Most large cities are claimed by a magician. This is not common knowledge; in many cases, it is not even knowledge. The magician wakens to their nature and they become the city and the city becomes them: it is old power, this binding, but it also limits how far they travel, and when they can do so. Magicians in small towns can be more dangerous affairs: with so few people a magician can overstep boundaries between themselves and others, force their will upon the world for one reason or another. That it always goes badly stops no one from trying, magician or otherwise.
I avoid cities because other magicians don’t like the fact that I wander. Of late I’ve been avoiding small towns. Two thousand people died because I was in a town. So it is large towns without magicians, and walking in them. Letting the magic out to fix small things. Broken paving stones. Alternators in cars. Tension building inside homes toward breaking points. I have left Jay in a hotel room playing video games. I need to walk. To think. To find ways to ease my conscience other than drinking until I sleep. Jay hates it when I go that far, and is getting more and more vocal about it. Two months ago he would have never dared yell at me, because he is from Outside the universe, bound into my service, and I could undo the bindings and banish him to places where he would be eaten and destroyed in moments. He’s growing, in small ways, in little things he doesn’t even notice.
I don’t think I am. So I walk, and work the small miracles of magic in the world, my presence enough to shore up the walls between the universe and the things that wait hungrily Outside. This is what magicians are; magic is merely a thing we do. I walk and remind myself of things I have always known. Two thousand people died in a town because I was in it; it was not my fault. I had no idea the foe I was facing could throw an entire town outside the Universe, or would do so just to make a point.
But one is not a magician if one tries to escape responsibility. And I am less in all ways if I think there is any redemption possible on this side of the grave, or even beyond that. Forgiveness, perhaps, but not redemption.
I am lost in thought, and almost don’t notice the mugger until he is right behind me, his steps mirroring mine, a crowbar held easily in one hand: the ease of a man who has done this many times before. A small part of me wonders if a few hits of a crowbar could knock sense into me, the rest of me just walks, not altering my pace at all. Will, need, desire: this is all magic is, the shaping of the world. I prepare to slip aside from the blow, in ways I learned how to long before I learned magic, when the mugger pauses, half-turns, and then is on the ground, doubled over in agony.
I turn at that, half-expecting Jay to have followed me, and find a girl standing over the mugger. She can’t be more than eight, with dark hair in pigtails and a brown dress on, the kind that can easily hide blood stains. The would-be mugger is perhaps my age, with hair already balding, eyes filled with nothing but the ugly demons driving him. Not drugs. Family. His girlfriend. All of them wanting him to be something more without being that themselves. The girl picks up the crowbar, but kicks him in the head instead until he is unconscious.
The smile she offers me is teeth too sharp to be human and eyes glowing red. “Crowbar?” she offers.
The creature shrugs easily, the glow vanishing a moment later. “Tradition. I like to leave people like this with nightmares. Anyone dumb enough to mug a magician deserves at least a few nightmares.”
She isn’t from Outside the universe. Neither is she human, but most things in the world are not human. I have had dealings with her kind in one form or another a few times: justice-bringers, entities shaped of desire into will. Every injustice in the world cries out for justice, and sometimes forms a power like her: death to those who harm others, a judgement without mercy. The last one I met was a cat taking justice out on people who didn’t spay and neuter animals by neutering them. Need creates, and not always in ways people easily understand.
The world doesn’t operate according to logic. Really know that, and one is halfway to being a magician already. Neither is it is emotions, but the deeper wildness underneath that. Desire creates and destroys, and is more terrible than most humans ever know. “You have a name?”
“Mary Sue. It’s a joke,” she adds when I don’t laugh.
“I would think one such as yourself would not have a name that is a joke.”
Mary shrugs. “It helps keep me from – mistakes.” Like meting out justice on the wrong person, which would destroy her utterly. It happens. They are made of unconscious magics and magic – conscious or otherwise – is not perfect. If it was, someone once told me, the record of history would be that of benevolent gods.
She nods, rifles into the man’s pockets, finds nothing useful and just bends the crowbar into a pretzel shape and drops it beside him as she falls into step beside me. “You almost let him hit you.”
“Not almost.” I don’t look over; she keeps up with my pace without trying.
“You are a magician. Almost can be close enough to the truth,” she snaps. “You don’t get to do that, to hide in pain from the world. To be selfish.”
“I don’t,” I say, and it is almost a question as I stop.
Mary doesn’t back off, though she wants to. She is stray need and desire bound into a form; I could unmake her easily enough if I had to. “You can’t afford to,” she says softly. “As I can’t afford to be kind to those who hurt others.”
“You let the mugger live.”
“Because he won’t mug anyone again.” Her smile is sharp and hard. “And because letting him live is crueler than killing him would be. You are a magician: your nature does not imprison you like mine does, but it doesn’t allow for – for freedom to mope. You think a magician can’t lose their magic by doing that?”
I pause. I consider all I have been thinking about desires and needs, and nod slowly to her. “You are right. I am not free to ... indulge.” It seems wrong to put it like that, but it is not far from the truth. “There is a point where all grief becomes indulgence. I am not at that point yet.”
“No. But you are alone when you should not be. Justice is alone, in all things. Magicians should not be,” Mary says quietly. “Your grief is selfish if you think you are the only one that hurts and that no other has tasted pain as deep or worse.”
I smile at that, and bow low to her. “Those whose desires made you were wiser than they knew.”
She blushes at that, though few save a magician would notice.
I offer no thanks, because justice is devalued by such things, and leave the park. I find a pizza place en route and by two large pizzas, knowing Jay will eat most of them. We will talk and we will see what comes of it all. More than that even a magician cannot expect.