Derek Yakinov is a tall, jowly man with cool eyes and a grim expression. That he doesn’t want me here is a given, but the quarry we are in is empty save for him and a handful of jumpy construction workers: everyone else has been quitting, calling in sick or off from various accidents.
“My wife emailed you,” he says, as if it’s obvious his wife would believe in a magician with a webpage rather than he. “I’ve lost two-thirds of my workforce in two weeks. No one knows why. I had a priest in last week; he was about as useless as pissing into the wind, so don’t expect to get paid until I see some results.”
“Of course not.” I smile kindly; he doesn’t so much as twitch. I turn in a slow circle, taking in the quarry. Nothing jumps out: no echo of a curse, no hate directed at the site that could manifest as a psychic wound – which is a lot less common than new age books claim – no hint of someone with a minor talent shoving magic at this place. And yet everyone is jumpy, scared, eyes darting frantically into shadows.
“Well? Think it’s an ancient Indian burial ground?” he says.
I raise my estimation of him a couple of notches and grin. “I actually ran into that once in Canada. I had to make up a story as the client refused to believe the truth. As for here: not sure yet. The workers know the priest was here?”
“Huh. That should have had an effect, or at least left a mark.” I turn again, letting my senses expand further. Nothing. Even the fear of the men is leaving nothing I can sense, which means someone – or thing – is masking itself, and masking that masking as well. Which means nothing good at all. I walk about the property. There is nothing in this place to make decent wards with, so I use my own energy to weave basic wards and protections against harm both real and imagined.
The other workers have all left by the time I am finished; only Derek remains, waiting and watching. I’m almost positive he’s not involved, but I’m not certain. He scowls as I walk back.
“The priest did more.”
“I imagine so. Jay.”
Jay steps into the world and out of hiding; he looks to be a kid of about ten, small and pale, but he’s not human at all and from far Outside the universe. He can hide better than anything I’ve ever seen, he’s tough and bound into my service and sees the world as bindings to an extent I cannot manage and I’m very good at bindings.
Derek jumps, eyes wide in shock.
Jay gnaws on his lower lip for a few seconds. “It’th thomething from Outthide, but it ith hiding real good,” he says, his lisp even more thick and pronounced than usual.
There are six trucks still on the lot and two bobcats. One of the bobcats roars to life and guns across the gravel in moments, driving over Jay even as I shove the client aside.
I reach out: wind, will, anger. I grab the bobcat with that and hurl it through the air into the other one with a gesture as Jay scrambles to his feet. He’s a little bruised but tough, like I said. And made himself a target.
“What?” Derek says, eyes wild.
“Magic. You asked for a magician, you get one. This time,” I say, holding his gaze and threading power into the words. Enough to numb the shock, and bind him against harm if he does turn out to be involved in this.
Jay is beside me in an inhuman blur and grins. “I drew the Outthider out!”
“Believe it or not, I did notice.”
He sticks his tongue out at that.
The bobcats have righted themselves, space twisting to accommodate them, all eight vehicles hurling toward us. I can hear horns and diesel I the distance, feel the earth rumble a little underfoot.
“Derek. How many vehicles are at this quarry every day?”
“And you got a good deal on renting them, yes?”
“Fantastic. Jay, over to the left. Say nothing.”
He nods, and moves. We wait, and all six trucks barrel toward Jay. I drop the wards and two veer toward me: they hid me, it seems, but at least I know Jay isn’t their primary target. I throw the warding up over Derek, gather wind from outside the quarry and drag it in. It takes time I don’t have; one of the trucks strikes hard. My personal wards buckle but hold; I’m flung back and roll with it, using the wind as cushion and weapon; both trucks veering at me hit a ramp of wind and hurl through the air like a cheap movie special effect.
“Honcho!” Jay is beside me in moments, eyes wide and scared.
“I’m fine. Up for drawing the Outsider out?”
“Huh?” The kid just stares up at me in confusion.
“It is an Outsider, yes?”
“Yeth? But I think the vehicleth are the Outthider?”
I blink. “You’re seriously suggesting that something entered the universe from Outside, had power enough to choose its own form entirely and became a fleet of construction vehicles?”
Jay nods. “Maybe they really liked the tranthformerth?”
I rub the bridge of my nose as two of the trucks barrel down on us and hold out my hand. “Hold.”
Both vehicles shudder to a halt at the force of the command.
“I am the wandering magician.”
The trucks cease straining against the command, engines a low growl.
“I am very good at binding and banishing Outsiders. I am going to assume you know this, and that I could banish you. I would prefer to know why you are here and to what end.”
The other vehicles have arrived, circling the quarry with lights trained on us.
One of the trucks moves forward, speakers crackling. The voice that comes out is a high, flat whistle. “Another magician found me, and said we would be spared banishment if you were destroyed.”
“And do you/we believe that?”
Silence answers that.
“Right. Why are you here?”
“If we are to be in this universe, I thought it would be best to be helpful.”
“So you became a fleet of construction vehicles.” It sounds no less silly this time around, but I guess I should be really happy if never occurred to the entity to become bacteria. “You were harming people to draw me out.”
The word is soft, bitter. I pull on that, find the binding within it and unmake it. “You don’t need to now.”
A few horns go off. I assume this is a cheer.
I unwrap the last of the binding around Derek, pulling energy back into myself. Collapsing would be a bad idea at this point. “Your move. Do you want to keep a fleet of aware vehicles?”
He opens his mouth, closes it, then just nods, looking numb. I don’t try bindings to help or hinder this, just leave it for him to process as he can. He doesn’t attempt anything against me or command the vehicles in a voice of power, all of which is something of a relief that my instincts about him were at least correct.
“If you’re asked: we warded you to a standstill and got away. Which we’ve done, though with words instead. Deal?”
“A deal,” the entity says.
I nod, and Derek pulls money from his wallet and hands it over. I take it before Jay can snag it, since we need money for more things than his cell phone, thank him for the education and the experience and leave. The vehicles let us depart in silence.
“Honcho?” Jay says after a couple of minutes; we’d not quite at our car yet. I’m too tired to walk fast right now. “You’re being really quiet.”
“Just wondering how many other Outsiders have entered the universe and done things like that. It’s not a comforting thought.”
“But it wath being helpful,” he protests.
“I know. But it isn’t human. You’re not human, Jay. You see the world differently than we do, and it’s not a bad thing – not always – but it does mean what an Outsider thinks is being helpful won’t always be that.”
“But you didn’t bind it.”
“I am tired, Jay.”
Jay snorts at that. “You’d do it anyway if you thought they were a threat to the univerthe, honcho.”
“A good point.” He grins hugely at that. “Sometimes we need to trust, even if we shouldn’t. Perhaps especially if we shouldn’t.” I pull out a couple of twenties from the money Derek gave me. “Here.”
Jay’s eyes narrow to slits. “That’th not fair at all.”
“I know. You could buy games for your phone.”
“I can’t now,” he mutters, and stomps his way to the car. “Maybe uth Outthiderth hate humanth becauthe you’re all really mean!”
I start laughing at that, and he turns and glares, then collapses into laughter as well.
“One twenty on games, okay?” I say as I get into the car.
He plops down into the passenger seat and nods firmly, poking at his phone as I drive toward the highway. And some small part of me wonders if there was a truth under those words, and to what extent the bindings and banishings of magicians have engendered hate.
I turn on the radio and try to drown my thoughts in music.
It doesn’t work.