powerful enough to enter it thrugh every ward and protection; I know them only as stories. Even Jay would know of the Lords of the Far Reaches, powers so terrible that death and time have little meaning to them any longer. And if one of them is ever to seek us for any reason....
I wrap my arms around Jay, weave healing into him and wonder if he is sometimes as scared of me as I may someday be scared of him.