The Academy is a poor name for college, college a poor name for the six-room affair that occupies the third floor of a cheap building in the business district. The first floor is lawyers, the second two competing dental practices. That alone would tell some people something was off: instinct is enough that few humans venture to the third floor and not a one wonders what the fourth floor is for. For those who can see clearly, it is The Deep Academy, part of a series of schools designed to help creatures from Outside the universe fit into the human world. It doesn’t look like much from the outside or the inside, but neither do I.
The elevator is out of order, according to a sign that possibly predates the actual building. I take the stairs, amused that there are no lights between the second and third floor. Also no railing of any kind, which is a bit more surprising: even questionable buildings have to face city inspectors from time to time. I walk easily up the stairs. Christmas is coming, and I have gathered that about me as a ward.
Most magicians would not do such a thing, but I am the a wandering magician and in a mood as well. It is not a pleasant mood, for this is not a pleasant time of year to be a magician. Magic is born of need answers want: it is poetry turned prose, dreams made into real things and the needs and desires of people at this time are a white-noise of crushing. Magic cannot make anything that lasts, but neither can Christmas and all the faded miracles and small wonders of magic are nothing next to the impossible greed in the air.
The door at the top of the hallway is warded, though not in the way of magicians. There are symbols and powers burned into it that I don’t know. To other Outsiders, it is invitation and warning both. None of them stir as I pull the door open. The first classroom door is open, the inside being cheap third-hand desks for students, the teacher having rated a second-hand desk. The students look human, though all are thin and pale, beauty a shimmer of power about them to disguise their nature from the unwary. Two hiss on seeing me, baring fangs. The rest are still, afraid or waiting.
The teacher of the class of Outsiders looks human as well: an older man in a suit as frayed as his hair, with glasses several decades out of fashion and the girth of an Outsider who has decided to sample a great deal of food on this planet. What moves under the flesh isn’t anything human at all.
“Magician,” he says, voice a low hiss of fury. “You do not belong here.”
“Neither do they.” I wave a band to the students and several flinch; one even whimpers, all expecting to the banished back Outside to the universe. Magic is what magicians so. This is what we are.
“They have entered the universe though the proper legal channels,” their teacher rumbles. “You will find their permits are in order.”
I’ve no doubt about that, though I am not sure who actually makes the permits. Or what this world gets out of them. Vampires are weak, the lowest form an Outsider can take when it enters the universe. Which does mean that clever Outsiders who can alter their form like to look like a vampire to throw off the unwary. None of these ones qualify, though I check anyway with a gentle whisper of magic in case they escaped the senses of the instructor.
“I imagine so,” I say, threading power into my words to cover the other use of power. “Everything does seem to be in order. However, this is a city at Christmas time and your attempts to teach them to control and hide will fail. They will need to retreat to the deep places under the earth or lose what control they have.”
A few look relieved at that; the two who hissed look furious but at least are smart enough to not challenge a magician. Until one of them, who appears to be a blond woman in her late teens, speaks up:
“There are six of uth,” she says around her fangs. For a moment I miss Jay and Charlie, and that doesn’t help my mood at all.“And one of you.”
“There are.” I put on something that barely pretends to be a smile, shoving my hands deep into my pockets. “I could leave my shadow here instead of me, if you want a fair fight?”
The instructor goes still; the blond leaps, and I hurl the frustration of hundreds of shoppers into her. The vampire hits the ground, struggling to its feet after. I wrap the despair of a dozen mall Santas about me as a haze of fury and the other vampires remain seated. They exchange glances as I let go of the power and all exit one after another, making a point of floating out the windows to show off their own power.
The instructor waits until they are gone beyond both our sensing before turning to me. “You baited Roxanne.”
“I’m in a mood. I held back retail workers from the ward, though.”
“So I noticed.” The instructor smiles. “Thank you.”
I shrug. “I felt your need to get Christmas off.”
“I did not expect a magician to answer it; I had been hoping for another Outsider but my kind are often shunned. We do not celebrate holidays as humans do; my need would be seen as weakness.”
“Can I ask why you wanted it off?”
He is quiet, then slowly reaches into his right pocket and pulls out a worn wallet, opening it and handing over the picture of a woman and two girls. “My wife. We adopted children.”
“She knows what you are?”
“Enough of it.”
“Few Outsiders adopt human children, I imagine?” I say as I hand the pictures back.
“Few of us, yes. My wife knows what I am, or enough of it. Revealing so much worries others.” He pauses a beat. “What do you want for this service, magician?”
I could say showing the pictures was service enough; it would be true, but it would insult him. “Adopt more children, if you can afford to.”
He blinks at that. “You are not the magician of this city.”
“I am the wandering magician.”
“Oh!” Tendrils ripple nervously under flesh, going still. “I thank you. For the time and the honour, wanderer. That is all you desire?”
I nod. “And that, if they are in danger, you call for me and I will offer protection. And the names of other Outsiders like yourself.”
“I will – have to ask them,” he says cautiously.
“I know.” I smile, a real one, feeling something ease a little far inside. “This is a bad season to be a magician. Thank you for your aid.”
“We live in a world where tentacled monsters from Outside the universe can adopt children but some married couples cannot. It helps with perspective on some things.”
He laughs softly at that and does not press. “I imagine it might. I never thought of it. Be well.”
“Be well.” I walk back to the door, pause, and then offer: “Merry Christmas,” and leave behind a very shocked monster as I head down the stairs. Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels as if everything I have done is almost worth it.