No one has tried to kill me in two weeks. For a wandering magician, this probably counts as a kind of record. I don’t ask many magicians about theirs; they often just stare as if the idea of needing to keep track of such things is absurd. And it probably is, up until you start to wonder at silence and something big and nasty break into the universe and kills you before you can banish it. Or a lot of small things happen at once, which is often worse. I’m a magician. I’m good at binding and banishing creatures from Outside the universe. I do other things, but that is my deepest talent.
It is all I’ve had to do in two weeks, and I’m almost bored. I’m wandering towns that aren’t small or large, shoring up places in the world, helping people with the small miracles that magic provides. I fix places more than people, often because it’s far less complicated to deal with rot in a building than the kind that grows inside people. But I am known, among people who know about magicians. I have some awful things in my time. I’ve had awful things done to me. I have friends. I have enemies. What I don’t have is usually boring.
The hotel rooom Jay and I are staying in is a bit higher-end. Two bedrooms and a living room with a couch and flat-screen TV. Jay looks to be a pale, human kid of about ten. He’s none of that, and from far Outside the universe. Entering the universe damaged him; he bound himself to me to survive. I’ve damaged him further since. He doesn’t blame me. Most days, I think he doesn’t know how much the lack of blame hurts. Right now he’s sitting at the far end of the couch playing a game on his phone and muttering insults about the hotel wifi.
He pauses his game and looks over at me. “Yeth.” I wait. He begins sucking on his right thumb without noticing. The lisp is the damage from when he entered the universe; the latter is the damage I caused to him, calling on what he might become in the future. I saved a town. I lost a friend. Jay remained. He normally just sucks on his thumb when stressed, more scared than usual or lately just to confuse unsuspecting creatures who think he is human. Jay can hide his true nature better than anything else I’ve ran into, but I know him. His eyes are a bit too wide, chin raised as if expecting me to disbelief, or ready for a fight if I do.
“Okay. Just seems quiet.” He flinches a little, almost hiding it, notices his thumb and pulls it out, playing the game with a blur of fingers moving faster than humans can. He’s faster than humans, and far tougher. He can bind, and sees the world in bindings, and that’s mostly Jay except when it’s not.
“I’m going to get coffee,” I say and he just nods and plays his game, focusing on it so he doesn’t suck his thumb. I wrap magic into the door as I walk through it, need and desire meeting will in a soft whisper of energy. I take the stairs, because I don’t trust elevators. I reach out with magic, let the world reach into me. Expand senses, walk slow, drift. I slip out of the hotel and down two streets, hiding in the cracks between perceptions, the spaces between will and action, between desire and regret.
I don’t have to wait long before Jay comes out, his eyes scanning rooftops. He is gone in a moment, a blur too fast for humans to easily follow. I hear a gunshot anyway, feel him work a small unbinding laced with needle-sharp fury. Jay isn’t human. When he is angry, it is so focused it leaves room for nothing else. He’s on another rooftop a moment later; two lines of fire, four snipers. All dead before I have time to notice what he’s done. The warding that slams into place covers a dozen city blocks: the top floors of every building and the rooftops above them, a binding circle made by someone with a small magical talent: enough to work one kind of magic, not enough to be a magician.
Jay’s fear almost doesn’t hit me. He’s trying not to bind or unbind, not wanting me to know what he is doing. The talent is a person I don’t know. Tall, thin, young and male,reeking of hunger and cheep cigarettes as he closes the binding tight and walks across a rooftop to Jay. jay is powerful in his own small way, but he is an Outsider, and that is what magicians bind. He attempts to unbind the ward, and almost manages it before the talent closes it even tighter, elicting a whimper from Jay.
I pull the air around me, ask gravity to ignore me and walk up, wrapped in my own ward made of the indifference to the homeless and the eyes people turn away from pain. Neither the Talent nor Jay notice me, mostly because Jay is in such shock he doesn’t sense me at all.
“My name is unimportant,” the talent says, his voice a croaked whisper. He reeks of cheap drinks and cheaper food, the kind of person so consumed with his small magic he can’t see anything larger, or even how it is consuming him. Love gets like that sometimes. “You have killed many agents of the Black Chamber, creature. We have decided to deal with you.”
“I’m not going to let you hurt Honcho!”
“Whatever the magician bound you with –.”
“It’th not that at all! He’th my friend,” Jay spits out. “Do you people even know what thothe are?”
“We know our duty, and it is to protect the world from monsters.” The talent smiles, and tightens the ward. Jay whimpers, his will spasming wildly outward into the ward, attempting to unmake it. He is terrified of being cast back Outside, of being eaten by things far more terrible than anything Jay could ever be.
The talent is good. He’s more than good, holding the ward together through two cigarettes until Jay is panting with exhaustion.
“Nothing personal: the Chamber hired me to dispose of you.” He snaps his fingers. The binding circle closes tight and Jay screams in terror like any child ever would.
“Enough.” I don’t thread power into my voice. I don’t need to. They both spin. Jay is almost curled up, wondering why he is even in the universe, and the talent is attempting to make a new binding circle. “Jay is protected against being banished. If you didn’t notice that, talent, there isn’t much I can do for you.”
The talent blinks, undoes his warding entirely and steps back. “I think there is too much you can do, and I’d rather you didn’t,” he says, but doesn’t beg.
“Go. The Black Chamber’s charter is to destroy breeding pairs of monsters. Nothing more. Tell me that if they bother me again, I will remind them of that fact if I need to bind the entire organization.”
He bolts to the fire escape and runs down it as I walk over to Jay. Jay has unculed from a crouch and is staring wide-eyes, tears streaking down his face. I pull his thumb out of his mouth gently.
“I think it is time we talked. How long as the Black Chamber been trying to kill me?”
“Thith time?” he asks, pulling a grin from somewhere.
“Thince we left Raven’s Bluff; three days after? I don’t know why. They had gunth, and you can die and I you were dealing with enough tho I dealth with thith.”
“By being a target.”
“Yeth!” he shoves his thumb back into his mouth and sucks on it frantically.
I pause. Step back. “You hide, Jay. That is what you are. And you let the Black Chamber find you. Risked being Banished entirely.” He trembles violently and says nothing to that. “All because I was shaken up over the deaths at Raven’s Bluff?”
“Yeth. I –.” He licks his lips. “You were hurt inthide, Honcho, and I didn’t know how to fix that at all but I could fix a problem tho you had time to fix yourself and I think it went a bit far but I was dethparate and you were getting better and I meant to tell you but I didn’t want you getting mad at them becauthe when you hurt otherth you hurt yourthelf as well and you pretend you don’t and it doethn’t help at all!”
I take a few seconds to parse that, then walk over to the edge of the rooftop and sit, gesturing for Jay. He sits beside me nervously.
“Hey.” He looks over. I reach around him with my right arm, pulling his thumb from his mouth gently, and then stick my own thumb in.
Jay yelps at that, eyes wide.
“It’s okay,” I say before he can move away. “It is, Jay.”
He blinks, then sucks on my thumb slowly, relaxing and slumping gently against my shoulder as he continues. Using me to unbind his fear. Using my trust in him to relax. He’s crying, but it’s good tears this time when he finally pulls free, wipes off my thumb gently. “Honcho?”
“You really protected me against being banithhed?”
“Even by me, yes. You were so scared of it, it’s the only thing I could think to do.” I ruffle his hair gently and stand. “I’m glad I did it. I’m not glad you felt you had to go this far alone to protect me.”
He stands as well, looking stricken. “I –.”
“Next time: tell me. No matter what. Please.”
“I’m saying please. As a friend. And because I don’t want to have to try and bind you to truth after you hid all this from me.” I smile as he flinches, giving him a slight shove as I head for the fire escape. “You hid it well. I’m proud you did that, even if I never want to see you do it again.”
“But if I can hide it, you wouldn’t thee it?”
“It’s a human thing. Okay?”
He nods, and walks down the fire escape after me, keeping close. “I’m not going to apologize for thaving your life a lot!”
“I wouldn’t expect you to.”
“I am going to thank you anyway.”
“With video gameth?” he says hopefully.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Honcho,” he whines.
“It could be a new haircut. Or shoes. Or even your own credit card.”
Jay almost walks into a telepohone pole at that, and it takes everything I have not to laugh as we continue to walk back to the hotel. He’s been killing people to protect me because – because I screwed up. Again. I shove it all aside to process later and begin to make up other gifts I could give him as he protests at every single one, trying not to grin as my suggestions get more absurd.
We heal in different ways, but friendship is always a healing.