It’s not my fault even though it is: sometimes that’s how magic happens. I’d left Dana to pull off some CSIS hoodoo on a city bureaucracy in order to get some information she needs on possible monsters hiding here the fae need to check in on. She wanted to use her glamour or I to use magic until I pointed out that her current body did have high government clearance and she could use that. I imagine a fae glamour would work as well, but she’s not healed from near-death well enough enough two months later to waste energy.
It’s a failing of magicians that we never pass up opportunities for lessons. Which is why I ended up stopping two boys from chasing a cat by making them understand exactly how the cat felt. One ran home and told his mother, who spent half an hour hunting me down in order to bring me into their home. Despite my protests that magicians weren’t exorcists. There was desperate need in her eyes, and magic answers need.
Louisa Croix was at her wits end. She’d had two priests come by and a self-styled exorcist. Neither had helped her daughter Bethany, but it went some way to explaining why her youngest, Roger, had been tormenting a cat. Sometimes we have to lash out or be consumed by ourselves. And sometimes the only way to lash out is to make others feel the pain one feels. He was six. It didn’t excuse, even if it did explain.
Roger is hiding in his bedroom under the bed. He’s been crying from his experience of being a wounded cat, but his mom hasn’t noticed. Bethany is locked in their attic, as if this is a bad horror film, and she is screaming insults in a dozen languages and lies about her parents, her brother, herself, all of it broken up by harsh truths she has no way of knowing. The next door neighbours divorced over things she screamed; people have moved away.
“I had a man here,” Louisa whispers. She’s not the sort to whisper, or wasn’t until four months ago when everything in her life went wrong. “He said he was of the city, claimed to be a magician, and she said things – terrible things that drove him out the door.”
“And he never returned?”
“They were very terrible things.”
“Yes. Magicians often do terrible things, and so does everyone else in the world.” I square my shoulders and begin walking up the stairs to the attic.
There is a pause, and then Bethany’s hoarse voice is low and cruel. “Magician, wanderer, seeker after nothing because you are too scared to be sought. All you do is run away, magician, so fast and far, from love or friendship.”
“I am the wandering magician of this era; it would be foolish not to wander away from myself at times, and yet I always find my way back. Is this the best you can do?”
“Magician!” Louisa says, and somehow manages a whispered scream. “Do not do this.”
The girl upstairs laughs then. “Oh, that was just saying hello, magician. Who taught you such things, who taught you the forms of the world if not your father? Your father, who was also a magician. Your father, whom you burned to death in fire. Magic answers need, and what was your need? Could you find no other solution, or were you too scared to look for one?”
“Already at my father. I thought you would start with my mother.”
“I have wounded you,” the girl cackles.
“It is no wound I was not aware of.” I hold out a hand, and open the door. Beyond it is a small room that seems even smaller than it is, little more than a cot and trays passed through a slit in the door each morning, returned each evening. Bethany is thin, burning with energy, eyes wide and wild, hair a tangle of assumed madness.
“Magic man, charlatan, who destroys more than he can ever save –,” she taunts from the bed, legs swinging as if it was a swing.
“Be quiet.” I don’t thread power into my voice, but I draw the magic up about me, the air humming like a hive in response as I step into the room. “A doorway can lead to many places, perhaps even whatever place you are from.”
“I am from the place all monsters come from: humanity.”
I snort at that. “I can call a fae through this door, and I believe the fae take very dim views of the reputation changelings like yourself try to leave on their doorstep. I could call forth a god-eater to strip you of your power. And I can call a boy named Jay, who could bind you until there is nothing of the changeling and only the child whose life you stole away. I could destroy you,” I say quietly, and it is in my nature to speak truths that cannot be dismissed.
Bethany is still, eyes narrow and sharp. “But you have not.”
“Doing monstrous things does not have to make you into a monster. Even being monstrous things does not: imagine what you could do to destroy the hypocrisies of the mighty or heal the wounded minds of other folk? You have power only in your voice, and it would so easy to silence. Easier, still, to kill you, which is why you mingle lie and truth so others will not murder you. Because if they do, everyone else will assume the lies were true as well. You can use your power to other ends.”
The changeling blinks. “I have consumed Bethany and taken her over, and you will let this stand?”
“I could destroy you, but I cannot restore her. And yes, I tried that once before.” I step back into the doorway. “I am offering you a chance to make this mean something, Bethany.”
She considers that. “You made Roger cry.”
“I did. I am hardly perfect.” I smile, almost. “Believing such things about oneself is what makes monsters.”
“I must continue Bethany’s life, even though I consumed her.” The changeling lets out a very human bark of laughter. “Nothing is ever finished.”
“No,” I say, and I turn and leave the monster to its choice. Because nothing with my father was ever finished, even though I killed him. Because a changeling sees the past as it clings to others, and I cannot wander far enough to let mine go.
I leave her to her choice, because I cannot trust what I might do it I stayed much longer. I go down the stairs, and tell Louisa it is over, one way or another, and she has no idea what to make of that. The boy is still crying in his bedroom. I say nothing as I pass it, because there is nothing I can say that will undo my actions.
I walk out of the house, and I am almost certain the changeling is not staring down at me and smiling, knowing she won the war even though she lost every battle with me. I do not look back. I am not a boy who takes his anger out on kittens. Nor a magician who abuses the world with power. I turn my anger inward until it burns itself away.
It takes long enough to hurt, but not long enough to ever touch the deeper hurts below.