The world doesn’t have secret rulers. Most of the time, I think it’s because no one wants the resulting headaches and paperwork. But it does have vested interests, powers who seek to keep their power and prevent it from being lost. The Power that holds together corporations is a secretary named Maureen, while banks have the Bank, a shadowy organization that exists to fund magicians with money on the condition that magicians do not rock the boat – perhaps meaning theirs or the world entire. A magician can do disturbing and shattering things with magic; if given enough money, they never even think to try most of them.
Most magicians accept the money the banks offer them, with reservations; others, such as I, avoid it. Until this week I hadn’t gone as far as to declare war against the Bank, but Jay had stolen money from an ATM to help someone – he’s not human, from far outside the universe and bound into my service. Which meant the banks came after me, and tried to insist I use the account my father left me. I responded by giving Jay my power, and he used his own talent for binding to take the account and give it to someone else. As far as I was concerned, it solved a problem. As far as they were concerned, it was impossible.
And banks don’t like impossible things unless they are doing it and it involves money. Which is why Jay is checking the email account Charlie set up for me jobs while I’m watching the small cheap lotto tickets I’m buying not win money. A magician is many things, and part of that lets us bend the universe in our favour as we need to. Some other force was bending it back against me. I assume the banks were paying another magician, which is the only reason I haven’t pushed the issue yet.
“Honcho?” Jay says. “You have thix emailth from one perthon wanting a love thpell and willing to pay a lot of money.”
“What’s a lot?” The kid tells me. I take the phone, look at the total, hand it back. “Who and where are they?”
Jay pokes at the screen on his phone. “In thith town, and a ten minute walk away. It’th a trap?”
“I’d like to say yes, but I imagine there are people who would pay ten million dollars for a love spell.” I sip the last of the coffee I’ve been drinking for an hour, consider options. We’re not broke, not yet: I can pay Jay’s cell phone bill for at least two months if he doesn’t buy any new games, and the car Lucas bought me to pay back a favour is running fine. If we just fill it with gas and sleep in it we’ll get by, but somehow I doubt the Bank will sit back and let that happen.
“Make the appointment.”
Jay taps his phone a bit. “We’re to meet her at her houthe in an hour; I thaid you’d be bringing along your familiar,” he says with a huge grin.
I just grin and stand, heading out the door. Jay follows quickly; I’ve told him that what happened with the banks wasn’t his fault, but I had to order him – almost as master to servant – to stop him from continuing to apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, I’d said, and he’d said I didn’t, and I asked what he was and he looked so stricken it took me over five minutes to get him to stuck sucking on his right thumb in fear at that. I’d pointed out the joke had been a mistake, and he was slowly getting around to that.
Jay looks to be ten; he’s not but he hides his true nature with a skill I’ve never encountered before and mostly acts likes any normal kid, even if he’s pale and has a pronounced lisp. I walk slowly and he keeps beside me the whole way, trying not to look worried and failing entirely.
“You wouldn’t be getting into thith trap if not for me,” bursts out of him.
“I know that, kiddo. I asked you to change my account with the bank; I knew there’d be fallout. Consider this me testing what the banks can do. Other magicians are paying attention to this; I can feel presences touch the air, scrying from other cities and towns. Word is getting out: there is only so much the banks can do, and probably less they dare do, or their hold over every magician will be broken once every account shuts down.”
“And that’th worth thith?” he demands.
“They’re making magicians soft, so yes. I think so. I would have done that on my own long ago if I thought I could pull it off. Think of yourself as a tool I’m using, okay? Like a – a game on your phone, and you’re a cheat code I can press?”
That wins a startled giggle. “You know I’m going to tell Charlie I’m a cheat code the next time thhe callth to talk.”
“I’m sure.” I ruffle his hair and he relaxes a little, not even thinking of sucking his thumb. He does it when stressed, thanks to my damaging his nature a while back. He refused to blame me for it; Charlie couldn’t not blame me, so she left to travel on her own. He doesn’t blame me for that either, and has no clue that might hurt at all.
The house we were called to is at the edge of the town, the closest thing they have to a mansion: stone walls, wrought iron fencing, a police car parked inside. Which could complicate: the police are seldom unaware that magic exists, if they’re at all competent at their jobs. Listen to enough stories and you eventually sift some truth out of them.
“Who lives here?”
“Mark Lamproth and hith wife Tabitha. Thhe called becauthe thhe doethn’t want Mark cheating on her anymore and thaid that thhe can pay uth in inthtallmentth,” he says quickly.
I grunt and slow my pace as Jay puts his phone away. A magician is a wall between the universe and what lies Outside; magic is only a part of that, but sometimes a very important one. Will. Need. Desire. I open my senses, and get nothing. A home this valuable would have wards, in the general course of things, even if they were just shadow-energies made by ownership and greed. This place has nothing at all.
Hide, I send to Jay through the bindings between us. He’s gone between one moment and the next; hiding so well the world itself can’t find him. Some day I need to find out where he even goes when he does that, but I shove the thought aside for later. The Bank is made out of some of what makes magicians: need, desire, wishing, will. But greed comes before all other things, in the end. I am a magician, and what I am greedy for is nothing those who desire power could understand.
I draw that truth up about me, throw my senses wide and pull in every hurt the banks have caused, each needless wound and baseless pain ignored by those who think people are numbers, who reduce the world to objects and things. The house remains, solid and seemingly real. A small part of me wants to enter, if only to see how it would try and eat me, but I have responsibilities.
I smile, and thread power into my voice. “I foreclose you,” I whisper, and it’s almost too easy to hurl what people feel about banks into the home and watch it dissipate into nothing in a moment. The police car remains, along with a more mundane house on the lot. I unweave the power before it can affect the real house even as cold metal presses to the back of my head.
“You are welcome to fire, officer, but your home will be repossessed. Definitely by the banks, and probably by some very angry people who haven’t forgiven you for killing them. I like to take re-possession literally when I can.”
“My wife has ten million dollars on our bank account; it wasn’t there last night,” he says, his voice deadly calm. He is a police officer, and he knows the gun will fire: I don’t have time to bend enough magic to break that certainty, so I step sideways to where the bullet isn’t.
“I am a magician,” I say softly, “if we could simply be killed by bullets, there would be far fewer of us in this world. Your wife made a deal with the Bank, and I imagine you made one as well.”
The deputy is a tall, stern man with a military haircut and a second gun drawn swiftly even as I speak.
“I don’t know what you are in debt because of, and frankly I don’t much care either.” I reach out, grab his senses, bind them into mine and let me see the path the bullet he fired will take.
He goes still. His wife is inside, waiting, and there are two walls, and then her. I reach out my will, and push the bullet sideways. It resists, but the deputy doesn’t want his wife to die and that gives me an edge. The deputy stares at his house, then at me, and puts both his guns away. “I was told you wouldn’t be able to avoid both guns.”
I shrug easily; I’m tired, but I’m damned if I’m letting him see it. “I have been a magician for ten yours. You’re hardly the first person to try and kill me.”
He looks away at that. “I –.”
“Go home. Talk to her. Don’t touch their money. A bank that didn’t make a profit wouldn’t be in business.”
He nods and heads down the driveway to his house. I turn and walk away, heading into town again. I made it halfway before I have to sit down and rest; It’s been easily two weeks since I pulled that much power at once. The Bank didn’t expect me to pull this off, but that doesn’t mean they’ll let me walk away without something to show for it. For a moment I almost consider leaving Jay to hide and dealing with it alone, but it wouldn’t be fair to him at all.
Jay appears, looking relieved I’m okay and plopping down beside me. “You puthhed yourthelf too hard!”
“I know. I’m going to need you to find a real job for us. We’re going to need the money before this is through.”
“Before what ith?”
“I don’t know. It depends on what the Bank does next.” I hope my smile doesn’t look as evil as it feels, but Jay shrinks back a little and just nods, offering nothing else.
I stand, walking back to the car. I don’t borrow energy from him, not yet, but I begin making wards for us and the car, drawing up wind and asphalt and wrapping a blanket of wi-fi messages about it all. It won’t stop them, but it will slow them down a little. I don’t think the global economy would collapse if the Bank did, but I have no way of knowing. Which means we need to make sure everyone wins.
I just wish I had some idea how to do that.