It is a dangerous lie for magicians to think magic is more important than it is. A magician is a wall, a doing, a being – sometimes even a becoming – and it is a terribly easy mistake to think that magic is the world, the secret underpinning on which all depends. Normal people would speak of oil, quickly, and coral reefs if they took more time to think. But sometimes, often more than sometimes, a product is more important than the cause. It only takes a power failure to teach that, for people to realize how much they depend in electricity. How little they understand it. And what happens to the darkness once we remove the light that makes us civilized.
I waken to darkness in a hotel room. Jay is shaking me furiously, saying: “The lightth won’t turn on.”
The hotel was small and cheap, each room barely enough for a doube bed to fit in it. I hadn’t given him a key to my room, but that didn’t stop Jay from breaking in via unbinding the lock. He looks to be ten and is from far Outside the universe. It’s not as uncommon as people think for such creatures to end up in the universe. That’s he bound himself into my service and loves games on his phone is hopefully less common, but given the popularity of cell phones I’m never quite sure.
“It’s a power failure; go back to bed.”
“My phone ithn’t working, honcho.”
I blink a few times, feel the shape of the world around me, wake up enough to wish I wasn’t awake at all. “It’s two in the morning. You should be asleep anyway,” I mumble.
“I wath getting a high thcore,” he says, as if that explains it all. “And my phone died. You can fix it.”
“Go. To. Bed.”
He shakes me again, harder than before. “You thould be up anyway, becauthe the electrithity ith gone and the thity feelth weird.”
It takes me a few seconds to parse what he means, and I’ve travelled with Jay for months. I’m used to his lisp; at least half the time I don’t even notice it anymore. I shake him off, hard, and sit up slowly in the bed. Jay is bouncing from foot to foot nervously, and beyond that is silence. No neon, not even emergency lights in the hallway, and I want to sleep and Jay is shaking me.
I close my eyes. Me. Jay. The bindings between us. My magic. I wrap a binding about it all, since I can make bindings better than any other magic I do. It takes longer than it should, and feels like I’m swimming in treacle, but a moment later my head is clear, sharp. I shake my head gingerly and get out of bed. I sleep clothed; most magicians do.
Jay is not a magician. “Clothing, please. Meet me outside after.”
He nods and dashes across the hotel to his room in a blur; Jay hides his nature terribly well, but anyone looking at him naked would know he’s not human at all. I wait until I hear him rumaging in his bag, sure nothing tried to eat him, and head down the stairs. The man sitting at the reception desk is at it, but barely notices me. The vehicles outside are at a standstill, people moving about in slow, sluggish fashion.
The only light visible is the faint glimmer of the moon, and hints that the outer edges of the city and the suburbs still have power. I wrap a binding about a random woman’s head, watch as she shakes off her torpor, undo the binding after. I call up the magic inside me, a ball of electricity flaring to life in my palm. It vanishes a moment later, but I feel the direction it is being pulled in and begin to walk quickly.
“When did your phone die?” I say to Jay as he comes up beside me.
“Twenty minuteth ago, or tho?” he says. “Not long. I didn’t do thith, did I?”
“Getting a high score in a computer game can’t kill power to a city, Jay.”
“But it wath in a verthion of Flappy Bird that ith really hard.”
I decide it’s safer not to ask what that is. “It wasn’t you. People have elecrcity inside them, and even that has been diminished.” I make another ball, watch it die, cross a road and walk quicker, slipping it and around people as needed. The source turns out to be an office building: a dozen stories of gleaming modern glass and steel with something in the second basement that should not be there at all. The sign outside the building is dead as well, but I make out the word ‘Dynamic’ as part of it before unbinding the door. I call up lightning, and then light, only to have whatever is below absorb both in moments. I don’t dare anything more solid without being noticed.
“You can see in the dark better than humans, yes?”
“Of courthe,” Jay says, and grabs my right hand in my left, leading me down the stairs. I ask about the first basement, which is all office furniture and storage. The second one has a door of solid steel, and two other massive ones behind it.
I press a hand to each, wishing for entrance, and there is a gust of wind as the doors are replaced by air. The steps down are slower, narrow, and Jay stops me once or twice as he pokes the wall in the dark before we keep going; traps of some kind, but he sees their bindings and leads me down to another door, the true entrance to the basement. I can feel power behind it, slow and sleepy and barely awake. This door is not protected as much; I unbind the locks and push it open to behold computers and tables of gleaming technologies I barely known the names of.
The middle of the room is a container of tempered glas in which a figure glows with pale hunger. It is smaller than I figured it would be, currently sluggish from eating so much energy, but that won’t last. It looks like a small rabbit, which is probably important even if I can’t see how yet.
It watches warily, tries to pull energy out of me, hits my power and simply keeps trying, battering at my will like a child.
“You’re not from Outside the universe; just a made thing, created by people with more sense of adventure than of the common world. You will hurt them if you stay here, and I cannot allow that to happen, not like this.” I thread power into my words; it tries to eat even that, not yet enough to understanding my words, perhaps not even their intent.
“Sleep.” I don’t ask, and the tiredness it caused in people feels back into it, sending it somewhere far away, wherever ideas might go when they die. I wait a beat, a second, and then find a woman in a lab coat near the site, and tell her to wake up.
“What were you doing here?”
“Who are you? How did you –.”
“What were you doing here?”
She shudders under the force of the command. “A perpetual motion machine; free energy for the whole world, that was our intent,” and then looks shocked by her own admission.
“An energizer bunny. It was meant to keep going and going –.” I’d laugh, but things progressed too far for that. I reach out, snag her right hand and let her feel the city: the exhaustion, the sleepiness, the drained minds. How far it had gone, how much worse it could have become.
“You will end this project,” I say as I let go. She is gulping in air, looking stunned, trying to find words but power has begun to return to the city that we head upstairs in the chaos that results, easily finding a short cut back to the hotel.
“You might not have woke up,” Jay says as we reach the hotel; I’m amazed he’d managed to keep quiet this far. “I wath playing gameth and felt thingth go weird.”
“Honcho,” he says, not quite pleading.
I shake my head and ruffle his hair gently. “A gift card tomorrow for twenty-five dollars toward new games, okay?”
“Theventy-five,” he says. “I helped you in the dark.”
“Yes, but theventy isn’t a number.”
He sticks his tongue out at that. “Eighty.”
I shake his hand formally on it and he bounces up the stairs and hurries into his room, not quite slamming the door. No doubt to decide what games to buy before morning. I’d tell him to sleep, but I doubt he’s going to even pretend to.