Charlie and Jay have left: going out, doing something. Somewhere I am sitting on cement, or perhaps earth, warded and protected in all the ways of magicians save for one. Few things are impossible for magicians, though many are deeply ill-advised. Even Mary-Lee, once the oldest and most terrible magician in all the world, might not have done this. But I died, and that gives me an edge. The fae imprisoned me in a waking-awareness for billions of years, and that taught lessons.
I find stillness in mere hours, following it far from my body. There are places bodies cannot travel to because magic requires certain constants to work. Perception is one of those: the place I enter is nothing. My brain calls it white, to call it anything at all, but it’s not that. The white is behind me, moving. Awareness as much as purpose, the impact amused but so very cold as well.
“Few magicians can find me,” the voice says around me. “Even among the other Powers – most thing me in the middle of the universe, at the moment of birthing.”
“I thought Time would want to be where time wasn’t, at the edges of all things. Catching up to yourself, rushing ahead.”
“Hm.” And he is beside me. Winter, paler than white, hair long and moving in unknown winds, eyes like hard ice. Sexless, but the body is somehow more male than female – I think it would be different for others, but I am not certain. Few can see the creature I can summon by name as Arth’Ba’Toch and fewer still survive the experience. You don’t call upon Time lightly, and the power such a Power wields is beyond anything I can comfortable compass. “You think I won’t destroy you, little magician?”
“I don’t know. I have questions: there is no one else I can ask.”
“You know of Justice.”
“I don’t know how to call Lance. Or to trust him.”
“And you trust me?” Winter asks, dry as something long dead.
“I don’t see why Time would bother lying. It is almost Christmas, and magicians fear the holidays. The bindings, the desires, how magic answers need and joy: I haven’t felt that this year, and I know that is not just Jay’s doing with bindings. I’ve changed. I would like to know into what.”
Winter smiles, and the smile is too kind to be human. “No one wants to know that, magician. How else could you become if all you knew was what you be?”
“I don’t mean that.”
“I know.” Mild, a fact more solid than any stone, more real than any world. How could Time not know?
“What am I becoming?”
“That has not yet been decided. You are one of those who must decide, magician, wanderer – there are no easy ways off the path you now walk. It may be that you cannot leave it at all.”
“Jay was on it. To become the new Grave for the Cone and the Grave, to guard the entrance of the universe from harm.”
“So we thought. I think We were wrong.”
I almost laugh, but I’m not sure I could stop. The Powers that govern the functions of the universe, that are barely forms at all – the universe works because they are the grease that runs it, and their province is all that exists within in. “Wrong,” I repeat instead.
“Yes.” Nothing else. Whatever Winter suspects, it will not be shared with me.
“Not the Grave, no. I do not know what. We are the custodians of the universe, but we did not make it. The road you walk will be long and hard, and you will lose and be made to lose again. You will be unmade and remade, lost more than found. There is nothing I can do in this. You have gone too far down this path.”
“I never meant to walk it,” I manage.
“No one ever does, not if they make it.” And Winter smiles a final time. “We will not meet like this agaon,” he says, and I wake up in my body, the stillness I found gone. According to the clock, I’ve only been under three hours. I stand up slowly, stiffly, walking outside into the snow.
Inside, I am screaming at what awaits me. But I won’t do it alone. No matter what even Time thinks, Charlie, Jay and I have been together for too long for that to end. Even for something like that.
I have no idea what I am going to tell them, or even how.
I watch snow fall and I find myself wondering how many others I will see. And how long they will matter.