We are in Venice two days before Jay finally begins to relax. Every magician in the world goes to Venice at least once and more than a few have found it quite odd that I, as a wandering magician, had never been. It had just never come up. You get busy, and then you get busy with being busy and lose track of things. People can forget their children are in their car as easily as they forget their cell phone at home; a magician can forget to go to Venice.
Venice is a made place, bathed in water and war, dreams and desires. A museum people live in, made human by the liberal applications of graffiti and the wearing away of stone by time. Five magicians live here, all working together to keep the city whole. Which means I’m not needed at all. It’s hard to have a vacation when you are a wandering magician: every place needs you and the magic pulls you to them if chance does not.
The church we end up in is off the main paths. There is another church inside it, a school and vast garden, all worn and running down. If the church has a god, it does not appear to me and I’m entirely content with that. I give Jay a shove to a garden when the children of mundane tourists are playing together under various watchful eyes and just sit and relax. Old stones, the wild smell of ocean, the wonder of tourists as they lose themselves a place that is more than even the myths of it can hold.
I think about far older myths. The Far Reaches are the closest thing the places Outside the universe have to a universe: places as real as the universe itself. But each is actually a being, some vast ancient entity that has survived so long that it has become a power without compare. Their Emissaries claimed I had called them to the subways of New York. They had been used, these faint slivers of ancient power who unmade reality about them just be existing in it, and knowing that was possible is terrifying. I don’t know who, or what, used them. Or even to what end. Or if they weren’t used at all and this is some labyrinthine game played out against a backdrop I can’t begin to grasp.
They recognized Jay as being from Outside the universe. And nothing has done that before. He’s bound into my service, and sometimes he can hide what he is from me, which is all kinds of disturbing. He spent the better part of a day and the plane trip to Venice crowding as close to me as he could and sucking on his thumb for comfort. He’s a little better now, but still far from healed.
I catch anger through the bindings between us as Jay storms over from the garden and open my eyes as he thumps down beside me with a scowl worthy of any human ten year old kid that ever was.
“They made fun of my lithp,” he says.
“And that surprises you?”
“Yeth.” He crosses his arms when I glance over at him. “It’th a very good lithp!”
I stare at him. He waits a beat, and then breaks into a huge grin and presses against me, head reading on my shoulder. “You know you’re just making it easier for me to slap you.”
He giggles at that and relaxes a little more. “They were, and it – it wath like the Emitharieth,” he says, his lisp thick as he forces himself to say the word.
“I don’t see how children qualify as that,” I say dryly. “At least not directly.”
“They thaw me,” he says softly. “Not me, but – but I’m good at hiding and it’th hard to hide being me when all I have to do ith thpeak and people can go: ‘Oh, that’th Jay!’ and it hurtth that it’th tho eathy for them to do that.”
“And yet you still hide what you are.” I ruffle his hair gently. “This isn’t exactly the first time other kids have made fun of you, Jay.”
“But I didn’t want them to!” He pulls away a little, twisting to stare up at me. “They kept making fun of how I thpeak even when I thtarted thucking on my thumb and they thould have made fun of that!”
“I think you lost me a little there.”
“It doethn’t make any thenthe,” he grumbles, making a face at having to try and say that word.
“And you thought it would be better if other kids made fun of you for sucking your thumb?”
“Of courthe! I can thtop doing that.” I say nothing. “When I want to.” I just raise an eyebrow. “Thometimes.”
“Jay. You’ve been in the universe for a year now. You know me and Charlie and you’ve met a lot of people. It can’t have escaped you that most people don’t make sense at the best of times.”
“I know that, honcho. But there ith making then – that word, and then the none verthion of it. None and it,” he adds.
“You mean nonsense?”
“Yup! It’th really hard to thay.”
“Nonesense is also a very human thing. For example, comparing children complaining about your lisp to the Lords of the Far Reaches is definitely nonsense.” Jay raises his chin at that, saying nothing. “It’s not a bad thing, kiddo. It’s far better to see the world as full of nonsense than full of monsters who don’t like humanity existing. Like: planes don’t run down a runway. Why call it a fire door if all you are going to do is lock the fire out? If everything made sense, there would be no magic in the world at all. And sometimes the price of that is that we get hurt, or can’t hide as well as we should, but there are prices that are always worth paying.”
Jay scratches his head. “But they hurt me,” he whispers, and I know he’s not talking about the children at all, if he ever really was.
“Sometimes, Jay, just sometimes, being hurt can make us stronger.”
“It doeth?” he says suspiciously.
“No. But it’s a thing people say: sense and nonsense both help us make sense of the world and each other. What doesn’t kill us just doesn’t kill us. But it also means it’s maybe less likely to kill us the next time we run into it. We know what the Emissaries can do now; we didn’t before. That gives us an edge, as long as you don’t try and call them Emissaries.”
Jay sticks his tongue out at me for that. “I knew it; thith trip ith entirely about you!”
“It is, huh?”
“Of courthe! Otherwithe you wouldn’t have picked a thity I have to lithp to say.”
“Uh huh.” I stand and he follows suit, still looking quite proud of the poor joke. “We will have to leave soon: it’s closing in on Halloween and they’ll need all the magicians they can back in North America. When we return, you can call Charlie and tell her all about nonsense and sense.”
“I’ll use different wordth,” he says firmly.
“Even when you tell her about the hamburgers you liked yesterday?”
Jay rubs his stomach at the momory. “Are we going back for more?”
“We’ll have them if you say the sauce that was on them.” I pause a beat. “It’s worcestershire sauce.”
Jay tries to mouth the word a few times, gives up and glares at me. “That’th meaner than nonthenthe ith!”
“And got you to say it.”
He crosses his arms and says nothing at all for a good ten minutes, trying to say the word under his breath. We eat burgers after he manages to say the words on his sixth try aloud and he’s so proud of himself he sleeps in a separate bed that night for the first time since we left, not even drawing on the bindings between us for strength.
It almost makes up for him sing the words sense and nonsense every time he can the next day.