The town of Raven’s Bluff boasts neither ravens nor a bluff. The mighty Wagnashi River is actually a creek and the town’s claim to condominiums is a hotel trying to upsell itself. Poorly. Given all that, I didn’t expect the history of the town to have any real weight behind it but it turned out that the creature lurking in the woods was real: all shifting fur and claws, old and maddened with age. I made a door and sent it back home halfway around the world, to one of those areas explorers think they’ve mapped and understood.
The local trapper who got hold of me through the email address Charlie set up for me months ago doesn’t question whether it is gone, just thanks me and offers directions to the nearest pawn shop when I ask. It turns out to be a couple of towns away but it’s not hard to find someone offering me a ride and no questions. I buy a few older handheld computer games and take them back to Raven’s End, the hotel/condo development still renting rooms. For cash. With no questions asked, which is generally how magicians like it.
Jay is sitting on one of the two double beds in the hotel room cross-legged when I enter. He looks to be about ten and human, though is neither of those things as he is from far Outside the universe and bound into my service. He doesn’t look up from his phone when I enter.
“With a game.”
“Yeah. I am achieving entelechy.”
I pause, the bag of games in hand, and close the door carefully behind me before discarding shoes and coat. “And that means?”
“Actuality. My true nature and not my potential one,” he says, fingers dancing at inhuman speeds over the phone.
“You’re getting a high score in a computer game, aren’t you?”
“I might be.”
“I got some older games you might want to play.”
He pauses the phone reluctantly, takes the bag and checks the handheld games over, eyes widening at a few. I arranged to win a small lottery a few days ago when we were short on funds. Jay looks up. “They are nice. Thank you for them.”
He goes back to his phone. I give him until the count of ten and reach out, raising his chin with a finger. “Jay.”
“I am occupied,” he snaps.
“Since when are you occupied and not busy?”
He blinks, then begins blushing a little as the implications sink in. It has been a long time since he tried to avoid speaking esses in front of me. “Occupied meanth very buthy,” he says firmly.
“You could put that game on pause and play these.”
“I thaid I wath buthy!”
“Jay.” I don’t raise my voice, but a hint of power creeps under it. A magician can’t be other than what they are. He flinches back, colour draining from his pale face and whimpers softly, hands gripping his phone tightly. I sit down on the bed beside him and he scoots to the side, trembling as he tries to hide that he is trembling. “You’re scared of me. You’ve been acting scared of me for a few days now and I don’t like that.”
He says nothing, teeth digging into his lower lip. If he was human, he’d ben drawing blood. He’s tough enough to take shotguns to the chest and barely bruise, but that’s physical damage; the bindings between us hum with fear and uneasiness.
“You only try and avoid esses that much when you’re really scared of someone. Like a monster who might eat you. Which means I did something recently, and probably forgot I did that; sometimes magic has to protect a magician from themselves.” No response. “And sometimes that has costs, but they’re not ones I want my friends to pay. Please.”
“You did thomething bad to thome bindingth,” he whispers, because he sees the world in bindings as easily as we see light and hear sound. “Thomething bad, and did worthe than unmake them and it’th all not falling apart and I’m thcared!”
“I know you are. You’ve never been scared of me before, have you?”
Jay shakes his head, not moving.
“Charlie was. I am.” That wins a slow blink. “Being a magician is what I am, Jay. The magic is just part of what I do.” I reach over, resting my hand on his right hand, gently pull it off his phone. “You really think I’d eat you given how you’d taste?”
That wins a surprised giggle. “That’th why I don’t bathe,” he says with a hesitant grin.
“Uh huh.” I raise his right hand slowly toward his face. “I’m not saying to not be afraid of me, Jay. But not this much, if you can. I’m saying I won’t eat you, and I promise that.”
He relaxes abruptly, letting out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding and shoves his right thumb into his mouth to suck on it. That’s new, damage I caused to his nature over a month ago. Until now, he’s only done it under stress. This time it’s from relief. He doesn’t suck on it long before removing it and reaching for the bag of games.
“You won’t eat me even if I beat you in tetrith?” he says warily.
“I’ve never played tetris.”
“Oh.” Jay considers that. “I don’t think I thould be afraid of anyone who hath never even played tetrith,” he says, and begins describing how the game works even as he turns it on. We’re not all right: the bindings that bind him to me and me to him are not even close to all right, and he’s not able – or willing – to talk about whatever I did that fractured them, but he relaxes as he describes the game, has he play, shows me a few tricks and beats every high score I try and set.
As displays of strength go against magicians, it’s not one I consider impressive but it seems to count for him so I don’t protest at all as he insists I keep playing and beats me in every one of the games I bought until he yawns after a good ten hours and falls dead asleep, head resting on my shoulder. I put him into the bed slowly, leaving the games beside it, and half-wonder how he’s going to react when he finds out I’ve never played pacman.